Ottawa-Centre All-Candidates Debate Draws Overflow Crowd

By John Dance

Glebe Community Centre was the site of the all-candidates debate organized by community associations within the Ottawa Centre riding, including OOECA. Photo by John Dance

A standing-room-only and often rowdy crowd of 550 listened while the federal election candidates of the five major parties made their case at the Ottawa Centre all-candidates debate in the Glebe Community Centre on September 25.

The candidates faced tough questions from moderator Adrian Harewood, CBC’s news anchor. Acrimony amongst candidates was limited and there were even occasional flashes of approval of what other candidates supported or had done.

Green Party candidate Angela Keller-Herzog, in particular, complimented the Liberals for the Syrian refugee program and on one point said that she “agreed with everything that NDP candidate Emilie [Taman] said.”

All candidates shared the perspective that greater efforts were needed to create more affordable housing, though there were varying views of how to best do this. However, there were profoundly different positions on some issues. For instance, Merylee Sevilla of the Peoples’ Party of Canada drew a chorus of boos from the audience when she said “I don’t believe we are in a climate emergency. What we are going though are perfectly normal cycles.”

Similarly, on the question of “Would you decriminalize street drugs?”, Taman and Keller-Herzog said “yes” with Taman going on to say, “We need to do a lot more – we have to look at safe supply.”

Liberal Party incumbent Catherine McKenna noted that the Liberals had decriminalized marijuana and, as she did throughout the evening, took a shot at the Doug Ford government, in this instance for cutting harm reduction programs.

Conservative Party candidate Carol Clemenhagen’s response was that “the real issue [is to] help people deal with suffering.” And Sevilla said, “No, there’s no money made from decriminalizing drugs.”

Quebec’s secularization bill that limits what certain government employees can wear also was viewed differently by the candidates. Taman deemed it “devastating,” McKenna called it “terrible” and added, “You should be able to wear whatever you want.” Keller-Herzog equated it to “racism,” but Clemenhagen said “You need to respect the decision of a provincial parliament,” a view shared by Sevilla.

In their concluding remarks, Sevilla committed to balancing the federal budget in two years and reducing taxes. Keller-Herzog pledged to stand for “healthy people, healthy economy and a healthy planet.” McKenna stressed what she accomplished in her first term and committed to make Ottawa the greenest capital city. Taman said “We need to do more than tinker – just ‘good enough’ is not enough.” Clemenhagen promised to provide strong representation for Ottawa Centre and to deal with the federal “burden of debt.”

The debate was organized by the community associations of Ottawa Centre, with Centretown’s Jack Hanna leading the effort and Ron Rose representing the Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA).

Recognizing that about 300 people were left outside the Glebe Community Centre (GCC) because the meeting hall was full, Hanna said a larger venue will be sought for all-candidates meetings in the future. While only those candidates whose leaders were in the official “Canadian Debate Production Partnership” televised debate on October 7 were permitted to be on stage at the GCC, other candidates were given the opportunity to explain their candidacy outside the main hall.

As The Mainstreeter reported in our August 2019 issue, the Ottawa Centre riding had the greatest voter turnout of all 338 ridings in the last federal election, when the Liberal’s McKenna won out over the late Paul Dewar of the NDP. In total, since Ottawa Centre has existed as a federal riding, the Liberals have prevailed in 10 of the total 15 federal elections contested, while the NDP have taken the riding four times and the Conservatives once. However, over the last 20 years, the NDP has the edge, winning four of the seven elections

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