3 candidates make their pitch to Hamilton-Centre voters; PC candidate absent at debate

There was quite a bit the candidates present could agree on during this week's televised debate — protecting the Greenbelt, freezing Hamilton’s urban boundary and raising social assistance rates. Here are the highlights.

Byelection for MPP is March 16. Here are highlights from this week's televised debate

A collage of three people speaking into microphones.
From left: Hamilton Centre provincial candidates Lucia Iannantuono (Greens), Sarah Jama (NDP) and Deirdre Pike (Liberal), participated in a televised debate on Cable 14 on March 7. Progressive Conservative candidate Pete Wiesner did not attend. (Courtesy of Cable 14)

With the Progressive Conservative (PC) candidate absent, there was quite a bit that the Hamilton Centre byelection candidates could agree on during this week's televised debate  — the need to protect the Greenbelt, freeze Hamilton's urban boundary and raise social assistance rates.

Three of the four invited to participate in the only public debate before next week's byelection were in attendance: Lucia Iannantuono, running for the Green Party, Sarah Jama for the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Deirdre Pike for the Liberals.

Pete Wiesner, Ontario PC candidate, did not participate.

The debate, hosted by broadcaster Cable 14, provided insight into what the three candidates are putting forward to Hamilton Centre voters, who will elect a new member of provincial parliament on March 16. 

In addition to the areas of agreement, there was some drama, after Pike asked Jama to apologize "for some of the things that have been said" about Israel and the use of the term "apartheid" to describe the situation in the Palestinian Territories. (A United Nations special rapporteur has used the term "apartheid" to describe Israel's occupation, as has Human Rights Watch.)

"I do think that saying some of the things that are triggering and … offensive really, that evoke genocide... this is what I have seen B'nai B'rith calling out," Pike said in the most heated portion of the debate.

B'nai B'rith Canada, a Jewish advocacy organization, issued a statement Monday calling on the NDP to drop Jama as a candidate for past criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

"I am against antisemitism in all of its forms," Jama responded. "To villainize student groups such as the ones that were running Israeli Apartheid Week on [the McMaster University] campus 10 years ago is not fair… It is OK to stand up and say Palestinians have the right to exist while also saying we are adamantly against antisemitism."

The pitches

Over the course of the 90-minute event, each participating candidate made several promises related to what policies they would support if elected. (The full video of the debate is available on Cable 14's website.)

A person speaks into a microphone in front of a black background
Lucia Iannantuono is the Green Party candidate in the 2023 Hamilton Centre byelection. (Courtesy of Cable 14)

Lucia Iannantuono, Green Party of Ontario

Iannantuono pushed against both of her opponents on their parties' environmental platforms, saying the NDP's amounted to "more of an idea than a plan" and the Liberals' would prop up technology that supports continued use of fossil fuels, such as renewable natural gas and carbon capture and storage. She also pushed the idea of electoral reform that could help Ontarians feel less detached from the political process.

She promised to support:

  • Doubling Ontario Disability Support Program payments. 
  • Investing in home care for seniors, and providing standardization and oversight so those who need it receive a good standard of care. 
  • Phasing out for-profit long-term care homes.
  • Electoral reform that would eliminate the current first-past-the-post system and lower the voting age to 16. 
  • Ending the "revolving door" of people who leave politics and go into lobbying politicians. 
  • The creation of a unified provincial funding structure for housing and shelter.
  • Developing an Indigenous housing strategy.
  • Protecting all urban boundaries in Ontario.
  • Creating a "Bluebelt" of protected watersheds. 
  • Nation to nation partnerships with Indigenous communities.
  • Funding a 24/7 line for crisis response, to divert calls from police.
A person stares at the camera and speaks into a microphone
Sarah Jama is the NDP candidate in the 2023 Hamilton Centre byelection. (Courtesy of Cable 14)

Sarah Jama, New Democratic Party of Ontario

Jama positioned herself in the debate as a powerful voice to hold Ford's government accountable, drawing on her years of community work in areas related to homelessness, disability, urban sprawl and on other political campaigns. She also noted twice that she was meeting people while canvassing who'd never had anyone come speak to them before. (Her NDP predecessor, Andrea Horwath, who was also NDP party leader, was sometimes criticized for a lack of presence in the riding.)

