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Kingston MP candidates look to affordable housing, climate change as top issues in the upcoming election

After a year full of change and uncertainty, it seems many Canadians hold that same feeling about the federal election.

Polling Canada data from Tuesday morning showed the favourite among the five major party PM candidates to be option F: “none of the above or unsure”.

That uncertainty extended even deeper in Kingston and the Thousand Islands, whose Conservative, People’s Party of Canada and Green Party MP candidates remained undeclared through the past weekend.  

Since then, City Councillor Gary Oosterhoff has been named the MP candidate for the Conservative Party, and local dentist Dr. Waji Khan for the Greens.  

They join Vic Sahai of the NDP party and incumbent MP Mark Gerretsen of the Liberals. 

City Councillors weighed in on the election announcement and the uncertainty surrounding a number of parties early this week and which still remains for the PPC in Kingston.  

Councillor Doherty said that the disorganization by several parties was “telling” and those parties should have been more organized as the announcement really did not come as a surprise after weeks of speculation.  

Herself and other city councillors have pointed out issues of mental health, housing affordability, climate change and of course COVID recovery. 

Councillor Robert Kiley pointed to $7.4 million invested into rapid housing as a good start for the city of Kingston, but added that frankly, it is not enough to address a long-standing and growing issue in the city.  

The local MP candidates have also acknowledged these to be important focuses for the nation and the Kingston riding.  

Mark Gerretsen, the Liberal MP who was first elected in the Kingston riding in 2015, has seen demonstrable support in the riding early into the election process.  

Gerretsen said he feels the support is warranted based on both his and the Liberal government’s work through the COVID pandemic, pointing to being able to push through benefits for Canadians ahead of schedule.  

He adds that he hopes as we continue to deal with COVID for the unforeseen future, that the federal government can look to return more focus to other important issues like climate change and affordable housing. 

Some have criticized actions by the Liberal party as “symbolic gestures” meant to give them an upper hand in the pending election.  

Gerretsen says the Liberal government has been able to provide a massive amount of support to Canadians in this difficult year, and he thinks those criticisms are unfounded.  

“To suggest that this government is only interested in doing things symbolically because there’s an election looming- the proof just doesn’t exist,” Gerretsen said. 

“Look at the way this federal government has worked to get support out to Canadians the last eighteen months, look at our vaccine procurement program, look at the strategies around dealing with COVID-19… I’m quite confident that the vast majority of people would agree that the manner in which the pandemic was dealt with by this government was exactly what they’d expect from a government in a time of need.”  

He added that a number of pieces of legislation, including climate change reduction commitments and banning conversion therapy, should have been passed in the last year but were roadblocked by Conservatives. 

Gerretsen says much of his focus going forward will be on addressing the complicated housing affordability issue including rapid housing for the homeless, working with the province on rent control and mortgage incentives for new home buyers.  

He says the Liberal party is also putting an emphasis on enhanced child care, better support for seniors, and the long, painstaking journey towards reconciliation with our Indigenous people. 

Gerretsen also said the Liberal Party hopes to help influence the provinces into improving mental health care by enacting national standards. 

On the question of the timing of the election, Gerretsen says he feels it’s fair that after such a wild year, Canadians get a chance to weigh in on whether the government is moving in the right direction.  

“People have a right to vote. Two years is by all measures above average for a minority government,” Gerretsen said. 

“I think some cynical people will suggest there’s something nefarious with calling an election right now when the reality is, a lot has happened in the last two years and I think people have a right to weigh in on that.”

The NDPs, meanwhile, named Vic Sahai their federal candidate on July 8. 

Sahai, a trained epidemiologist, describes himself as a social activist, public health scientist and passionate environmentalist.

He says the past year and a half through the pandemic has exemplified the social injustices already present in society that need to be addressed.

“One of the things this pandemic has shown us is that women, minorities, people that are economically disadvantaged, Indigenous people and small businesses all bore the brunt of this pandemic,” Sahai said.

“If we’re going to be a just and fair society, we have to have social, political and environmental justice and we just don’t have that under the present Liberal government and previous Conservative governments.”

He says the party wants to help the people that have been marginalized and may feel like they are not cared about. 

He points to ideas like 20% taxes on foreign buyers to decrease housing prices and building 500,000 affordable green housing units across Canada, something that he says the current government has fallen painfully short of. 

Sahai says he and the NDPs are also passionate about more comprehensive mental health, drug and dental plans for all Canadians. 

He says specifically these services are often inaccessible to those who need them most. 

“How can we say we live in a just and gentle society when the most vulnerable of us are not taken care of?” Sahai said. 

Sahai added that housing is an issue that cannot be dealt with independently of mental health and addictions treatment. 

He says the NDP plans to divert more funding into all of those things, and that the party plans to pay for that largely by placing a 15% excessive tax on businesses that have seen exorbitant profits as well as raising the tax level for those worth more than $10-million by 1%.

Sahai says Canadians who have that kind of money will not feel the impact of that taxation, but it would greatly benefit those struggling and depending on social services. 

He cited a survey by the Ed Broadbent Institute that said 90% of Canadians support that increase in taxation, and seeing that level of agreement among Canadians is unheard of. 

Sahai says an NDP government would work hard to enact a guaranteed livable income, and says that idea will greatly help women in abusive relationships, small businesses, artists and overall ensure a safety net for everyone. 

He added that the party’s plan would help to not only recover from the pandemic, but maintain a sustainable way of life going forward. 

Dr. Waji Khan will be the Green Party candidate after initially planning to run with the PCs.

Khan has run a dental practice in the city since 2007 and has previously supported both the Liberals and Conservatives before he “found a home” with the Green Party.

Khan said in hearing Erin O’Toole’s initial address as federal candidate he was hopeful O’Toole would be a fiscally conservative but socially progressive candidate.

He says it became quickly clear the second half of that would not be the case.

“It didn’t take long for the Social Conservative element of his party to take control of the message and I was hearing messages which I opposed,” Khan said via email.

“Abortion rights, gay marriage and women’s rights, it was when the party began publicly supporting Conversion Therapy that I knew I could not support such a party.”

The shift appears dramatic, but Khan adds he was encouraged by a friend to explore running as the Green MP candidate, saying the party’s platform is largely misunderstood and is fiscally conservative while still truly being progressive.

He says the party has a huge focus on permanent green jobs, but the idea that they are solely focused on the environment is one rooted in the past.

Khan says the Green Party’s focus on preserving an environment that we are rapidly destroying has never wavered, but that the party has also honed in on the economy saying the current deficit is unacceptable.

He adds that there is no issue greater to Kingston than affordable housing and that not enough has been done with the federal funding from the city.

Under a Green Party government, Khan says federal funds would be used more responsibly.

“Despite both federal and provincial programs aimed at reducing homelessness our city seems more interested in finding them a jail cell for sleeping in a park than making it possible for them to find a home,” Khan said.

“Money attached to programs must come with a requirement for performance.”

Khan encourages voters to explore the Green Party platform, which he feels is still largely misunderstood.

Gary Oosterhoff of the Conservatives could not be reached in time for comment on his campaign.

Recent polling data shows the Liberals and Conservatives neck and neck at 30% and 29% of support respectively, with the NDP just behind at 22%.

The federal election is set to take place on September 20.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporterhttp://ygknews.ca
Born and raised in Whitby, Ontario, Owen has been living in Kingston for about three years after starting the band Willy Nilly. Prior to that he worked at CKLB radio in Yellowknife and completed studies in Niagara College's Broadcasting program.

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