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REPLAY: Federal candidates debate in Charlottetown - Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019

From left, Joe Byrne (NDP), Robert Campbell (Conservative), Sean Casey (Liberal), Darcie Lanthier (Green), Fred MacLeod (Christian Heritage) and Guardian chief political reporter Stu Neatby, moderator, take part in a Charlottetown all-candidates debate Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, hosted by The Guardian and the UPEI student union.
From left, Joe Byrne (NDP), Robert Campbell (Conservative), Sean Casey (Liberal), Darcie Lanthier (Green), Fred MacLeod (Christian Heritage) and Guardian chief political reporter Stu Neatby, moderator, take part in a Charlottetown all-candidates debate Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, hosted by The Guardian and the UPEI student union. - Ernesto Carranza

Watch a replay of the debate below: 

All five candidates for the federal riding of Charlottetown took part in a debate Tuesday night, hosted by The Guardian and the UPEI student union. 

The candidates - Joe Byrne, NDP; Robert Campbell, Conservative; Sean Casey, Liberal; Darcie Lanthier, Green; and Fred MacLeod, Christian Heritage - were first asked about whether they'd support eliminating tolls on the Confederation Bridge if elected. 

Byrne answered with a flat "yes," calling the toll to cross the bridge a barrier for low-income Islanders. 

"This is part of the Trans-Canada Highway system. Why do we have to pay to drive on it?" Byrne asked. 

Casey, the incumbent candidate, said the issue is more complex than simply eliminating tolls and would involve also eliminating fares on the Wood Islands ferry so that transportation system didn't collapse. 

"Are we all prepared to have our taxes go up or our services cut to have this happen?" Casey asked. "I thought it was a good deal at the time and a smart use of taxpayers' money and I continue to believe that." 

Campbell agreed with Casey that the issue involved a contract with Strait Crossing Inc. and was more complex with eliminating the tolls. Campbell said he would personally like to see the tolls eliminated but stopped short of promising to eliminate them if elected. 

Northern Pulp

Candidates were then asked whether they would support a federal environmental assessment for the Northern Pulp mill's effluent treatment pipeline. The Pictou County, N.S. mill wants to pump its effluent into the Northumberland Strait, a plan that has drawn the ire of local fishermen. 

"This will immediately impact at least three provinces, maybe more," Lanthier said. "A true federal impact assessment would shut that down immediately." 

The debate's moderator, Guardian chief political reporter Stu Neatby, then asked whether the candidates thought that assessment should come at the expense of jobs at Northern Pulp. 

"We have to look after our own fishermen and our land around the Island," said Campbell, calling the Northern Pulp plan "ridiculous." 

Casey said P.E.I.'s MPs will stand behind the province's fishermen and that all decisions about the effluent treatment plan should be based on science. 

MacLeod also agreed that a federal impact assessment was needed. 

"The best way to deal with disasters is to prevent them before they happen." 

Housing Crisis

Candidates were questioned on whether or not they believed the federal government was doing enough in assisting the Island housing crisis. Charlottetown had a current rental vacancy rate of near zero.

"The federal government has done a lot and admittedly there is a lot more to be done," said Casey. "We have on Prince Edward Island, essentially, a perfect storm between increasing population, with the proliferation of AirBnB and red hot economy that resulted in a bottleneck with the respect with the availability of (housing)."

Casey went on to say that the federal government was now involved in the housing file with a $40 billion, 10 year strategy with $50 million already spent in P.E.I.

"We need a lot of housing units and we need to see them fast, because as fast as they go up, they seem to be occupied," said MacLeod. "At the end of the day, what really makes a country great is for the people to own their own property."

The question was opened up to the other candidates and Campbell said the housing issues was not only a federal issues, it was a complex issue belonging to all three branches of government.

"It has to be planned properly and say, is it affordable. There are so many people on the streets now, maybe not out of their own volition, maybe because of addiction or mental health issues," he said. "My opinion is there should be somebody in (affordable housing) residence to counsel or whatever and make it so this is a home for everyone."

Lanthier said that there were many empty houses around Charlottetown and said she has seen over a hundred empty houses herself and the city has many density issues and many of the vacant lots in Charlottetown can be built on.

"We are treating the issues of housing, something that should be a human right, like an equity investment," said Lanthier. "This is an absolutely inappropriate way to treat homes were people could leave. We have people sleeping in cars, in tents in all manner of situations and we have houses are sitting empty. That need to be addressed."

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

What was one of the most hotly contested topics of the night, candidates debated over whether or not the government needs to improve what it is doing about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and what should be the first priority.

Public polling from Abacus Research indicates 82 per cent of Canadians believe it is either extremely serious or a mostly serious problem, with 57 per cent of Canadians believing the federal government is doing 'too little'.

Byrne opened up the discussion with the platform or transitioning out of fossil fuels and "re-tooling the whole economy".

"The same economic system that brought us climate change in 2019 is incapable of getting us out of it," he said. "If we are not prepared to change the economic system then we will fail absolutely and miserably at addressing climate change."

Campbell rebutted and said "we have to focus on climate change on P.E.I, here and now."

"We have a very good environmental record," said Campbell. Byrne asked Campbell who had a good environmental record.

"Canada does."

Campbell went on to say that the federal Liberals have never met emissions targets that they have set and will not meet current emissions targets.

"Two per cent of Canadians were out last Friday marching. It is a problem. The house is on fire. We shouldn't build a pipeline to put a little gasoline on it before we call 911. The house is on fire," said Lanthier.

"It is so nice to see every jump on the bandwagon and that fantastic. So nice to see so many green podiums."

Campbell said that Elizabeth May is a fourth party leader and said that May knows full well that May cannot form government.

"She's coming up with ideas about retrofitting every single home in Canada, it is going to cost, according to Bloomberg, $67 billion. Who's going to pay for that," said Campbell.

"My kids can't drive electric cars and where's the landfill going to be for all these other cars that we are going to get rid of. It has to be balance way of doing it. Attainable, affordable and reasonable."

MacLeod said there was no direct connection between implementing a carbon tax and curbing people's environmental habits.

"Most of us live 15 minutes away from work," said MacLeod. "We should at everything that is hurting the environment, not just pick out one thing and deal with it and take the money out of our pockets."

Casey said that the Liberals are focused on a creating a strong environment and a clean environment and said the Liberal party ahs spent $15 on climate action for every $1 on pipeline.

Casey went on to say that the Liberals play on retrofitting 1.5 million homes over the next five years, cut corporate taxes in half for companies in the zero emissions technology manufacturer and development, for net zero emissions for Canada by 2050.

"The party believes pollution should not be free," he said.

The debate was held at the W.A. Murphy Student Centre. Questions were selected by the newspaper's editorial board

Watch for continued coverage online and in print. 

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