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Federal Election 2019: Guelph candidates speak on youth issues

We asked the local candidates in Monday's federal election some youth-related questions
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The NDP's Aisha Jahangir, from left, Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield and Green Party candidate Steve Dyck attend an all-candidates forum earlier in the campaign. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday file photo

GuelphToday teamed up with students from Algonquin College to pose some questions on youth-related issues to the local candidates in the federal election. Five of the nine local candidates responded to our questions. Here's what the candidates that did respond had to say.​​​​

1. With the rising cost of housing in Ontario, what solutions are you proposing to help homeless youth in your community?

Steve Dyck (Green Party): The Green Party believes reducing poverty is more important than allowing our richest citizens to get richer. That’s why a major policy initiative within our platform is a Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) for all. The use of a GLI would eliminate poverty and allow social services to concentrate on problems of mental health and addiction.

The principle of the GLI is simple: to establish an income floor below which no Canadian could fall, but with incentives, recipients to continue working and to earn more. A GLI would provide a regular payment to every Canadian, at a level above the poverty line, to meet Canadians' basic food and other needs and ensure that no person’s income falls below what is necessary for health, life, and dignity. Any additional income would be declared and those earning above a certain total income would then pay the GLI back in taxes.

Aisha Jahangir (NDP): So, we recognize that that is definitely an issue. People are talking about the inability to afford housing and the lack of housing. So, the solution that NDP is really proud of announcing a 500,000 new housing union, which will include Coop sharing, and many other rental properties.

Lloyd Longfield (Liberal): As Canadians, we must do everything we can to reduce homelessness. That’s why our Liberal government launched Reaching Home – Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, a $2 billion investment to help us meet our ambitious goal of reducing homelessness by 50% over the next ten years. Last year, I was thrilled to announce $1.4 million in new funding for homelessness programs in Guelph and Wellington County. Guelph has signed on with other communities to the 20,000 Homes Campaign. We set targets and we are seeing the results of our coordinated efforts and these investments. By working together, here in Guelph and Wellington County we have reduced chronic homelessness by 24% over the last year. Reaching Home will help communities more effectively work together so that we can realize a Canada without homelessness.

Juanita Burnett (Communist Party): In the short term, we would immediately build emergency shelters and transition housing for homeless people. Also make housing a right and thus give everyone the legal power to argue for their right to be housed, build 1 million units of social housing. We would work with the provinces to ensure adequate welfare and disability payments (adequate as in a 'good life' adequate, not the bare minimum) and our free
post-secondary education policies would ensure homeless youth were able to enter colleges and universities if they so desired.

Gordon Truscott (Christian Heritage Party): This question seems to presuppose a breakdown in family relations, for which we already have government agencies to deal with. Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie's Homelessness Task Force aptly deals with homelessness for people of all ages. I would work for federal assistance for the Mayor's program.

2. With rising grocery costs, what will you do to ensure consistent, easy access to healthy meals for youth?  (The number of people using Guelph’s food bank has doubled over the past five years. How do you intend to help youth who do not have access to food?)

Dyck: I grew up on a farm. I know the value of hard work and what it takes to go from seed to table while supporting a family. We need to improve affordability in our local healthy foods. We need to protect Canadian farmers. This includes tools such as supply management systems while allowing production for local markets outside this system, so that we can grow in local markets for local markets.

Supply management is crucial to delivering stability to Canadian food producers, but there’s more work that needs to be done to help ensure that families are never worried about putting healthy food on their table. We will set a target to replace a third of Canada’s food imports with domestic production, increasing regional food self-reliance and returning $15B food dollars back into our economy. Funding national food in schools’ program is one way the USA has supported more local food production and processing. Agriculture can play a key role in reversing climate damage and the UoG is playing a key role in developing regenerative agriculture. Our soils have been losing carbon content. Using the right cover crops we can actually sequester carbon underground and improve our soil structure. Our healthy food in school program will support precision weed control practices to reduce and eliminate toxins and pesticides in our food.

