2011 Ontario Election: Parkdale-Highpark All Candidates Forum Response (Updated)
Sep 14, 2011

2011 Ontario Election: Parkdale-Highpark All Candidates Forum Response (Updated)

UPDATE: NDP incumbent Cheri DiNovo wins reelection with 46%. Cortney Pasternak (Liberal) gets 37%, Joe Ganetakos (PC) gets 12% and Justin Trottier (Green) gets 3%.

The following is my observations and reflections from attending an All Candidates Forum for the riding of Parkdale-Highpark. Click here for an overview on the candidates for this riding. While this post will obviously be specific to this particular Ontario riding, hopefully there will be some universal interest for my non Parkdale-Highpark readers.

The event was organized by Parkdale Community Health Centre (PCHC), Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC) and West End Food Co-op (WEFC). Largely because of the framing of these agencies, the debate was framed around three issues: healthcare, housing and food security. Prior to beginning a recently released Parkdale 2011 Report Card, endorsed by these agencies, was widely circulated that addressed the social problems on these three main issue. One can read the report here - and one should for it underscores the importance of these issues. Incidentally, this is a perfect example of how effort by community groups can adjust the framing of political discussion.

Impressions of the candidates: 

Setting aside any specific policies for the moment, my general impressions about the candidates were as follows. Cheri DiNovo (NDP Incumbent) came across very well. She was passionate, well spoken without notes, seemed very knowledgeable about statistics and the minutiae of specific policies, and came across as legitimately and genuinely caring about the plight of the impoverished and how to fix it. She was the only member to engage in mild populist demagoguery as she spoke passionately over cheers. Say what one will about her policies, but I am not at all surprised that she is the incumbent and is likely to win by such a large margin.

For Cortney Pasternak of the Liberals, this was her first debate and it showed a little. Her opening remarks were unemotionally read and she became slightly unsettled in her first contentious interchange with Cheri DiNovo. All in all, however, she was pretty good. Not quite as passionate, not quite as obvious that she cared, not quite as knowledgeable, but I would be happy for her to represent me.

Between the above two, there was an obvious offensive/defensive dynamic that probably mostly result simply because of the reality of the situtations. Cheri DiNovo spent most of her time attacking the Liberal record and praising what the community groups were pushing. Cortney Pasternak, particularly in the first half until she realized it was utterly unnecessary and few in that room were voting conservative, attacked the past Harris-Hudak government, as she called it, and praised the Liberal record. There wasn't many new ideas brought forward on her behalf. As such, there was a lot of Cheri attacking the Liberals and Cortney defending them.

Justin Trottier of the Green Party was very good. He was very well spoken, and had many interesting ideas - if sometimes unorthodox ones - that were worthwhile discussing and worth bringing into the public debate. In contrast to the federal Green Party candidate for Parkdale-Highpark, he was world's better and provided an example of what I really hope for in the Green Party: the ability to shift the public conversation into new directions that are important.

The Conservative candidate, Joe Ganetakos didn't show (although there was a place set for him). A fringe candidate, Thomas Zaugg of the People's Political Party showed up, asked to be included, and was. Most of his ideas were very unorthodox, but there was some interest in at least considering them. For reasons of realpolitick, I won't say more on him in this post.

Overview of the debate: 

Among the candidates, organizers (via their questions), and the audience (via questions and applause), there was essentially no disagreement on values or even priorities. Almost every question and answer was predicated on the basis that the prime focus and goal is cutting poverty (and the housing, food and health consequences of it). There was some discussion of the effectiveness of different policies, but I think the primary narrative of the debate was one of one-upping each other about who cared the most and was advocating most sincerely in the interests of the poor.

One specific example of this (mainly between Cheri DiNovo and Cortney Pasternak) was on the issue of minimum wage. There was little discussion of whether one should have a minimum wage, what it should be set at, or any real discussion of its impact on improving poverty (this last point is not as clear as some might think, this study demonstrates that the correlation between low income households and people working at low wage jobs is not very strong at all). Instead, it involved them both saying how important it was and they were the woman for the job on this issue (more on this below).

As an aside, it was interesting going to this debate immediately after watching the Tea party sponsored GOP debate in the US. That debate also had a narrow set of core values and having the candidates essentially playing a game of one upmanship over who best exemplified those values and perhaps, secondly, who had the best record on those values. The basic values (fixing poverty vs eliminating government) were diametrically opposed, but the central structure was the same.

I did find it interesting what was not discussed. The words global warming or climate change were entirely absent and any discussion of environmentalism was limited towards local food production and community gardens, but very much from a perspective of doing it to help the poor. This is unfortunate for I have previously argued that this issue is, and must be, the central issue in this election. Even in the context of a debate about consequences to the poor, I believe the energy and global warming issues- and their economic consequences - effect the poor the most and absolutely should be part of that discussion.

