The Liberal Party platform “Forward: A real plan for the middle class” rather invites the question: What is middle class? 

Are you in it? And, if so, what does it feel like to be middle class?

We learn from yesterday’s Newmarket Chamber of Commerce debate at the Cardinal Golf Club that the candidates in Newmarket-Aurora define middle class by income. Is this enough?  What about impoverished professional people without two cents to rub together living in houses too large for their means? 

This famous ancient sketch from 1966 reminds us that class – at least in Britain back then - can be about more than income.

The former MP for Newmarket-Aurora, Lois Brown, looks down on us from the elevated stage and cries:

“You are the middle class! Getting up every morning and going to work!”

This immediately excludes me from the middle class.

Lois goes for the jugular 

Lois, never slow to plunge in the stiletto, tells us Justin Trudeau is not middle class because he has all these Trust Funds. And Finance Minister Bill Morneau is most definitely not middle class because he owns a chateau in France. 

The Liberal’s Tony Van Bynen lives and breathes money but even he had to Google to find out who is middle class. He tells us you must earn between $50,000 and $125,000 to qualify. By that definition the old banker is upper class. Perhaps even an aristocrat.

The Green’s Walter Bauer thinks anyone getting less than $200,000 is middle class.

The NDP’s Yvonne Kelly thinks middle class people are raking in between $100,000 and $200,000 a year. By her measure, this means a relatively small number of individuals in the riding are middle class. On the platform she is sandwiched between two of them.

Should we worry about deficits?

Now we are on to deficits. In the wider scheme of things are they important? Or should we just worry about the rising cost of cauliflower in Food Basics?

Lois Brown who sees red every time she sees red on a balance sheet declares:

“In 2015 the Liberals did not inherit an empty bank account!”

The Green, Walter Bauer, points to a hand-out he has prepared for just this eventuality. He dismisses her claim in a few words.

“The Conservatives got close to a balanced budget in 2014 but did not get there.”

Terrific! Lois’ balloon has been pricked but she seems not to notice. 

The cost of climate change

Walter (right) quotes Mark Carney who tells us climate change will threaten financial stability. I learn that insurance companies in Canada last year forked out over $1 billion to pay for claims arising from climate change. 

The old banker trills that Newmarket is one of the greatest places in Canada to live (and ranks 23rd or thereabouts in the latest meaningless Money Sense list). Maclean's puts us 93rd in 2019 so go figure. He says he will continue to roll up his sleeves to get things done. Oh please! The melodrama!

The NDP’s Yvonne Kelly believes the system is broken and we need to make a break from the old way of doing things. Now we hear a drum roll of depressing facts: many Canadians are $200 away from poverty (definitions please); many young people face a lower standard of living than their parents; there is widening income inequality, tax evasion and climate change. Pass me the sleeping pills! Yvonne tells us:

“We are at a crossroads.”

Aaargh! The only solution must be to vote NDP!

The candidates are all in good form – best so far. They are getting to know each other and we are getting to know them.

Scheer's 25% cut to Foreign Aid

The candidates have been sparring for the best part of two hours when the front runner, former Conservative MP Lois Brown, is asked a simple straightforward question about Andrew Scheer’s pledge to cut Canadian foreign aid by 25%

Lois is never shy of telling people that she was the longest serving Parliamentary Secretary for International Development and she did great things during her time. She dangled the possibility of Canadian cheese exports to Cameroon and Ghana but didn’t answer the question. 

I hear voices from the Liberal table behind me:

“Answer the question!”

The moderator asks her to have another go. Now she is talking about the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation and how there are lots of ways to leverage our Overseas Aid to get more bang for our bucks. The obfuscation is so blatant and obvious we all see it. I shall ask Lois tonight when I see her at the Open House at Aurora Library. 

Tax cheats!  

The candidates field questions in various categories. Taxation is first up and Lois targets Finance Minister Bill Morneau who, she says, dubbed small business people tax cheats and got rid of “income sprinkling”. She claims this could hurt 33,000 Canadian families. 

“I take exception to his comments about tax cheats!”

She promises a Minister will be appointed to drive the effort to cut red tape. Why does she think we will be impressed with this? 

Tony Van Bynen, his comfortable retirement cushioned by an extra $162,739 this year, is as relaxed as I’ve seen him. He says the Liberals will promote the Minister of Small Business to full ministerial status. Yawn!

Yvonne Kelly tells us her Dad was a small business owner and she wants the small business people in the audience to know: “We’re in your corner!”

The Green Walter Bauer who is impressive in a quiet and understated kind of way cuts to the chase – the real problem lies with big business which has done more to destabilise the economy than Government ever has. Just look at what happened in 2008. His assertion is incontrovertibly true but, nonetheless, I expect some kind of reaction from the audience. Nope.

