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Trinity-Spadina Byelection Candidates: Adam Vaughan of the Liberal Party

Our last of three candidate interviews ahead of Monday's federal byelection.

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Adam Vaughan (left) is the Liberal candidate in Monday’s Trinity-Spadina federal by-election. Photo taken from the Adam Vaughan twitter account.

Torontoist reached out to the major candidates in the upcoming Trinity-Spadina byelection to get their views on five important federal issues. On Friday, we sat down with Adam Vaughan of the Liberal Party of Canada—he’s the former two-term city councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina and a former journalist with the CBC and CityTV. Vaughan vacated his council seat last month to seek the federal seat.

Torontoist: There seem to be two questions major questions about oilsands production in Alberta: whether or not the oil should come to market at all and, if it should come to market, how it should get there. Your leader, Justin Trudeau, seems intent on getting that resource to the market. What plan do Justin Trudeau and your Liberal party favour for doing that?

Adam Vaughan: The oil is going to get to market—all parties have committed to that, save for the Greens. The concern in Trinity-Spadina is using the Dupont rail corridor. Rail is notoriously unreliable, and under the Harper government it has become dangerous. If you don’t find a way to ship oil other than using rail, you’re going to have to use a pipeline one way or another.

The challenge is very simple: you need willing hosts. You need to respect First Nations and aboriginal communities, and you need environmental enforcement while the project is being proposed and while it’s being operated. And you need a federal government prepared to take responsibility if accidents occur. In the absence of that, everybody is nervous, especially the Americans around Keystone, folks in British Columbia around Northern Gateway [pipeline proposal], especially folks in the Ottawa Valley and east of the oilsands when it comes to Canada East [pipeline proposal], which is supported by the New Democrats.

What I find odd is that Joe Cressy and the NDP will say in Toronto that they don’t support Canada East, but their leader Thomas Mulcair will walk out of the premiers’ offices in Regina and Saskatchewan and say he agrees in principle. It’s all well and good to say one thing here and one thing there, except that it’s the modern age now. I’ll let Joe Cressy clarify his statements—he’s already had to clarify his statements a couple of times in this campaign.

They’re running a candidate in Fort McMurray right now who works in the oil patch and has called it Mother Nature’s gift to Canada. The NDP is talking out of both sides of its mouth. The Liberals have been consistent on this. Pipelines are an alternative to rail if they’re done properly.

We don’t support Northern Gateway because it lands in an extraordinarily sensitive aquatic environment. But we also have concerns about Canada East, and lands where there is no oil refining capacity. Keystone has gone through a more rigorous environmental assessment. The Americans still don’t trust the Canadian government, as it is currently configured, to operate it properly.

But it’s time we have an adult conversation about this and admit that if you don’t use a pipeline, you’re going to have to put it on rail and drive it right through Trinity-Spadina, and that has huge consequences and worries for people who live along the rail corridor. That’s why I moved a motion at city council to reinforce the speed limits, and to support [Calgary] Mayor Nenshi’s bid to have all rail companies declare, ahead of shipment, what’s moving through dense urban areas and through all communities.

There’s virtually no difference between our policy and the NDP policy. The only difference is that we speak the same way in Saskatchewan and Alberta as we do in Ontario and Quebec.

Joe Cressy claims the Liberals support Line 9, the proposal to transport oil through a pipeline that runs along north Toronto. Do the Liberals support this proposal?

We have a significant number of concerns. We haven’t ruled it out, but it hasn’t been shown to have the technical capacity to do what’s being asked of it. It’s a very old pipeline—reversing the flow is easier said than done. Until there’s a full environmental scoping of the project, and until willing hosts are found…there are just so many technical concerns outstanding. The NDP claim to have ruled things out, but they’re actually taking the exact same position—it’s just splitting hairs at this point.

We just passed the two-year anniversary of no health care to claimants and refugees. According to a study done by SickKids hospital in Toronto, refugee children’s hospital admissions doubled after Ottawa cut the Interim Federal Health Program. What, if anything, needs to be done about this?

I don’t think there’s any party in the history of Canada that has stood more sympathetically, more creatively, and more progressively on the issue of immigration than the Liberal party. The Liberal brand is a humanitarian approach to refugee and immigration processes. Reversing the Conservative policies and the punitive damages that are being delivered not just to refugee communities, but to the health-care system, is a fundamental priority and a value of the Liberal party.