Jahangir: So that speaks to food insecurity. I to recognize that there are more, more and more people using the food bank. So even though there isn’t anything specific to cost the food and helping with groceries in that regard, but we are recognizing that there’s other ways that we can help. And one way that we’re proposing is around student loans and tuition. So, we’re going to be introducing interest free student government loans.

The federal government loans will be interest free for students. Also, we’re going to be introducing more federal grants for students and working our way towards tuition free. What’s really important is that we understand that there’s more than just the cost of tuition, when students are considering going to postsecondary education and we’re hoping that this way it will help with other associated costs such as housing and food.

Longfield: In Budget 2019, our Liberal government laid the groundwork for a national food policy which includes working with the provinces and Territories to set up a national school food program. They're many great organizations in Guelph that support the work of the Guelph Food Bank and the Campus Food Bank at the University of Guelph. I believe that every child in Canada should be able to go to school each day with a healthy breakfast so that they can be fully engaged in their classes and ready to learn.

Burnett: There are a number of student-specific policies in our platform – eliminating student debt, free post-secondary education to all including international students, including a stipend for living expenses, banning unpaid internships, and so on. Expanding Medicare and other public services. There are a few neighbourhood markets in Guelph that have fresh vegetables at no or low cost available, and I will help make them more known and find ways to make them more accessible to young people. (The Bench is another help for hungry people - from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. every day, there is food, water, hygiene products etc. available at the bench on Wyndham Street (across from where the Meridian used to be.)

Truscott: Guelph has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. Students often presume that they can go seamlessly for 20 or more years in studies without having to work. I often see Help Wanted signs in Guelph and saw another one just today at a place where the work is not too demanding. With 29,000 students at the University of Guelph, some students may realistically have to make use of the Guelph Food Bank. The higher provincial minimum wage helps students as much as anyone else. However, help in finding suitable part-time employment may be necessary if students insist on continuing their studies uninterrupted for as long as they wish.

3. What do you intend to do to help youth in your community get access to jobs?

Dyck: For too many youths, the reality of precarious employment, crushing debt loads as they begin their adult lives, results in lost opportunities for both individuals and society. The answer is simple. The federal government needs to reinvest in the education system. The Greens will budget $10 billion to post-secondary, making trade schools, college and university tuition-free for all Canadian students, student loan forgiveness and employment opportunities for students and graduates.

Jahangir: The federal government recognizes that we’re going to have to be moving away from fossil fuels. And so, we’re going to be eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, which is $3.3 billion. So that $3.3 billion will be invested in workers and creating 300,000 new jobs in clean, like good clean technology jobs. There is job creation.

Longfield: Our Government doubled the amount of jobs available through the Canada Summer Jobs program. Here in Guelph, over 1250 jobs were created over the past four years. We also expanded the eligibility of the program so that the positions are also available for recent graduates.

Burnett: There are a number of job creation plans in our platform –
construction of social housing, retrofits and infrastructure projects, an affordable electric car, etc. We would also enact a 32-hour work week with no loss in pay. This would increase the number of positions available. People wouldn't need two or three jobs just to get by – one good one would be sufficient.

Truscott: Again, there are ample jobs in Guelph. Help may be needed to link students with a job, especially for those who do not have a history of working.

4. Many of Ontario’s youth are struggling with mental health. What can you do to include to better support mental health and substance abuse issues in your community?

Dyck: I see providing mental health services as key to improving wellness and reducing overall health care costs. While being responsible with spending is important, saving lives is always more important. When someone asks for help, we need to respond in a timely manner. Our Help 24/7 call line is good, but too many people are waiting too long. They self-medicate and find themselves on the path to addiction. Investing in prevention and recovery will reduce the mental health crises that result in traumatic and costly police and emergency room interventions. Green MPs will establish a national mental health strategy and a suicide prevention strategy to address the growing anxieties plaguing Canadians.