Being a candidate ain't easy

Now Andrew McCaughtrie, the candidate from the fledgling People’s Party of Canada, is asked a question about capital gains tax which he doesn’t quite understand. He says to gales of laughter:

“This talking thing is a whole lot harder than it looks!”

This immediately gets our sympathy. Answering questions on a public stage – where expertise or, at the very least, familiarity with the topic is expected – is not easy. You’ve got to be able to think on your feet. Cue…

Walter Bauer picks up on Lois’ claim that Morneau was disparaging small business people with the tax cheats jibe. Walter suggests it was wrenched out of context and that the remark was really about getting more investment into that sector of the economy.

Now we are talking about cutting regulations. This is red meat to Lois Brown who, to prove her point, unearths some ancient regulation involving candles if you were travelling at night. Sure, that should go. What’s the big deal? Lois says Scheer will “appoint a minister” to get Government out of the way. She says there were four times fewer regulations under the Conservatives. Oh!  

Private sector corruption and public sector waste

Walter, increasingly assertive, says his work as an expert witness tells him regulations are needed to regulate companies. He talks of private sector corruption and public sector waste. He turns on Uber, condemning the company for the absence of any benefits for its “workers”. Walter is turning out to be quite the little radical and I am warming to him.

Now we are back on Ministerial appointments again. Tony Van Bynen glances at Lois:

“It’s good that Andrew Scheer is proposing to do something we have already done – appoint a Minister of Small Business.” 

This passes for a put-down. "Respect" is Tony's big thing.

Now we are in an “open forum” where the candidates can fire questions at each other. This is a good idea and works well.

Lois loves talking about debt and how bad it is. It allows her to have a dig at the old banker whose trade is debt. She warns:

“Debt today is higher taxes tomorrow!”

Conservative platform "uncosted"

Walter reminds Lois that the Conservatives have not yet submitted their Platform to the Parliamentary Budget Office to be costed. Tut! Tut!

Tony says Lois didn’t answer an earlier question. This is combative stuff from our Liberal standard-bearer. The old banker tells us it is important to have “constructive debt”. 

Now we are onto a new topic: Foreign Investment into Canada.

Yvonne Kelly fluently describes the consequences of allowing foreign investors to enter our domestic housing market. She promises the NDP will get tough on the speculators. Walter talks about General Motors pulling the plug on Oshawa. Lois worries about state owned enterprises such as Emirates competing against private sector outfits such as West Jet and Air Canada. She wants a level playing field. They all do. They said it a million times.

Now we are talking trade. Yvonne reaffirms the NDP’s support for supply management. She takes a poke at the Americans and mentions US Steel:

“They (the United States) have shown they will take advantage of us.”

We all agree with that. Now Tony is mumbling something about Canada being the only G7 country which has trade deals with all the other G7 countries. I’ve heard him say this before. He looks down at his notes to make sure he has it right.

All the candidates are getting into their stride. They are more animated. More engaged. Better all round.

My door is always open (but I may block you from reading my Tweets)

Tony Van Bynen reminds us he has worked for decades with small businesses. He created the Newmarket Development Committee, the Business Advisory Committee, worked closely with the Chamber on all sorts of initiatives. Brought Celestica to Town. He sounds like the old banker he is when he tells his audience:

“If you have a problem my door is always open.”

Andrew (above right) says:

“Your questions are so hard today.”

The Housing Crisis  

Now we are on to skills and the housing crisis.

The NDP’s Yvonne Kelly is in her comfort zone. She talks about the 42% of people in York Region who are paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Did I hear that right? Housing is being priced out of the reach of too many people. She says the NDP is pledged to build 500,000 new affordable homes over five years.

Tony Van Bynen mentions 212 Davis Drive - Newmarket’s first rental unit in twenty years. 

He looks at the new Mayor, John Taylor.

“Isn’t that right, John?” 

Taylor nods on cue, just like the old days.

“And we didn’t have to give away a penny.”

It’s not quite correct. There were delayed development charges and that sort of stuff but we let that pass.

Lois getting her facts wrong (again)

Now Lois complains about there being no new housing starts in the last four years. Where has she been living? She speaks with such certainty and conviction most people will just accept what she is saying as true. Except it’s not.

Now we are on to an interesting and lively segment on training. The moderator asks if we should be retraining workers or saving the industries these workers are already trained for. 

