'Not just a grandchildren issue': HWAD seniors ask candidates about climate change

There were pressing issues around pensions, affordability and caregivers, but of all the seniors issues at a Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas debate Tuesday, one rang out — climate change.

Older voters wanted to know about pensions and help for caregivers - and the environment

Victoria Galea (Green), Bert Laranjo (Conservative), Yousaf Malik (NDP) and Filomena Tassi (Liberal) participated in a federal all-candidates meeting held by the Retired Teachers of Ontario District 13, the Hamilton Council on Aging, and the Hamilton branches of the Congress of Union Retirees and the National Association of Federal Retirees. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

They asked about pensions, and affordability, and caregivers. But of all the questions Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas seniors had for federal candidates at a debate Tuesday, one rang out — climate change.

Organizers fielded four questions from the floor on climate change, said Leo Normandeau, first vice-president of the Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTO) District 13. And it's been a common theme when hearing from members too.

"Many of them are quite concerned about climate change," said Normandeau. "Very, very concerned." The RTO was part of the organizing group that also included the Hamilton Council on Aging and the Hamilton branches of the Congress of Union Retirees and the National Association of Federal Retirees.

All four candidates — Victoria Galea from the Green party, Bert Laranjo from the Conservatives, Yousaf Malik from the NDP and Liberal incumbent Filomena Tassi — outlined their party platforms on climate change. Tassi talked about her government's ban on single-use plastics, a $1.5-billion ocean protection plan, and the "unprecedented investments in public transit and green infrastructure."

Laranjo, a Dundas nurse and manager of the emergency department at Cambridge Memorial Hospital, said his party would invest in green technology, give homeowners tax credits for green retrofits, and bring together world leaders to discuss climate targets.

Malik, who works in social housing policy, said the NDP plans to create 300,000 green jobs by investing in green technology. The NDP will also provide incentives for homeowners to retrofit, he said.

But Galea said none of the parties have high enough goals, and the Liberal pledges are hypocritical given that the government bought a multi-billion-dollar pipeline project.

Climate change "is not just the children, or a grandchildren issue," said Galea, a 24-year-old McMaster University graduate student.

"The problem we're facing as millennials is 'do we have children in a climate and world that can't sustain itself?' We are in a climate emergency, and we cannot in the same 48 hours declare a climate emergency while also expanding a pipeline."

Pensions were another key issue. HWAD seniors were impacted, Normandeau said, when Sears declared bankruptcy and left retirees with greatly reduced pensions. When Stelco entered Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act protection, that also brought uncertainty and the temporary loss of health care benefits for thousands of local retirees.

Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas was created in 2012. (Elections Canada)

The NDP, under pensions critic and Hamilton Mountain MP Scott Duvall, introduced Bill C-384, which would amend bankruptcy laws to put pensioners at the top of creditors lists when companies declare bankruptcy. The bill died when the House of Commons adjourned.

Laranjo said the Conservatives supported that bill too, but the Liberals stopped it, which is "unacceptable." 

"This is something we will fight for," he said.

Tassi, who was also Minister of Seniors, told the audience it's a complicated issue. Making pensions a "super priority" in bankruptcy law will have "unintended consequences." Stelco, she said, would have shut down. 

"What's the situation with Stelco now?" she said. "It's growing. It's expanded. They're hiring new people."

Seven per cent of pensions are federally regulated, she said, and the rest are provincial. But "there's more work to be done and I'm committed to doing it."

HWAD was created in 2012, and Tassi is its first MP. Census numbers show the riding has a population of 109,575 people, and is slightly more female than male. The median age of electors is 42. There are slightly more married people than singles, and the majority of voters are white, speak English and live in single-family homes.

The seniors organizations have two more debates planned. A Hamilton Mountain debate will happen on Oct. 8 at St. Jean de Brébeuf Catholic Secondary School from 7 to 9 p.m. There will also be a Hamilton Centre event at St. Peter's Hospital on Oct. 9 from 7 to 9 p.m.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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