Niagara West candidate debates held

Libertarian Stefanos Karatopis, Liberal Joe Kanee, and Progressive Conservative Sam Oosterhoff debate last Wednesday evening at Twenty Valley Public School. VOICE PHOTO

MPP hopefuls take on economy, education, health care


Candidates in Niagara West participated in a series of debates last week, discussing a variety of election issues in advance of the vote next Thursday, June 7. Last Tuesday’s debate was organized and aired by YourTV (formerly Cogeco), with Progressive Conservative Sam Oosterhoff, Liberal Joe Kanee, and NDP Curtis Fric taking part, while last Wednesday’s was put on in Vineland by the local chapter of the Association for Reformed Political Action, a Christian organization.

Fric decline to participate in Wednesday’s debate, while Libertarian Stefanos Karatopis was present. Green Party candidate Jessica Tillmanns declined to participate in either debate.

Candidates were asked similar questions in both settings, principally about the economy and issues specifically concerning the riding of Niagara West, including the Greenbelt.

PC leader Doug Ford unleashed a furor when it was revealed last month that he had privately promised to open up parts of protected areas for development, before making a u-turn.

“The NDP is in full support of the Greenbelt,” said Curtis Fric during the televised debate, critiquing Ford’s comments and citing reports that indicate that the GTA and Niagara have enough land to be developed until 2031. Fric also assailed the NPCA, calling it a “development agency instead of a conservation authority.”

Sam Oosterhoff called Ford’s actions “the mark of a true leader,” saying that he had listened to the negative response and had changed his mind as a result.

“The Liberal party has made dozens of changes to the Greenbelt. We will not be changing it. That’s a commitment,” said Oosterhoff.

Like Fric, the Liberal Joe Kanee similarly attacked Ford, and disputed Oosterhoff’s assertion that Ford’s u-turn was the mark of a good leader. When Oosterhoff pivoted to attacking the Liberals’ decision to sell off a portion of Hydro One, Kanee reminded him that it was the PC party that first was in support of the idea, asserting that the Liberals had used the proceeds of the sold shares in the electricity distributor to invest in infrastructure.

On Wednesday, after Oosterhoff critiqued the state of the province’s health care system after 15 years of Liberal government, Kanee again lambasted past PC platforms.

“It’s easy for Sam to say when the PC party hasn’t released a platform. But there are going to be cuts—at least a billion dollars from health. Mike Harris cut six thousand nurses, and closed twenty-eight hospitals across Ontario,” said Kanee.

“We’re not fighting the 2003 election,” responded Oosterhoff, adding that Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his finance minister Paul Martin had cut health transfers to the provinces.

Libertarian Stefanos Karatopis repeatedly referred to his party as “the party of choice,” calling for the creation of a private health care system that he said would alleviate the strain on the public system.

Both Karatopis, who is 48, and Kanee, who is 27, said that their ages gave them an advantage over 20-year-olds Oosterhoff and Fric.

“I work in a small business in an operational capacity,” Kanee told the crowd of 100 on Wednesday. “I was up at six to put my eight hours in today before coming here. If elected, you’re my employer. I know what it means to have an employer.”

The day after the debate, Fric, Oosterhoff, Kanee, and Tillmanns were featured on the front page of the Toronto Star in a story about the “youthquake” in Niagara West.

Wednesday’s debate also included several questions on social policy, both on the sex-ed curriculum and on parental consent for abortions. One questioner pointed out that while 16-year-old girls can obtain abortions without parental consent, they must receive parental consent for overnight class trips or to take medicine at school.

While Kanee sympathized with the need for family involvement in such issues, he said that it was a privacy matter and argued that girls should have control over their own bodies, and should not face reprisals from family for their decision to terminate a pregnancy.

Oosterhoff reiterated his anti-abortion stance.

“I’ve been very clear about being pro-life. I’ll always stand for pre-born rights,” he said, before attacking the Liberals for being “increasingly intolerant” of those who hold pro-life positions.

Though during both debates all candidates took pointed shots at opposing parties, participants and Wednesday’s attendees were cordial. The studio layout on the televised debate never had all candidates in the same shot at once, meaning that viewers had no opportunity to see the debaters interact with each other.

Oosterhoff praised the respectful tone of the race, and said that it has had “a much less personal tone than the by-election” when he was first elected in 2016.

At one point when discussing the role of family in society, Oosterhoff repeatedly misspoke, saying that “government not parents” should be making decisions about children.

“Sam meant parents, not government,” offered Kanee when Oosterhoff had finished, drawing chortles from the crowd and an appreciative smile from Oosterhoff.

Last Thursday, candidates also participated in a debate in Grimsby focused on health care.

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