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Federal candidates debate at Concordia

by Gregory Todaro October 6, 2015

Candidates discussed social housing, youth employment

Four federal election candidates from Montreal ridings met for a debate on Monday. Candidates from the NDP, Conservative, Green and Liberal parties met in the Communications and Journalism building on the Loyola campus for an hour of debate and an open Q&A with the audience.

The debate was moderated by Concordia journalism professor Leo Gervais, and the candidates were not given the questions before the start of the event. David Cox, running in the Pointe-de-l’Île riding, represented the Green Party of Canada in place of Melissa Kate Wheeler who is running for the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount seat. The Conservative Party of Canada’s candidate in the riding is Richard Salaga. Anthony Housefather from the Mount-Royal riding represented the Liberal Party of Canada. The NDP candidate, James Hughes, is also riding in the  Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount riding.


Social Housing

One of the first questions the candidates were asked was what role they thought the federal government has in building and maintaining social housing. Hughes, who is the former director general of the Montreal’s Old Brewery Mission shelter, said cuts at the federal level and the Conservative government’s decision not to renew social housing agreements with provinces.

“We’re losing social housing stock every year,” he said.

Housefather echoed the NDP candidate’s concern about social housing, and said social housing in his own electoral district has suffered from the federal government’s policies. “We have so many people who want to be able to stay in our cities but can no longer afford to do so, and that’s why this is a real, important federal government role.”

Cox, however, felt that the Green party’s idea of a liveable wage would reduce the need for social housing. He also pointed the finger at the Conservative party for the The Immigrant Investor Venture Capital program. “This program allows foreign investors to come into Canada and buy up condos like there’s no tomorrow, jacking up the prices—this is especially true in Vancouver,” he said. “The prices are just unaffordable for most Canadians.” Cox said the Green party would stop that program.

Salaga responded by saying that the choices for funding of social housing is a provincial and municipal issue. “It’s Quebec that has to decide,” he said. “The problem is to try and find a conduit between the various players and find priorities … it’s not possible for the federal politician to say “I’m going to go into Quebec and build these things.’”


Youth Issues

The candidates were also asked how they would find a job if they were graduating from university today. Hughes, a father of three—including a son on the verge of graduation—said he knows the problem well. “We’ve got … 40,000 opportunities we’re going to try to present to the job market [including] internships and apprenticeship programs,” he said. “We have a proposed act to try and prevent young people who are getting internships from actually getting exploited by the companies they’re working for right now.”

Sagala, who graduated with four diplomas from a conservatory of music, said entrepreneurship is key for recent university graduates. “Entrepreneurship empowers you,” he said. “If you expect entitlements from what the government is going to give to you, it won’t happen. Don’t believe the promises they will tell you.”

Housefather, however, felt the federal government needs to help with jobs and he said that the Liberal party promises to investing $2.8 billion to create 120,000 jobs for young people.

Cox criticized Sagala’s response, pointing out that not all young people have an entrepreneurial spirit. “When you’re raised in poverty and you find your mother is alone and working because your father is out of the picture … while you’re taking care of your three brothers, you haven’t got the impetus to go, ‘you know what, I think I’ll start a business,” he said. “It’s very nice for middle-class people to think of being an entrepreneur … but we have to think of the kids who are trying to help support their families.”

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