Manitobans want answers on immigration, Indigenous sovereignty, agriculture after leaders' debate

When the leaders were done debating in Quebec, people in Manitoba were left wondering when their questions — on topics like immigration, climate change, agriculture, Indigenous issues and child welfare — would be addressed.

Leaders of 6 major political parties battled it out in English-language debate Monday night

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pose for a photograph before the federal leaders' debate Monday night. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

On Monday night in Quebec, the leaders of Canada's six main political parties took to the stage at the Canadian Museum of History to face off over some of the issues on voters' minds in the run-up to the Oct. 21 federal election.

Hours later in Manitoba, people were left wondering when their questions — on topics like immigration, climate change, agriculture, Indigenous issues and child welfare — would be addressed.

Despite stemming from another province, Quebec's Bill 21 — which forbids some public servants from wearing religious symbols on the job, and is being challenged by two civil-rights groups in Quebec's Superior Court — loomed large for the implications some Manitobans say it could have across the country.

Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, said she was disappointed to see the leaders' stances on the issue.

"There was an unwillingness, quite frankly… to truly stand behind principles of human rights and of anti-racism," Blumczynska said of the bill, which is sometimes referred to as the province's secularism law.

"It is racist and hateful. It is narrow-minded, and I don't think it has anything to do with secularism. I think it has everything to do with identifying and pushing away the other," she said.

Immigrants 'bring great contributions'

Blumczynska said she was also disheartened to hear the leaders only discuss immigration in economic terms.

"Immigrants of all classes, including refugees ... bring great contributions to the economy and to the cultural fabric and to the societal fabric," she said. "There was just very limited debate about truly the values that immigration brings to our communities."

Blumczynska said Manitobans who are voting with immigration in minds should be asking their local candidates about their positions on honouring the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, ensuring multiple pathways for people seeking protection in Canada and continuing complementary pathways to help reunite families.

"We are global leaders in human rights and we should be continuing our dedication to the protection of human rights," she said.

'Missed opportunity' to discuss child welfare ruling

For Sheila North, a director at University College of the North, whether a candidate supports the idea of Indigenous sovereignty will be top of mind come election day.

"My go-to is looking for a leader who understands that the notion of Indigenous sovereignty and jurisdiction is now where we need to go as a country and I didn't get that yet from anyone," said North, who is also a former grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

"It's not just me and a few people saying that that's where we need to go as a country — grassroots people are saying that across the country."

North said she had hoped to hear the leaders talk more about the recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision ordering Ottawa to compensate First Nations children involved in on-reserve child welfare systems.

"There was a missed opportunity during the Indigenous issues portion to really hammer the leaders on where they stand," she said. "It was just a critical point to discuss and debate why it is important to support Indigenous people, especially children."

The six leaders faced off Monday night in the only official English-language debate this election. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

North said she wants to hear more from the leaders on how they'll tackle issues like disproportionately high rates of incarceration, homelessness, poverty and involvement with child welfare systems among Indigenous people in Canada.

"I think we have an opportunity to [turn] those challenges into opportunities, and we are in a good position to do that if we're serious about restoring the relationships and wanting to achieve reconciliation," she said. "I'm always cautiously optimistic that things will turn out, but I'm also painfully aware of the history and the repeated history of broken promises."

Agriculture, climate change intertwined

Manitoba dairy farmer Alain Philippot, who recently grilled Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on agriculture's role in recent international trade deals, said he was shocked the topic wasn't given more airtime during the debate — especially when it came to the portion on climate change.

"You can look at [agriculture] as one of the biggest challenges we have with the environment, but [it] also becomes your biggest opportunity, where you're able to do something and make change and have a large impact," said Philippot. "That kind of irks me that we don't move ahead on that."

Philippot said he sees huge potential for agriculture to help mitigate the effects of climate change — and he wants to make sure it happens.

"We've always been taught to leave the land and all of your environment in better shape than you found it for the next generation," he said.

Philippot said for him, the issue stretches further than just how it will impact him and his farm right now — he's thinking about people like his son, who will one day take over the family operation.

"We need to move forward on these things and we need to act," he said. "When you talk to my son, he's buying into the farm now. And [with] that generation, there's no question. They're saying, 'We need to do something now, and we need to address this.'"

With files from Caitlyn Gowriluk


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