My experience with bridges out of poverty highlighted that inequality and a lack of affordability, coupled with the precariousness of work and housing, often precipitate mental health crises. We need more effective and innovative mental health solutions. Wait times for mental health services need to be established and funding provided. We cannot afford the current suffering and loss of life.

Jahangir: We are going to be decriminalizing drugs and fighting against, fighting eliminating stigma with mental health. I’m a mental health healthcare professional so I recognize its important for people to be able to access care. Along with free pharmacare for all that allows people the opportunity to be able to care for themselves and access their medication without any costs.

Longfield: As the MP for Guelph, mental health has been one of my largest files across many different subjects. I have been pleased to work with and support the Rotary Club of Guelph in their efforts to create an integrated youth services hub. The goal of the project is to have an accessible space for youth that meets a wide range of needs include mental health, employment support, training, housing and other community services.

Burnett: We plan to expand Medicare to include pharmacare (and nationalize pharmaceutical companies), dental and vision care, long-term care, and mental health care. We believe that harm reduction and 'safe supply' policies would help to reduce drug overdose deaths. Safe drug injection sites have supportive staff who can build relationships with users, making it easier for them to reach out for help quitting when they're ready.

Truscott: A friend of mine waited 13 months to see a psychiatrist, even going to the MPPs office for help to find one. He was seen by an interning psychiatrist who had no idea of how to help my friend, could not prescribe tests or evaluate or adjust his medication. We need to train and hire more psychologists and psychiatrists and other mental health staff and then give them jobs. A couple I know moved to Guelph for better access to psychiatric care.

5. According to Statistics Canada, violent crime has been on the rise both in Ontario and Canada-wide since 2015. What are some strategies and programs you can propose to make students feel safer on campus and in their communities?

Dyck: It’s important that all Canadians feel safe. As Greens, we believe it’s important we’re properly funding universities. The current model is in danger of collapse. Too many universities are caught in a spiral of fund-raising to provide education of diminishing quality. Universities have come to depend on part-time contract instructors, higher tuition fees and fundraising to balance the books. We must ensure that no universities are struggling with their finances and failing to protect students.

Jahangir: I just verified, its $100 million that Jagmeet Singh is committed to investing. These are going to be after school programs, programs for the youth, avoiding like giving them much more meaningful social interaction and engagement, and hopefully addressing that gun gang violence, and the stuff you were just talking about. He [Jagmeet Singh] didn’t specify the age group, so I would argue that it should be open for like adolescence and young adults for sure. Because if the purpose is to avoid gang affiliation and involvement in gangs and if that is the population that we should be looking at and it should be inclusive of them as well.

Longfield: Everyone should feel safe as they attend classes and get involved in their campus and community. Earlier this year the Minister of Women and Gender Equality convened an advisory committee to develop national standards to hold universities and colleges to account when it comes to addressing gender-based violence. In the 2018 Budget, we committed $5.5 Million over five years towards this initiative. I will continue to work with both the University of Guelph and Conestoga College to do all that I can to ensure our campuses and communities are inclusive, accessible and safe for our students, researchers and faculty.

Burnett: I've always found Guelph to be pretty safe. I think many of our policies that aim to improve living standards (wages, services, etc.) would help to curb petty crimes. Expanding Medicare, and fully supporting education workers to meet the needs of all students, can be helpful in supporting all of our community members. Fighting racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, etc. are key in helping to build stronger, safer communities.

Truscott: I am not aware of violent crimes at the University of Guelph, but it may be necessary to augment the campus police force. Similarly, Guelph is not generally known as a place for violent crimes. We do, however, have quite a mixture of different races and nationalities. Reviving the Multicultural Centre would work to ensure better relations among people from so many countries.

