Ottawa—Vanier byelection candidates square off at public forum

Candidates in the race to represent Ottawa—Vanier at the federal level gathered at Rockcliffe Park Public School Tuesday night to present their platforms and take questions from the public.

April 3 is the day voters in Ottawa—Vanier will choose their new representative on Parliament Hill

Four of the candidates running in the Ottawa—Vanier byelection April 3, clockwise from top left: Nira Dookeran for the Green Party, Mona Fortier for the Liberals, Adrian Papara for the Conservatives and Emilie Taman for the NDP. (Radio-Canada)

Candidates in the race to represent Ottawa—Vanier at the federal level gathered at Rockcliffe Park Public School Tuesday night to present their platforms and take questions from the public.

The byelection — scheduled to take place April 3 — was called after longtime Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger died from Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS, in August 2016. 

About 300 people showed up to the Tuesday night meeting, listening as candidates answered a dozen questions on topics including immigration, pension security and electoral reform.

However, the first question of the night concerned the ongoing problems with the Phoenix pay system, an issue affecting many public servants in the capital's historically Francophone riding. 

'We inherited this system'

Mona Fortier is the Liberal candidate for the riding. (Liberal Party of Ottawa)

"We inherited this system [from] the previous Conservative government and ... we see that it's not a question of flaws, it's really unacceptable that we're having major issues with the Phoenix system," said Liberal candidate Mona Fortier.

"We're really working hard to fix it."

Liberals have won every federal election in Ottawa—Vanier since the riding's creation in 1935.

Affordable housing, electoral reform

NDP candidate Emilie Taman said she's hoping to crack the Liberal party's reign in the area.

"I don't believe that any dynasty is impenetrable," Taman said after the forum ended. "I get a real strong feeling from people that they're open to change. It's a byelection, it's a totally different dynamic."

Emilie Taman is a lawyer who ran for the NDP in the last federal election. (CBC)
One of the issues Taman said she would press the current Liberal government on is the lack of affordable housing, which she describes as a "crisis."

"There are 10,000 people on waiting lists in this city alone looking to be housed in a safe, secure environment that they can afford," she said.

Another issue brought up during the public forum is the topic of electoral reform.

"It's not everyone's number one issue but for those who care about it, there is a passion that is commendable," said Taman. "But I can tell you that, even people for whom electoral reform is not their biggest passion they see that disappointment. They see the cynicism behind the decision to abandon the promise. We don't consider it a dead issue and we're going to continue to push for electoral reform." 

Beyond protecting the environment

Nira Dookeran is a high school teacher and community activist who ran for the Green Party in the last federal election. (CBC)
Teacher and Green party candidate Nira Dookeran said she's committed to pushing for stronger protections for the environment, as well as pressing for action on other issues facing residents in her riding.

"Job security, income security, affordable housing and there's a lot of concern about senior's care. It's an aging population. Some well-off, some not so well-off," said Dookeran, who believes her experience of living in Ottawa—Vanier makes her well suited to represent the diverse community. 

"I taught here at Rideau High School and other high schools. I raised my son here. I was a single mom here. I was a married person. A home owner. Then I was a divorced mom in subsidized housing. I've seen and lived the breadth of experience in this riding," she said.

A protest vote

Conservative candidate Adrian Papara, who has an MBA from the University of Ottawa, believes some people's desire for political change in the riding could be reflected in their vote.

"It's a way for people to protest," he said. "When I knocked on doors, people were telling me, 'It's been Liberal for so many years. We'd love to see a Conservative candidate in here.'

Adrian Papara has worked for two Conservative MPs on Parliament Hill and has been involved with the party's campaigns in Ottawa—Vanier in recent years. (CBC)
"A lot of people feel that, because this is a Liberal riding, the Liberals don't have to work as hard as the other candidates. And a lot of people say that their vote is just taken for granted."

Papara said he would like to see the community transformed by emerging businesses the way other areas of the city have been.

"I look at places like Kanata, who have a great private sector hub and we don't have that in Ottawa—Vanier.

"Kanata has incubators for small businesses. I think if we work with our university and have an incubator, or accelerator in Ottawa—Vanier, we could have our own little technology hub or innovation hub here in this area and attract people here."

Key dates

Via Elections Canada:​

  • Advanced voting days are March 24-27.
  • Voters can cast a ballot at the Elections Canada office (214 Montreal Rd., Suite 500) until March 28.
  • The deadline to apply to vote by mail is also March 28.
  • Voting day is April 3.