Charlottetown candidates debate housing, bridge tolls, climate change

All five of Charlottetown's federal candidates were present at the first debate, hosted at UPEI on Tuesday.

Most candidates support single EI zone

All five federal candidates running in Charlottetown attended the debate at UPEI. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

The availability and affordability of housing — especially in Charlottetown where the vacancy rate is just 0.2 per cent —was one of the main topics as all five federal candidates from Charlottetown debated for the first time in the 2019 election campaign Tuesday night at W.A. Murphy Student Centre at UPEI presented by The Guardian.

Sean Casey, Liberal candidate and incumbent for the riding, says his party was behind the eight-ball in regards to housing but, said the federal government has become involved in the housing file. 

"The political will is there and the federal dollars are there," he said. "This problem will be solved. This is a temporary problem."

Christian Heritage Party candidate Fred MacLeod said the Island requires a lot of new units, and in a hurry. He said he believes it is important that people are able to afford their own homes.

"At the end of the day, what really makes a country great is for the people to own their own property," he said. 

Fred MacLeod says people being able to own their own homes is what makes a country great. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

Robert Campbell said a Conservative government would remove the stress test for first time home buyers, and said the problem was complex, requiring work from all levels of government. 

Darcie Lanthier with the Green Party said she has noticed a lot of empty houses in Charlottetown when out campaigning. She said the city has a density problem and housing shouldn't be treated the same way as other commodities. 

"We are treating the issues of housing — something that should be a human right — like an equity investment," said Lanthier.

Joe Byrne said an NDP government would be committed to making investments in public housing, saying it needs to be that way as the private sector's primary interest is in profits from housing.

The candidates also faced questions on climate change, Confederation Bridge tolls, EI zoning and other topics.

Climate change

The candidates were asked if elected what their first step would be on climate change.

Joe Bryne says a complete retooling of the economy is necessary to deal with climate change. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

Bryne said in order to effectively combat climate change an entire retooling of the economy is required. 

"The same economic system that brought us climate change in 2019 is incapable of getting us out of it," he said. 

A Christian Heritage Party government would widen the scope and look at everything that's harming the environment, said MacLeod.

"There's no direct connection to charging carbon tax to changing people's habits," he said. "That's why it's called a money grab." 

"The house is on fire — we shouldn't build a pipeline to put some gasoline on it before we call 911," said Lanthier. 

While Lanthier touted her party's Mission: Possible plan and said that retrofitting buildings to become more energy efficient would actually save owners money in the long run.

Lanthier took the moment to take a shot at her colleagues. 

"Everyone's jumping on the bandwagon and that is fantastic," she said. "So nice to see the green podium."

But Campbell said the Green's plan is unrealistic and isn't going to happen.

"Elizabeth May is a fourth-party leader, she knows full well she cannot form government. She's coming up with ideas about retrofitting every building in Canada. It's going to cost — and it's been costed by Bloomberg — $67 billion. Who's going to pay for that?"

Robert Campbell says the Green Party's plan for dealing with climate change is unrealistic and is too costly. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

"It has to be a balanced way of doing it," he said. "And we have the plan of doing it now, not in 10 years time." 

Campbell said a Conservative government would commit to lowering emissions to 40 kilotonnes and said under their plan, companies that exceed their green investment plan would have to pay into research and development of technology that would reduce their overall emissions.

Casey said his party has spent 15 times as much on climate action as it did on the pipeline. Casey also pointed to the Liberals' plan to plant two billion trees and retrofit 1.5 million homes over the next five years to make them more efficient as proof of his party's solid climate change plan.

Confederation Bridge tolls

The candidates were mostly in agreement that if elected their party would look at modifying or eliminating tolls on the Confederation Bridge

"I think everyone on the Island would like to see the tolls either reduced or gone," said Campbell. 

Byrne said the bridge tolls are a barrier for low-income Islanders.   

MacLeod said Christian Heritage would also look at modifying or eliminating bridge tolls.

Liberal candidate Casey was the only one to not commit to action on the bridge tolls if elected. The incumbent candidate said the issue is more complicated than it seems. 

"Let me just inject a little realism into the discussion," said Casey.

Liberal incumbent Sean Casey says tolls on the Confederation Bridge are a more complicated issue than people are making them out to be. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

Casey said the government is in a 35-year agreement ending in 2032, and anything that's done prior to that would involve a renegotiation of the contract. He said if bridge tolls were eliminated, tolls would also have to be eliminated for the ferry. 

Byrne questioned the Liberals' priorities in spending, pointing to the Liberals' recently-announced camping credit.

"If we can spend $150 million on people to go camping, surely we can do something about tolls on the Trans-Canada Highway," he said. 

EI Zones

The candidates were asked, if elected, if they would support a return to a single EI zone

Darcy Lanthier from the Green Party says housing should be considered a human right and not treated like another commodity. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

Casey said he supports a return to a single EI zone and said it's the file he's spent the most of his time in office on, and committed to returning P.E.I. to one EI zone if elected.

He said the move to institute a dual EI zone was a cynical political ploy by Stephen Harper's Conservatives. 

Lanthier agreed and said the dual zones were unfair. 

Campbell agreed that it needed to be fixed and pledged a Conservative government would work as quickly as they can to fix it. 

He was quick to point out that the split to two EI zones was a Conservative move and that Casey and the Liberals have had four years to change it back but have not. 

Byrne agreed that the EI zones needed to be fixed, saying it had been an arbitrary change so it should be able to be easily reverted. 

"If you want to change arbitrarily, just go ahead and change it," he said. 

Voters head to the polls on October 21.

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Travis Kingdon is a journalist with CBC P.E.I. He moved to the Island from Toronto in the spring of 2019.


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