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On Sept. 26, federal election candidates in Edmonton representing the NDP, the Liberals and the Green party spoke to address their parties' platforms at "Refugees and Migrants Matter," a town hall meeting organized by Migrante-Alberta and Canadians for an Inclusive Canada. With over 50 Canadian voters in attendance, the event gave candidates the opportunity to discuss the merits of their parties' stances on citizenship and immigration issues.
The event was divided into two segments. First, candidates addressed their visions of Canada. Valerie Kennedy, the Green Party candidate for Edmonton-Riverbend, Gil McGowan, the NDP candidate for Edmonton-Centre, and Randy Boissonnault the LPC candidate for Edmonton-Centre discussed how Canada was historically a country that was "built on immigration."
Boissonault also eviscerated the Conservative's absence, pointing to how the Conservative's unwillingness to come to the event showed their disregard for democratic process. "As a candidate, I see this as a job interview to persuade you to hire me… the fact that no one from the Conservatives attended shows how much they don't care about answering your questions," he stated, motioning towards the empty seat next to him that was reserved for the Conservative Party representative.
He also reminded the audience that the LPC was the "party of multiculturalism and of Pierre Trudeau" and pledged to continue promoting multiculturalism if elected.
Second, each candidate answered questions from the audience on the parties' specific platforms with regards to refugees, the temporary foreign worker program, the caregiver program, and Bill C-24 (officially known as the "Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act.")
On the first three topics, the candidates generally agreed with each other on the necessary policy improvements. Boissonault, McGowan, and Kennedy pledged to increase the numbers of refugees that Canada accepts annually and criticized the "racially tinged" approach the Conservative Party has taken on the issue.
Kennedy stressed that the Green Party would also create a platform for environmental refugees.
Boissonault, McGowan, and Kennedy promised to provide "pathways to citizenship" for temporary foreign workers and to give "all caregivers landed status."
McGowan stressed that the NDP will "fix the temporary foreign worker program by making sure that all migration to Canada leads to citizenship," condemning how the Conservatives tell temporary foreign workers that, "we want your labour but when we're done with you, we will dispose of you."
McGowan and Boissonault disagreed on which political party was to blame for problems with the temporary foreign worker program. McGowan charged the LPC of creating the program and creating a "two-tiered labour market" in the first place. In response, Boissonault asserted that while the LPC launched the program, its use and abuse ballooned under the Conservatives.
It was on the issue of Bill C-24, that the candidates were in disagreement. Boissonault, McGowan, and Kennedy all stated that if their parties formed government, they would immediately repeal Bill C-24.
However, because a key provision of Bill C-24 includes supposedly protecting Canadians by stripping dual nationals of Canadian citizenship if they are convicted of "treason, terrorism, or espionage" audience members immediately thought of Bill C-51, or the Anti-Terrorism Act and asked questions about candidates' stances on both.
McGowan and Linda Duncan, current Member of Parliament and NDP candidate for Edmonton-Strathcona, criticized the LPC for their support of Bill C-51. "The NDP was the only party to have the courage to oppose C-51 while the Liberals were happy to support the Conservatives. Would you really trust a party that supports the Conservatives for electoral gain and that is afraid to take principled stances?" Duncan asked.
Boissonault defended the LPC's record by stating that unlike the NDP, the LPC was willing to work with the Conservatives to improve the bill. "Had it not been for the Liberals, then the bill would have been problematic. The Liberals made the bill better. This shows that we are willing to work with other parties to improve policy rather than standing on the sidelines," he stated.
The vitriolic discussion between the LPC and NDP candidates prompted Kennedy to interject by pointing to the Green Party's belief in dialogue and not debate. "The Green Party transcends the division between left and right. We believe not in bickering but in constructive governance."
At the conclusion of the town hall, all of the candidates reiterated their parties' stances on immigration. Boissonault spoke about the LPC's immigration and citizenship platform that was released on September 25, highlighting his party's pledge to hasten family reunification.
McGowan and Duncan emphasized the NDP's willingness to take principled stances, as seen through their record in voting against Bill C-51. Kennedy stressed the Green Party's belief that Canada has become a "less compassionate" country under the Conservatives.
Ethel Tungohan is a Grant Notley Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Alberta and a Community Advocate.
Photo: Ma. Elena Sebastian