Incumbent Liberal candidate Lawrence MacAulay faced a volley of questions on subjects ranging from trade agreements to the Wood Islands ferry during a Cardigan all-candidates forum organized by the Town of Stratford.
Aside from MacAulay, the forum was attended by Conservative candidate Wayne Phelan, Green candidate Glen Beaton and New Democrat candidate Lynne Thiele. Christian Heritage Party candidate Christene Squires did not attend.
The format involved questions from audience members, which were moderated by Ocean 100 news director Scott Chapman. Chapman instructed audience members to direct questions to all candidates.
But several questions were nonetheless directed to MacAulay, who has represented the federal riding since 1988.
The first question focused on the dairy quota concessions made during last year’s NAFTA re-negotiations between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The new agreement allowed U.S. dairy farmers close to four per cent access to the Canadian market.
“What do you have to say to the dairy farmers of Prince Edward Island?” the audience member asked MacAulay.
MacAulay responded that negotiations with the Trump administration were difficult. During the negotiations, MacAulay had invited U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to his home in Midgell.
“He told everybody that his concern was not the quota system that we had in the supply management system. But he had a boss, and we know that a portion of it was put up in the trade deal,” MacAulay said, referring to U.S. President Trump.
“I know that is not what dairy farmers want, I know it’s not what I would want. But I can tell you that there’s $2 billion of trade that goes across that border everyday. We cannot afford to not have a trade agreement.”
At certain times, it seemed many audience questions were from Conservative supporters. MacAulay would often elicit groans when he brought up the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
But each candidate gave strong answers to questions.
In response to a question about improving internet in rural communities, Phelan said he had started a rural internet company. He criticized the previous provincial government for awarding contracts to Bell Canada, which he said had failed to improve internet services.
“The biggest reason Prince Edward Island has not had high speed internet – rural Prince Edward Island – is the provincial government,” Phelan said, drawing cheers.
On a question about addressing health concerns related to vaping amongst youth, Thiele said vaping products were allowed in Canada without the proper research on their health impacts.
“If there is doubt by the science and research that it’s going to harm, you air on the side of precautionary principle. So vaping, to my mind, should never have been allowed to start,” Thiele said.
On a question about the proposed effluent pipe originating from the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou, all candidates were critical of the proposal. MacAulay said Liberal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is considering overruling the Nova Scotia government by conducting a federal environmental assessment on the project.
But Beaton took a jab at MacAulay, suggesting the federal government has dragged its heels on the Northern Pulp issue.
“Lawrence, I have to say, they’ve had five years and they haven’t done a cotton-picking thing,” Beaton said.
The final question of the evening was asked by Nelson Hagerman, who said he had helped out with campaigns of former Progressive Conservative MLA Bobby MacMillan years ago.
Hagerman harshly criticized MacAulay for delays in replacing aging Wood Islands ferries.
“As Minister for Cardigan, you’re totally lacking in looking after that transportation system,” Hagerman said.
“Thanks for your question. I’m glad they arranged to have you ask it,” MacAulay answered.
MacAulay said a new ferry will be added to the Woods Islands-Caribou service.
“It will be built in Quebec and they’re working on a contract today,” MacAulay said.
Although the most recent federal budget contained a commitment for a new replacement, Phelan took issue with MacAulay’s claim.
“If there was a ferry approved, it would have been announced before the writ was dropped,” Phelan said.
“The ferry has never been tendered.”
Beaton argued a new ferry should be constructed using Green technology.
“This is an opportunity for P.E.I. and Canada to step forward and do what’s right. Just not any ferry, a ferry that will serve the people and will also contribute greatly to reducing our carbon footprint,” Beaton said.
In June, an advanced contract award notice was issued to Chantier Davie, a shipbuilding company based in Lévis, Quebec, for the construction of the new Woods Islands ferry. No other bids were received by government. However, the contract for the construction has not been signed and no timeline on its completion has been released.
This story was updated on October 10, 2019 to include details on the status of construction of the Wood Islands ferry.