Federal election candidates discuss issues of concern to community

Federal election candidates discuss issues of concern to community

The Jewish Federation of Ottawa and its advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), and representatives from various Jewish community agencies, including Grade 8 students from the Ottawa Jewish Community School, took part in roundtable meetings held over four days, with Ottawa-area candidates running in the October 21 federal election.

Candidates were asked to respond to the same five questions of concern to the Jewish community from CIJA’s 2019 Federal Election Issues Guide. The meetings were conducted with each party separately to allow clear dialogue and to provide each a chance to present their platforms.

The Liberal Party was represented by candidate Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre); the Conservative Party by candidates Abdul Abdi (Ottawa West-Nepean) and Brian St. Louis (Nepean); the New Democratic Party by candidates Angella MacEwen (Ottawa West-Nepean) and Emilie Taman (Ottawa Centre); and the Green Party by candidates Jean-Luc Cooke (Nepean), Angela Keller-Herzog (Ottawa Centre), Oriana Ngabirano (Ottawa-Vanier) and David Stibbe (Ottawa West-Nepean).

The following replies have been edited for clarity and length.

Will you support a federal rebate to cover some of the costs of security guards for places of worship and other sites targeted for hate?

Liberal Party, McKenna: I am happy to look at this because the ultimate goal is to keep community members safe. We recognize that there are security risks. While we can’t commit now, I hear you and understand there have been incidents of grave concern in the international community and in Ottawa Centre.

Conservative Party, Abdi: We understand the anxiety, stress and costs to the community. While I cannot commit to the rebate now, if elected I can bring the issue forward… I would also like to focus on why security is needed, I would like to put programs in place that deal with hate, antisemitism and fear, to make sure that young people can come into a facility like the JCC and not have to worry about safety and security.

New Democratic Party, MacEwen: Absolutely. There is no question the NDP supports this – everyone should feel safe in their place of worship.

Taman: We need to continue to do the work to get us to the place where those kind of measures aren’t required, but it is the reality and it shouldn’t be an additional burden the community should have to bear.

Green Party, Stibbe: We are supportive of this concept and of the existing Security Infrastructure Program… We also need to push to change our electoral system. A lot of hate is driven by our political structure. Politics are won by dividing our communities, and electoral reform is the way to change that.

Candidates David Stibbe (Ottawa West-Nepean), Angela Keller-Herzog (Ottawa Centre), Oriana Ngabirano (Ottawa-Vanier) and Jean-Luc Cooke (Nepean) with Jewish community representatives and Ottawa Jewish Community School students following the Green Party of Canada roundtable discussion with the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, September 19.

Will you support a government-led strategy to tackle online hate and radicalization?

Liberal Party, McKenna: Absolutely. We have done a lot of work with our anti-racism strategy on online hate and with other measures, but we are not there yet… We need to hold social media companies to account, and I have been vocal about this personally. We need to do this… and there is data to suggest, that the things people say online are jumping offline. This is a worrying trend… I do believe strongly in free speech, but there is a dividing line between free speech and hate speech. I am not sure if we’ve figured out that line yet and we need to think hard about it.

Conservative Party, St. Louis: No one wants to see online hate and in principle I support a strategy to combat it, but we also need to ensure the details do not infringe on freedom of speech.

Abdi: I will take a strong stand, online or in person, against those who attack people in terms of their religion, community or race, and will support any strategy that eradicates hate toward any group.

New Democratic Party, Taman: That is one of the commitments we’ve explicitly made. The government has not been very nimble in dealing with the digital sphere and the regulation of social media platforms… There will always be tensions between freedom of expression and the suppression of violent speech, but that’s not a reason not to try to strike that balance… We need to be combatting hate everywhere we find it, and it is proliferating online where it contributes to getting people on board with misinformation and hateful rhetoric.

Candidates Emilie Taman (Ottawa Centre) and Angella MacEwan (Ottawa West-Nepean) with Jewish community representatives and Ottawa Jewish Community School students following the New Democratic Party of Canada roundtable discussion with the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, September 26.

Green Party, Keller-Herzog: The internet is dividing our communities and fomenting hate. This is an excellent policy, and I would like to see it broad-based so that it also pushes back on Islamophobia and other dimensions of racism, discrimination and generations of hate. This is something Canada should be investing in and leading in.

Stibbe: American media companies are not regulated in Canada and are not accountable to our government, this is part of the ability for online hate to spread so rapidly… We need to take control of what crosses our borders digitally.

Ngabirano: I joined the Green Party because our policies are based on a preventative approach, and education is part of prevention. We need to add and fund this component.

Will you urge the government to support Israel unequivocally when Israelis defend themselves from terrorism?

Liberal Party, McKenna: Our position hasn’t changed. We’ve been clear that as a government and as a party we support Israel’s right to security and to defend itself in the context of the two-state solution. Our foreign minister has been strong on this.

Conservative Party, Abdi: I support 100 per cent a two-state solution. Israel has the right to defend itself. I understand the threat from Iran and will stand by Israel. Israel also has a responsibility to develop opportunities for peace. It can take a leadership role in making sure the two communities are bridged.

Candidates Abdul Abdi (Ottawa West-Nepean) and Brian St. Louis (Nepean) with Jewish community representatives and Ottawa Jewish Community School students following the Conservative Party of Canada roundtable discussion with the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, September 18.

