Three candidates for the seat in Nipissing in the June 2 provincial election participated in an online discussion focusing on issues faced by post-secondary students.
Nipissing political science student Tanya Matthews was the moderator Wednesday evening and set the tone by explaining the ground rules for the question period to participants Erika Lougheed (NDP), Sean McClocklin (Green) and Tanya Vrebosch (Liberal).
Although the event, hosted by NUSU in collaboration with RTOERO, the Canadore Students' Council and the Nipissing University Political Science Society was billed as such, this was a "debate" in name only and unfolded as more of a cordial exchange of ideas as the candidates were instructed to keep to the topic or issue at hand and were only to speak to their own party's policies and not the policies of other parties.
The elephant in the virtual room, of course, was the absence of the incumbent. Vic Fedeli told BayToday, Tuesday, he had made it clear from the outset that he would participate in just the one community debate and he did so last week. Fedeli reiterated he would proudly run on his record and would spend the evening knocking on doors instead. Only the three participants and Fedeli received invitations.
With no Fedeli to focus on, the night's discussion lasted less than one hour and had no back and forth between the candidates whatsoever. It was clear the red, green and orange platforms — with some subtle differences — share many common aspects.
Matthews methodically led the candidates, touching on topical issues such as the financial struggles of students, the future of Francophone education, and the housing and employment landscape for graduates. Vrebosch impressed with her responses — in both English and French — on education.
The topics of climate change and electric vehicles were also discussed and as the Green candidate, McClocklin naturally had more to offer than the others.
Lougheed was strong on long-term care reform, speaking of a need "to clear that waitlist."
A full recording of the online stream is available here.
The orderly presentation of party platforms without the opportunity for rebuttal did little to generate drama but provided a clearer idea for potential voters just where the candidates stand on issues important to the intended audience.
A discussion on moving society beyond gestures of cultural awareness proved to elicit the most impassioned responses from the candidates. Matthews asked the panel about the recent attempts by non-Indigenous people to seek a greater understanding of Indigenous issues.
"Many in the Indigenous community feel that much more work needs to be done beyond cultural awareness workshops. What is your understanding of this situation and how would you go about supporting meaningful engagement with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities?" asked Matthews.
Vrebosch acknowledged the importance of the question, noting it is one the candidates have heard often while campaigning. "We need to be honest with ourselves and just say, 'We don't know.' The majority of people want to be inclusive and want to be educated but we're past that education point where we don't go to school on a daily basis."
Vrebosch added a key step is to modernize education for the children and more consultation with the Indigenous community, especially with how best to move forward with reconciliation.
"People are doing land acknowledgements," she added, "but are they doing it because they fully understand it or because they feel that's what we have to do?"
Lougheed observed, "We do know that Indigenous peoples are over-represented in the justice, child welfare, and foster systems and we do know that there are still boiled water drinking advisories across Ontario."
Lougheed acknowledged the disproportionate trauma and wounds experienced by the Indigenous population and stressed the health and wellness of all, across all communities is essential.
"What we have to do is make sure we are acting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, make sure that we're doing that in good faith."
McClocklin said he is passionate about cultural awareness and added there is more work to be done.
"We've come a long way but not far enough yet. Our plan seeks to acknowledge the reality of Indigenous people in Ontario — including the understanding that centuries of colonialism and broken promises make trust difficult."
The Green Party will also "support Indigenous land defenders in asserting their treaty rights and actions taken to confront the threats that their traditional lands face — including environmental threats," he said.
The evening's hosts are holding a "meet the candidates" event on Friday, May 27 at 2 p.m. at the NUSU Student Centre, located at 221 College Dr. This event is open to the public. Register here. Note that a masking policy remains in effect on campus.
The Nipissing riding has eight official candidates in the June 2 election:
- Vic Fedeli - Progressive Conservative
- Joe Jobin - Ontario
- Michelle Lashbrook - Libertarian
- Erika Lougheed - NDP
- Sean McClocklin - Green
- Taylor Russell - New Blue
- Giacomo Vezina - None of the Above
- Tanya Vrebosch - Liberal