6. What will you do to support youth in the LGBT+ community in your area?

Dyck: I believe, and the Green’s believe in the importance of protecting all people from discrimination. The reality is that sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and many more prejudice remain in our society and must be addressed. The decades-old practice of prohibiting those with same-sex partners from donating blood is unjust and lacks medical evidence. Blood bans puts politics before people. As Greens we believe that politics should be based on the evidence not prejudice. As your Green MP, I will vote to establish a funding program within Health Canada to support community-based organizations offering targeted LGBTQI2+ youth’s mental health and well-being programs, including suicide prevention, peer support, coming out, and counseling.

Jahangir: NDP is committed to inclusivity and diversity, and that includes the LGBTQ. We understand the discrimination and so we all want to end any employment discrimination, banning of conversion therapy, and working towards ending homophobia, transphobia, and helping LGBTQ and refugees as well.

Longfield: I’m proud of the Liberal Party platform includes funding to LGBTQ2 organizations. Earlier this year we also launched a pan-Canadian, 24/7 mental health crisis hotline. With dedicated funding, we will ensure that the community continues to be well served and supported.

Burnett: We believe in full gender equality. Our policies include funding for 2S/LGBTIQ groups (and adequate funding for crisis centres and transition houses), making 'conversion' therapy illegal, legislating and enforcing protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, gender expression, and the bodily integrity of intersex people, and ensuring that sex education curricula in schools is 2S/LGBTIQ-positive.

Truscott: I am not aware of any school or institution that does not have LGBT+ advocacy, clubs and sensitivity. I would have to understand a need in this area first before addressing it. This could be done anonymously, if necessary.

7. Youth like all Ontarians care about the environment. In your community what do you intend to do to support your local ecosystem?

Dyck: Canada is blessed with tremendous wilderness, yet we continue to mismanage this precious resource. We’re serious about cutting emissions, and wilderness areas are a vital part of that strategy. Simply because they can trap so much carbon or release it if mismanaged. Greens will take the lead in developing a National Forests Strategy. We will invest in more research, and tree nurseries.

We would bring back the Canada Environmental Assessment Act, which was eliminated 7 years ago. We had an Independent Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment. It convened, crisscrossed the country, listened to Canadians, and made recommendations at the end of 2016. Among other things, the panel said we should change our language, from “environmental assessment” to “impact assessment”, it also said that sustainability should be central, unfortunately, our government ignored those recommendations. Greens will not ignore them - we will implement them.

Every year, for the next four years, Greens would commit $100 million to create Indigenous-led protected and conserved areas because our First Nations brothers and sisters were stewarding this land long before we showed up. By the year 2030, Greens would see to it that at least 30% of our lands and waters are under permanent federal protection.

Jahangir: I’m committed to working other nonprofit organizations here in Guelph. Addressing the climate crisis and fighting against privatization of public service, such as water. So [the nonprofit organizations are] Friday for Future in Guelph, and also Wellington Water Watchers. And working towards Blue Community. It’s a municipal event initiative, in my municipality, and it’s called Blue Community.

Longfield: I was proud to rise in the House of Commons to support our Governments motion to declare a national climate emergency and support Canada’s commitment to meet the Paris Agreement emissions targets. During my speech, I talked about the local town hall organized by the CELP and Headwaters students that brought all levels of Government in Guelph together to discuss climate change and the actions that each of us would take to address its’ effects. It is clear that we all have a role to play in tackling climate change.

Burnett: We communists tend to be at rallies to protect the environment, the water, the wildlife in our communities. Further, we believe that polluters should pay. When industrial sites need to be cleaned up (and there are many in Guelph and elsewhere), we want prosecutors to be able to track down the successor companies to those that polluted it and left it to the city to clean up.

Truscott: I favour carbon capture techniques which vastly reduce the amount of carbon put into the atmosphere. This is especially effective when people do not wish to give up their car or flights. Justin Trudeau's idea to plant 2 billion trees is good, if it is feasible. Otherwise we should plant as many trees as possible. Guelph has few industries that pollute, but we can monitor and reduce the pollution from those that do.