St Louis: The UN Human Rights Committee often focuses on Israel instead of other, serious global threats... As long as Hamas is a player, there will be threats and Israel is right in defending itself. I have been impressed with the weighed responses of Israel in many challenging situations… Israel is a sovereign, democratic states with the same rights as any other – and that includes defending itself from violence.

New Democratic Party, Taman:  Difficult to answer with the use of the term “unequivocally” without context, but there is 100 per cent solidarity with the Israeli people. Agree there are efforts to isolate Israel which have to be pushed back against. There is a concern with the UN structure with the politics there, and I think Canada has to be really strong in defending Israeli interests there… When it comes to international human rights obligations, leaving aside the political motivations in the UN to make certain declarations, I certainly support international law, the rule of law and fundamental human rights norms… Yes, absolutely we would unequivocally denounce human rights violations perpetrated upon the people of Israel, in the same way I hope we would in respect of any state.

Green Party, Cooke: The Green Party has previously dealt with the boycott, divestment and sanctions issue. We have moved on and put processes in place to prevent small groups of people joining just to push one policy issue.  Israel is an ally of Canada, and Green Party MPs will advocate that Israel has a right to exist, has a right to defend itself and is an economic ally... The Green Party does think the settlement process is detrimental to the peace process. However, we also condemn rocket attacks... Israel does have our unequivocal support, but there will also be criticism that goes back and forth, which is healthy and normal as long as it’s focused and constructive.

Will you advocate for reform of the Disabilities Tax Credit (DTC) to make it more accessible?

Liberal Party, McKenna: Our government is focused on how to support the most vulnerable, and we know people with disabilities are more likely to be living in poverty… We are interested in looking at this and we should continue the conversation about the details of how best to do that. Clearly we need to be doing better.

Conservative Party, St. Louis: The point of these programs is to help people who need them, and there is always room for improvement. I’ve met people who have had problems with the DTC, so to me it is going backward instead of forward. Making the DTC more accessible seems like an achievable goal.

Abdi: We will protect the DTC. Andrew Scheer also recently talked about the new plan for the child tax credit that will be an additional $500 for young people with disabilities… We will also protect and support the Disability Savings Plan… Our government will always be a champion, and where we feel there are gaps to be filled, we will be there to support you.

New Democratic Party, MacEwen: Yes. Our commitment is we would look at the whole range of tax credits and benefits that are available. We need to look at the whole suite of programs to make sure they’re accessible and meet needs… We are also going to do a pilot program in EI around episodic disabilities to make that work better for people.

Taman: It’s important we work with people with disabilities and their advocates to look at ways that we can strengthen legislative frameworks, accessibility legislation. Sometimes it feels to people like programs are designed to keep them in poverty.

Green Party, Ngabirano: The Green Party wants to offer a guaranteed livable income to each and every Canadian to allow them to live in dignity. The social policies in place are outdated, tax credits come and go with governments and are not stable.

Will you support a guarantee that five cents of every federal dollar spent on affordable housing goes to those with developmental disabilities?

Liberal Party, McKenna: It is good the federal government is finally back into affordable and social housing, and that we are putting the money behind it… We certainly need to look at what percentages are required to support those who need it most. People with developmental disabilities are often in poverty… I can’t commit to that amount right now, but I will look at it and raise it. This all has to be part of a strategy to support the most vulnerable, and housing is a critical part of that.

Conservative Party, Abdi: While I cannot commit to the five cent number, the Conservative Party has promised a three per cent increase to social transfers to provinces every year, which will go up along with the GDP… We will honour all housing commitments already in place, and where applicable will encourage more. We will also work with the provinces and municipal governments to make sure there are no stumbling blocks… We will also lower taxes for small businesses that want to get engaged in this area to ensure that they can make it easier to get rental units.

New Democratic Party, Taman: The affordability question is tied to a lack of supply. In Ottawa Centre, we are proliferating luxury condos when what we really need is rental housing. Our plan includes building 500,000 new units across Canada, with a clear priority on non-profit and co-op housing… We are also mindful more is needed for supportive housing. Five cents on every dollar seems like a very modest ask. It is something I would certainly support.

Green Party, Cooke: The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Cooperation was created to buffer the mortgage market from shocks, but also to produce community housing at the provincial and municipal levels. We want to reintroduce that mandate... When people have stable places to live, many other complicating factors of their life get better. The five cent target is very reasonable, we support it and it may even be too low.

Grade 8 students’ comments

Ottawa Jewish Community School Grade 8 students attended the meetings as part of their Social Studies curriculum. Here is their feedback:

On the Liberal Party platform: “The party is dedicated to helping those most vulnerable and making sure kids have access to sports, have a roof over their head, and parents have the means to support their children.” –Kiera and Max

“The party showed a commitment for helping tackle online hate and radicalization. Online hate motivates people to spread hate offline. As the youth of today, we are the most connected online and feel that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.” – Grade 8 Class

On the Conservative Party platform: “We like the tax credits to support students getting involved in arts and sports. There are many families that need financial support for these important activities for children today.” –Zoe and Aidan

“The Conservative candidates answered each question in a very clear and straight forward way and brought in personal connections.” –Jessica and Lior

On the New Democratic Party platform: “When it comes to affordable housing, we appreciate the fact that the NDP committed 500,000 new units. We hope that a percentage of these will be dedicated to adults with developmental disabilities to help the Tamir Foundation.” –Zoe and Jayson

On the Green Party platform: “The candidates are environmentally aware by thinking about the current generation as well as future generations. There is no Planet B.” –Talia