Yvonne zeros in on foreign qualifications not being accepted here and the absurdity of having medical doctors driving taxis. Lois is talking about “prudential recognition” and provincial barriers. She tells us there are only 200 spaces at the University of Toronto for foreign doctors to requalify for practice in Canada. Walter says qualifications around the globe are not necessarily comparable with Canada’s. 

“People buy engineering degrees in India!” 

Now Lois is imagining herself back in the House of Commons. She cries:

“Point of clarification!”

She wants Canadian embassies to offer advice to potential immigrants on how they can upgrade their qualifications to ensure they are recognised in Canada. 

Yvonne Kelly asks:

“Why the delay? Why wasn’t that done before?”

Tony says a Liberal Government will allow municipalities to sponsor skilled immigrants, an idea so exciting it gives the old Mayor goosebumps. 

Disrupters

Now Tony-the-Disrupter inserts himself into the debate. He says technology will change our world more than we know it and gives examples of what he describes as “the disrupters” – 

“AirB&B and Uber have changed our economies substantially.”

Now we are into the closing stages of the debate with rapid fire answers to questions, taking no more than 40 seconds. This turns out to be one of the best parts of this morning’s exchanges.

Lois bemoans the mortgage stress tests that are putting home ownership out of reach for so many young people. She calls for an inquiry into money laundering. Walter ridicules the idea of an inquiry. “Money laundering is already happening.” The old banker warns Lois not to compromise the stress test. Putting food into babies’ mouths is more important than home ownership.

Now Lois in again banging on about the importance of a balanced budget. Walter simply says:

“I would refer Lois to Deficit Facts.” 

Tony reminds Lois that Canada has a perfect credit rating.

Voter disengagement

Now we are on to voter apathy and disengagement. Walter says politicians are guilty of double-speak. Tax “credits” are simply benefits for the better-off. Tony Van Bynen with his love of techy things says we must stop focussing on yesterday’s news and look to the far horizons. (My words not his.)  

Now he says people must see the Conservative platform and its costings. Yvonne singles out first-past-the-post as the biggest barrier to voter engagement. She wants electoral reform. Now she is talking about income inequality and the fact that 70% of Canadians consider this a big issue. The NDP would tax financial transactions. 

The old banker tells us:

“Property taxes are the most unfair way of taxing people. They are not income related.”

I wonder what Van Bynen thinks about the NDP’s proposal for a Wealth Tax on the hyper rich? He doesn’t tell us and no-one asks him.

He says the incoming Liberal Government will offer young entrepreneurs up to $50,000 to start their own business. Must be a catch surely? The old banker will want to see their business plans.

Lois says there’s got to be a place for retraining the 40+ people given the way the economy is changing. She says they’ve got to be “re-tooled” which sounds painful.

A good debate. We get our money's worth from the candidates.

Pitched at middle class people who can afford to pay $39.55 for breakfast.

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Update on 10 October 2019: And this is how Newmarket Today covered the event.

Postscript: 

After this morning’s revealing debate (Tuesday 8 October 2019) there are a few loose ends to tie up. I am unconvinced by Lois’ answers to some questions  and I wander along to the evening Meet and Greet at Aurora library.

I wanna know if the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Overseas Development agrees with Andrew Scheer’s plan to cut Canada’s foreign aid budget by 25%. I tell her I don't buy her earlier reply, where she said the cut would be more than offset by leveraging bigger contributions from the Bill Gates of this world. I say if that’s the case then all wealthy countries should follow the Conservative plan and cut their overseas aid budgets too! No, she says. She will not presume to talk for other countries. 

Now she launches in to a story about a 48 hour visit to Mali in which she cradles in her arms a four hour old new born baby weighing four pounds. She tells me that Canadian aid goes to Mali and that little baby, years later, is still alive today thanks to Canada. As she says this I see a tear rolling down her cheek. How on earth does she do it? 

I want to get back on track. Now I ask her about her manifestly inaccurate claim that there have been no new housing starts in the riding over the past four years. She tells me I misheard (along with zillions of other people). She says no new Federal money has come into the riding earmarked for housing. Ah! 

Now I want to clarify precisely how many front doors she has knocked on. This morning we are told 24,000 (out of 40,000 in the riding). I hear a sharp intake of breath from the Liberal table behind me. 

She tells Newmarket Today it is 14,000 and she tells me 17,000 when I see her at her Campaign HQ. What’s the correct figure? 

She insists she has personally knocked on 17,000 doors and reels off a list of streets in my neighbourhood. The total figure for Lois and her team is 24,000.

I ask to examine her knuckles and she shows me her perfectly manicured hands.

________________________________________________________________________________

Photo above: The NDP's Yvonne Kelly talks to voters at the Aurora Library last night.

Below: Walter Bauer's fact sheet.

 

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