Jama promised to support:

  • Doubling social assistance rates (Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works).
  • Raising the minimum wage. 
  • Continuing to fight at against Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act. 
  • Making sure nurses are paid fairly and not fighting them in court.
  • Putting in place better rent control and eliminating loopholes. 
  • Fighting evictions.
  • Policies that help Ontario reach net zero in emission rates by 2050.
  • Protecting the Greenbelt and leaving Hamilton's urban boundary intact.
  • The addition of "gentle density" to the existing urban area.
  • Repealing Ford-era legislation "that has attacked workers."
  • Investing more in our communities and public services and less in policing.
A person looks to one side while behind a microphone
Deirdre Pike is the Liberal candidate in the 2023 Hamilton Centre byelection. (Courtesy of Cable 14)

Deirdre Pike, Ontario Liberal Party

Pike promoted the idea that a vote for her would be a vote for a party more likely to form government after the next general election, while also positioning herself as someone who could push her party to take more progressive stances on issues such as climate change. She often reminded viewers of past Liberal successes, such as eliminating coal power or the basic income pilot project, and appeared to criticize protesters at a recent city council meeting who were opposed to the police budget, calling their intrusion on the meeting "disruptive." (Her comments came just days after provincial Liberals came together in Hamilton to discuss a party renewal.)

Pike said she would support:

  • Bringing back a basic income program.
  • Protecting farmland and the Greenbelt.
  • Policies that improve conditions for workers in congregate care settings, such as nursing homes.
  • $25 per hour baseline pay for personal support workers.
  • Revisiting the idea of a citizen's assembly to look at electoral reform.
  • Reviving Liberal policies discarded by the Ford government related to raising minimum wage and social assistance rates.
  • Temporary shelter programs that involve social supports, such as the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters proposal.
  • Cancelling Highway 413.

Wiesner did not provide video

Wiesner's absence was notable as the other candidates were not able to question him on the record of his party, the governing PCs. Conservative candidates in other recent elections have also opted to skip debates.

While only the candidates from the four largest parties were invited to participate in the debate, other candidates were invited to submit a video detailing their platform. Among them:

  • Independent candidate Matthew Lingard spoke to the need for more referendums and respect in politics.
  • Independent candidate John Turmel highlighted his being in the Guinness Book of World Records for running in the most elections, and shared misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine.
  • New Blue party candidate Lee Weiss Vassor criticized Doug Ford's government for COVID-19 lockdowns and the homelessness and addiction epidemic she says were exacerbated by them.
  • Independent Nathalie Xian Yi Yan said Ontario needs to do better pushing for health-care money from the federal government and get more people into the trades.

Wiesner did not submit a video. 

NDP likely to hold on to riding, experts say

Liam Midzain-Gobin, a Brock University assistant professor of political science, was one of several experts who previously told CBC Hamilton that it is likely the NDP will hold on to the seat. 

After Horwath announced her intention to run for mayor last summer, Midzain-Gobin pointed to NDP member of parliament Matthew Green's success in the riding federally and said Horwath's departure offered "a real opportunity for renewal" for the riding and the party.

"When you look at the makeup of the riding, it looks really different depending on where you're sitting in the riding but one kind of issue the riding has had to deal with and will be dealing with going forward is that there's a lot of change to be coming," said Midzain-Gobin, who lives in Hamilton Centre.

Advance polling for the byelection closes Friday at 8 p.m. People can also vote at the returning office in the Centre on Barton, next to Giant Tiger, until March 15. 

Hamilton Centre voters can check their polling location for byelection day here. Polls will be open from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. 


Saira Peesker is a reporter with CBC Hamilton, with particular interests in climate, labour and local politics. She has previously worked with the Hamilton Spectator and CTV News, and is a regular contributor to the Globe and Mail, covering business and personal finance. Saira can be reached at saira.peesker@cbc.ca.

With files from Bobby Hristova and Aura Carreño Rosas