First debate

KINBURN – It was a packed house last night (Sept. 25) as the West Carleton community took advantage of the first opportunity to hear all five federal Kanata-Carleton riding election candidates speaking at the same table.

More than 130 interested residents, from all corners of West Carleton, filled the Kinburn Community Centre for the Kanata-Carleton riding’s first all-candidates meeting of this election season, hosted by the Arnprior Region of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (ARFA).

For four of the candidates on stage, it was their first time ever being on the hot seat during an election all-candidates meeting. For the fifth, it was her first opportunity to defend her seat.

This election’s federal candidates include incumbent Liberal Karen McCrimmon, Conservative Justina McCaffrey, NDP Melissa Coenraad, Green Party Dr. Jennifer Purdy and People’s Party of Canada candidate Scott Miller.

All five showed a small case of nerves but carried themselves well during the two-plus hour meeting. McCaffrey spent a lot of the meeting reading from her notes, and the audience let her know they knew she wasn’t as prepared as they expected her to be.

All five candidates were together for the first time in last night's all-candidates meeting in Kinburn, hosted by the Arnprior Region of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. Photo by Jake Davies
All five candidates were together for the first time in last night’s all-candidates meeting in Kinburn, hosted by the Arnprior Region of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. Photo by Jake Davies

The doors were open early so attendees had an opportunity for some one-on-one time with the candidates, and then shortly after 7 p.m. moderator and ARFA director Brian Hamilton called the candidates to the table.

Candidates were given an opportunity for an opening statement and a closing statement, but the majority of the time was spent answering written questions from the audience curated by the ARFA volunteers.

“There will be an agricultural focus, but all questions are welcome,” Hamilton said.

McCaffrey was chosen to speak first.

“I felt disenfranchised with Pierre Trudeau,” she said. “Now I realize we have to do something about Justin. I understand business.”

“I never even had a sign on my lawn before,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of people not in good shape.”

“This election is unlike any other,” she said. “People aren’t happy with the traditional parties.”

“Here is where my heart is,” McCrimmon told the audience. “Being here and being able to help people.”

“I understand what rural living is all about,” Coenraad said.

Topics brought up in the form of questions included trade, agriculture, immigration, food security, Internet service, infrastructure, firearms, data protection, affordable energy and lobbying.

All the candidate had similar answers on the issues based on their party’s platforms and offered varying promises on those issues. The only noticeable disagreement was on the environment, where Miller flatly stated there is no climate crisis.

In 20 years of election coverage, the evening’s audience was one of the most respectful witnessed by this reporter. The crowd stuck to applause and chuckles when responding to candidate responses. There was not one single case of heckling throughout the debate.

ARFA member Bruce Hudson holds the spatula of power, timing candidates' responses during the debate. Photo by Jake Davies
ARFA member Bruce Hudson holds the spatula of power, timing candidates’ responses during the debate. Photo by Jake Davies

A steady trickle of attendees started heading for the door around 8:45 p.m. but the debate would continue for another half hour.

The event closed with the final words going to the candidates.

“I spend most of my days advocating for people,” Coenraad said. “I understand rural community. I understand the struggles most Canadians have. I am so proud of the NDP’s platform, it’s all investing in Canadians of every kind.”

“It all comes down to wanting better for every sector of the economy,” McCrimmon said. “We have so many opportunities for growing our agricultural sector. The world wants our products. I hope that you feel I was here and accessible to you.”

“Most can agree the climate is a growing threat,” Purdy said. “It’s also an opportunity for the agricultural community. Our plan is fully costed.”

“I admit I have a magnetic personality and scintillating intellect,” Miller joked. “But it’s really about the platform – check it out.”

“As you can see it’s a rich plan,” McCaffrey said, reading for the last time. “What we’re hearing at the door is two-thirds of people are having trouble paying their bills or having nothing left over. People are barely getting by. We have a plan.”

Hamilton thanked the audience for their attendance and reminded those in the building that the Ontario Federation of Agriculture also has election priorities.

The agriculture lobbying group lists its priorities as affordable energy; well maintained roads, bridges and drainage systems to keep the industry moving; access to reliable high-speed Internet; and smart regulation and fair trade agreements.

ARFA director Debra Pretty-Straathof spoke with West Carleton Online following the debate.

“I think we had a pretty good turnout,” she said. “Excellent questions from the people. It was difficult to filter them.”

Pretty-Straathof was impressed with the audience’s behaviour.

“They were very respectful, which was a good thing,” she said. “It’s difficult. That’s why we do the written questions. When people ask questions themselves, they tend to make a statement. This was more efficient. We just have to make sure all the questions can be answered by all the candidates.”

West Carleton Online wanted to know why ARFA regularly hosts all-candidates meetings during elections. Pretty-Straathof recognized that OFA is a lobby group and it wants candidates to understand the agriculture perspective.

“It’s a whole different world for some of the candidates,” she said. “It’s a complex industry.”

For candidate profiles, click on the names below:

Conservative Justina McCaffrey

Liberal Karen McCrimmon

NDP Melissa Coenraad

Green Party Dr. Jen Purdy

People’s Party of Canada Scott Miller