Audience engagement peaked in Delhi when federal candidates turned their attention to the subject of immigration during an all-candidates’ meeting last week.
Candidates in Haldimand-Norfolk with a tough line on “irregular immigration” over the Quebec border and ultimately into Ontario drew consecutive rounds of applause for the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, the People’s Party of Canada and the Veterans Coalition Party of Canada.
“They are economic migrants, not genuine refugees,” said the CHP’s Lily Eggink.
The PPC’s Bob Forbes was also well-received for saying a government led by Maxime Bernier would slash immigration levels from the current 350,000 a year to 150,000.
The PPC says current immigration rates are socially destabilizing and contrary to sound principles of assimilation. Meanwhile, the party blames high immigration, in part, for a shortage of affordable housing in places like southern Ontario.
“Canada should not become the welfare state to the world,” Forbes said.
Harold Stewart Jr. of the Veterans Coalition Party asked when Canadians were “going to wake up and smell the coffee.”
“There is no war in upstate New York,” he said. “There is no reason they should be crossing the border at Quebec. They are coming here looking for a handout. I’m sick and tired of it. Enough is enough.”
Conservative candidate Diane Finley has also sensed frustration with immigration outside normal channels. A former immigration minister in the Harper government, Finley said Conservative leader Andrew Scheer would take a harder line than the governing Liberals.
“We have to make sure that Canadians have first shot at the available jobs,” Finley told the crowd of 150 at the German Home on Oct. 2. “What we do not need is people taking advantage of our generosity. When they cross the border into Canada from the United States they are not being persecuted at all.”
Green Party candidate Brooke Martin reminded the gathering that Canada’s birth rate has fallen below replacement level. Until that changes, Martin said Canada will need a steady stream of young, able-bodied newcomers who can fill gaps in the workforce, pay into pension funds and “preserve the right to retire.”
For her part, Liberal candidate Kim Huffman defended the government’s record on immigration as fair and in tune with Canada’s present and future needs.
“Immigration is the foundation of our country,” Huffman said. “We want to be a country that welcomes people. We want to be a safe haven for people who are persecuted and fear for their families and their lives.”
The Conservatives’ focus on affordability in this campaign was evident in Finley’s opening statement. Just as she did at an all-candidates event in Simcoe the night before, Finley began with an assessment of the Trudeau government’s carbon tax and its impact on average families.
Finley said the tax costs the average Canadian family $1,150 a year, adding “they’ve only just begun.”
Huffman took Finley to task for failing to mention that the Trudeau government has kept its promise to rebate the bulk of this money, leaving large polluters to pay the lion’s share of Ottawa’s net receipts from the measure.
“The carbon tax is proved world-wide to work,” Huffman said. “There is no other way to effectively control carbon pollution.”
While discussing the environment, Huffman dropped a tantalizing hint about election day Oct. 21 and its possible aftermath. She said the Liberals, New Democrats and Green Party have credible plans regarding the environment and should be able to work together on that once the dust settles
Martin agreed with Huffman that a carbon tax is conducive to a healthier environment. Martin also spoke in favour of high-speed rapid transit and against fracking as a means of extracting natural gas.
Other candidates suggested concerns over climate are overblown. Eggink and Forbes said global weather patterns have been in flux since prehistoric times.
“Extreme weather events have been happening for thousands of years,” Eggink said. “There are many scientists who do not accept that climate change is man-made.”
Stewart added there are ways to reduce pollution without imposing a tax on everything.
Seven candidates squared off at the first all-candidates event in Simcoe Tuesday. Six of them were able to make it to Delhi. NDP candidate Adrienne Roberts booked off due to illness.