The words debt, deficit, fiscal responsibility and the like were also not uttered. This presents a real problem because as fine as it is to list a long smorgasbord of desirable ways to help the poor in all these areas, the constraints of budgets and realpolitik are the limiting factor. Cheri DiNovo mentioned a couple times attacks against the corporations and their tax levels, which may well be very fair, but can be dangerous in being the nebulous funding answer for any and every progressive policy. Cortney Pasternak only brought this general idea up once near the end - and bravely given the audience - on a question of funding for alternative medicine to which she said she likes manh alternative medicines but didn't think we could pay for it all without compromising other priorities.

The other thing not discussed was religion. I was written previously about how given the backgrounds of the candidates this might be an interesting issue in the election. It was not and, given the somewhat lengthy written introductions (provided by candidates and read by the moderator) it felt very carefully and deliberately hidden for both Cheri DiNovo and Justin Trottier who have respectively been important members of religious and secular communities in their pasts. I can see how it is a contentious issue perhaps simply not worth bringing up, but it does demonstrate, I think, how both candidates were willing to refrain on what is clearly core aspects of themselves in the interests of political expediency.

Various issued raised: 

Because it was contested, let the record stand that the Liberals did raise the minimum wage from 6.85 in 2003 to 10.25 in 2010, incrementally each year for 7 years. It is now the second highest in Canada. The Liberals did freeze the growth in 2010 due to the prolonged recession and worries about unemployment, the NDP wanted a raise anyways. In 2007, the NDP wanted to move the wage immediately 10 dollars an hour while the Liberals preferred the incremental increase. In the debate, Cheri DiNovo strongly made it appear as if the Liberals had been steadfastly objecting to minimum wage the entire time.

On the issue of healthcare, I was particularly impressed by Cheri DiNovo's repeated mention of the need for funding of preventative healthcare. Preventative healthcare is, dollar for dollar, one of the most efficient long term forms of healthcare spending yet consistently overlooked. Together with alleviating the various social determinants of health such as poverty (which all candidates acknowledged) these would make a big improvement in our health without changing the health provision model much at all. Cortney Pasternak agreed in principle and pointed out some steps the Liberals have done in this direction. They should do more. I also agree with the NDP position that it is worth considering moving dental into the public sphere opposed to the private sphere. In my admittedly limited experience with poverty I have found that dental care is one of the first things impoverished people try to live without, often leading to the need for significant and very expensive work later on. The lack of public dental care is a contributer to poverty.

The so called Land Value Tax is one issue that Justin Trottier raised many times. I don't want to comment on it just now, but I think it is an idea worth considering and further this is a perfect example of why having a Green Party that can raise unorthodox ideas is worthwhile.

At one point or other, all candidates mentioned community gardens - particularly Cortney Pasternak - and everyone seemed to agree how wonderful they are. However, I think they are not really an issue for provincial elections. Firstly, just as a matter of jurisdiction, it is local not provincial government that can give the property tax incentives and zoning needed to encourage community gardens. Secondly, as I have written about here, things like community gardens suffer from significant scalability problems, particularly in densely populated neighborhoods with little free land space like the Parkdale-Highpark Toronto riding. Community Gardens simply are not going to make a large dent on the extensive levels of food insecurity in the region. Needless to say, none of the candidates actually mentioned a policy on how one can encourage these, only that they were valuable.


All in all it was a worthwhile and interesting debate. I can see fairly compelling reasons why members of the left might want to vote for any of the three candidates. Because this election is all but inevitably going to be a reelection for Cheri DiNovo, the principle importance is the non-strategic one where we can focus on things like changing the public discourse and attention of various issues, building movements and parties, and the like.

Personally, I like Cortney Pasternak simply because I believe the Liberal Party deserves reelection based on its significance and threatened work on the green energy file. I like Cheri DiNovo because I think she very legitimately and passionately brings the issue of poverty to the table and we need people like her in government that can really push these issues. And I like Justin Trottier because I believe in the value of a Green Party that influences the public consciousness and because his secular humanist viewpoint is so close to my own. For Ontario, I endorsed the Liberals because I think the importance of the Liberals beating the Conservatives and retaining the progress made on the green energy issue is simply too important. However my caveat in that endorsement was for ridings where it was not strategic or there was compelling riding specific reasons to vote otherwise. I usually like to strongly endorse one candidate over the others - and perhaps in time I will - but for now I think it is reasonable to vote for any of these three and will let the reader decide which for themselves.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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1 comment:

Bianca said...

Hi, I have noticed that all these elections are covering families and rich and day care etc. but have never heard how anybody will take care of the single people.

I am a single professional but never seem to get ahead as salaries did not go up with times, the food doubled and services doubled, tripled or quadrupled as in insurance premiums. How will you guys help single people who are paying 100% of the services and staying with little or no left? What will you do about obnoxious car insurance rates? What will you do about employee rights? (now you need to have your own money if you want to fight injustice).

I do have to admit that I am tired of paying premium on everything and for everybody election after election while there is no break for increasingly high group of singles (divorced, single moms etc.).


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