Ottawa Centre candidates packed the city council chambers with more than 200 members of the public on Jan 6 for a polite and respectful issues debate sponsored by Capital Xtra and Egale Canada.
The two-hour debate, held at 6pm in City Hall’s council chambers, allowed candidates from the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats and the Green Party to represent themselves and their parties to their electors.
Conservative candidate Keith Fountain, who stated in his intro he expected to get “hammered” on equal marriage, had to deal with the issue only once when asked by Egale if each candidate would support reopening the debate on equal marriage.
Fountain said he would vote against his leader’s plan to reopen the same sex marriage debate in a free vote. The other candidates would also vote against reopening the debate.
All candidates appeared to support most equality issues, with the exception of Fountain on the question of whether to support an amendment to include transgendered people in the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA).
“I think that the current provisions of the human rights act, relating to gender and sexual orientation are sufficient to protect transgendered people as well,” he told the audience.
The human-rights amendment is the goal of Bill C-392, a private members bill forwarded by NDP MP Bill Siskay in the last Parliament. If the bill had been adopted, it would have added gender identity and gender expression to the Act, formally recognizing trans people and protecting them from discrimination.
Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney admitted his government feels the wording of the Act is sufficient to protect trans people, but said he doesn’t agree and supports amending the CHRA.
Other queer issues on which all the candidates agreed included reducing of the age of consent for anal sex to 14 and eliminating the homosexual panic defence for people charged with murdering gays.
But when asked how the federal government could give more money to queer festivals, fundamental differences became apparent.
New Democrat candidate Paul Dewar said “arts and culture make life worth living” and added all festivals need “predictable funding” as they are good for the community.
Mahoney agreed and added festivals need independent, well-funded committees and he is prepared to “roll up his sleeves” to help secure federal and any other resources so that “we can keep Pride the success that it is.”
But Fountain countered the question with one of his own. “Here’s a question: Why does the federal government have to be the answer to every community need?”
He suggested the federal government give individuals back their own money to decide how they would like to see it spent. “If you want to have a gay pride festival, well, you can afford it. If you want to have a gay community centre, you can afford it.”
Green Party candidate David Chernushenko considered Fountain’s suggestion a “failure to recognize what can be done by pooling public money for the good of the community.” When individuals are expected to fund things for the benefit of the public, we end up with nothing other than “pay per police service, pay per kilometre of highway,” he said.
Differences between Fountain and the other candidates continued in every question dealing with the use of federal money. While other candidates tried to win voters over with their various positions on supporting students with tuition, Fountain talked about tax breaks on university tuition and books.
When asked what each party would do to protect public health care, Chernushenko talked of health promotion, Dewar wanted exclusive public administration and delivery and Mahoney focussed on guaranteed wait times with the possibility of a patient being sent to another jurisdiction.
Fountain endorsed private delivery of health care.
Hosted by Capital Xtra’s Gareth Kirkby and Egale Canada’s Ariel Troster, the format had all candidates answer all questions and limited their responses to one minute. The order that candidates answered questions rotated so the same candidate would not always get the last word in.