NDP leadership candidates faced off in Thursday night debate

A guaranteed income, affordable housing and what to do about the Fort Amherst name were big issues at the NDP P.E.I. leadership debate Thursday night.

The leadership convention is scheduled for April 7

From left to right, Margaret Andrade, Susan MacVittie, and Joe Byrne agreed on most issues during Thursday night's leadership debate. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

A guaranteed income, affordable housing and what to do about the Fort Amherst name were big issues at the NDP P.E.I. leadership debate Thursday night.

Susan MacVittie, the most recent candidate to join the race, had not yet announced she was running when the first debate took place weeks ago in O'Leary.

MacVittie and fellow candidates Margaret Andrade and Joe Byrne saw eye-to-eye on most points during the friendly debate.

They answered questions about inequality, lack of affordable housing, and how to combat poverty across the province, with all candidates agreeing that those issues were of great importance. They also agreed that the province needs a basic income guarantee. 

"I think that the three of us — although we are within the same party — we still have some very different approaches," said Andrade.

Different takes on housing issue

When it came to addressing the challenges of finding affordable housing on the Island, all candidates agreed it's a problem that needs to be solved.

Margaret Andrade would like to place a moratorium on issuing new building permits unless affordable housing is a part of the developer's plan. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"I would actually put a moratorium on issuing any more new building permits unless affordable housing is a part of that developer's plan," said Andrade.

Byrne agreed with Andrade on having a building code, but he emphasized the need for public housing dollars. 

"We need more co-ops," he said. "We need more apartment buildings, multi-use apartment buildings so that the communities are diversified and they need to be scattered across the province."

MacVittie agreed this is a problem that reaches beyond Charlottetown.

"We know that we need affordable housing, not just in the urban centres, but in the rural areas as well."

She said that affordable housing is a planning issue, and suggested that the province needs policies in place to identify areas as designated farmland, land for business development, and land for affordable housing.

Thoughts on Amherst

The candidates were also asked for their opinions on the naming of Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada.

Last month, a Mi'kmaq name was added to the national historic site, but some have been advocating for Amherst's name to be removed altogether. Scholars had debated Gen. Jeffery Amherst's actions during his service in the 1700s until evidence was found that he advocated the use of biological warfare through smallpox blankets to kill Indigenous peoples.

Susan MacVittie says that affordable housing is needed not just in urban centres, but in the rural parts of the province as well. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

MacVittie said she didn't have a firm stance on the issue and that she would have to know more about it to actually speak on it.

"I think that we have a lot of work to do with First Nations and reconciliation, and I don't know if unnaming statues of our history is going to meet all of the requirements for that kind of reconciliation," she said. 

"I'm actually undecided about this one to tell you the truth because I see it as an important step, but at the same time, it's part of our history. The most important issue is to be teaching people about what did happen so we don't repeat our mistakes with First Nations in Canada."

For Andrade, there was no question: "There's no doubt in my mind that we remove any link to Amherst," she said.

"You cannot in one hand say to the First Nations and Indigenous people in this country that we believe in truth and reconciliation without actually recognizing the truth. There's no question."

Joe Byrne says there is a great need for public housing dollars. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Byrne said it's important to recognize the history of Amherst as "horrendous."

"I have a personal preference just to remove it. But we have a nation to nation relationship with the Mi'kmaq, and that means engaging the confederacy, the chiefs ... the native council. So, I can say that that's my personal preference, but I wouldn't impose that because I'd just be repeating the same pattern that I think would be patronizing, frankly."​

Convention countdown

The candidates still have two more debates before the convention: 

  • March 22, 7 p.m. at the Loyalist Country Inn in Summerside.
  • March 23, 7 p.m. at the Montague Rotary Library in Montague.

The leadership contest comes after former NDP leader Mike Redmond resigned following a fourth place finish in November's Charlottetown-Parkdale byelection.

The leadership convention is scheduled for Saturday, April 7 in Charlottetown.

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About the Author

Katerina Georgieva is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Windsor. She has also worked for CBC in Charlottetown, Toronto and Winnipeg.