The Conservatives have played this awful game of stigmatizing and scapegoating refugees, and as a result we have people living in misery in camps overseas who should be safely here in Canada. And when we land people here, we go out of our way to make their lives miserable. Every study on this has shown that since the Conservatives came to power, the mental health of refugees, not just the physical health, has been plunged into serious decline.

It’s time to change that. We have to get back to being a country that is noted around the world for its progressive immigrant and refugee policies. The Liberal party is committed to doing just that by reversing many of the steps, if not all, that the Conservatives have taken.

We live in Canada’s largest city, and 80 per cent of Canadians now live in urban areas. What’s the most important thing Ottawa can do to support cities?

This is the most important question facing Toronto, Trinity-Spadina, and the country. The issue about energy consumption is not “are we going to bring oil to market?” The question is: “What happens when it gets to market?” The most complex and the most inefficient engine ever built in dealing with greenhouse-gas emissions is the city. When you have leaky water pipes, poorly built housing, inefficient transit, you generate greenhouse gas at an alarming rate.

The climate change that this generates comes and visits your city, and does even more damage to infrastructure that is underfunded. Building better cities is why I’m running. Building better housing, transit, and getting the water infrastructure right will change the way cities operate in relation to the generation of greenhouse gas. It is as much a quality-of-life and a social-justice issue as it is an environmental issue.

The fundamental issue confronting all of us, especially in cities, is whether or not we’re going to deal with climate change. The Liberal party helped negotiate Kyoto. The Liberal party has committed to a progressive and robust urban agenda, and they have recruited people like myself across the country to deliver on that project.

We have got to turn around how cities are dealt with for environmental reasons. The payoff is that when you drive those efficiencies into transit, water, housing, when you build a strong urban agenda which also includes social policy and day care and culture policy, you will respond to the needs and aspirations of 80 per cent of all Canadians.

I’m proud to have joined the party that first put in place a ministry of municipal affairs. I’m very proud to have joined a party that, under Paul Martin in the ’90s, immediately turned back to housing after the budget was balanced. When the NDP pulled the plug on the Martin government, there was $2.4 billion on the table for public housing over the next 10 years. If that money had been allowed to flow to Toronto’s capital backlog in TCHC, we’d be housing people now, and housing them properly.

The reason I’m running, as a city councillor with eight years’ experience, who has built and overseen the development of 12 different housing programs, is that I want to get to Ottawa and deliver on these promises with real-world experience. There are programs that are small in nature now, but could be big and bold in the future, if only we had a federal government and a political party in power that was more interested in programming than in policy announcements or punishing cities.

The problem with the NDP policy is that their promise is to have a policy. We don’t need a campaign to convince people to love public transit, we need a campaign to make it cheaper, more effective, and more sustainable. We have a strategy: one per cent of GDP will be dedicated to municipal infrastructure. It will not be delivered to cities in a way that ties their hands ideologically. They will be able to spend the money as they need to in different cities where they have different transit needs.

In 2011, Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada won a majority government with just under 40 per cent of the popular vote. Harper can control votes in the House of Commons, and has appointed 58 senators after promising he would not appoint any. Yet 60 per cent of Canadians rejected him in the election that saw him gain majority rule. Is it time for electoral reform in Canada and, if so, does your party favour any replacement for the current system?

Electoral reform masks the real deficit in this country, which is a democratic one. When you make governing only about elections, you fail to capitalize on the most important part of policy, and that’s the work you do between elections. The Liberal government is committed through the transparency acts that Justin Trudeau has already introduced to make government more accountable, more transparent, and more tied to constituency. That link to constituency is critically important.

One of the problems with the general thrust of proportional representation is that individual ridings have individual needs that, if only represented through proportional representation, would get lost in the mix. The Liberal party is very concerned about fracturing the relationship between a constituency and a member of parliament.

That being said, the Liberals have already started to reform the Senate by cutting party ties to make senators stand as individuals. We have to sit down with the provinces and the public and figure out where electoral reform might make the government stronger. We haven’t ruled anything out, but we’re not immediately jumping towards proportional representation because we value how individual constituencies get their voices heard.

Democratic reform is a central piece of the Liberal party platform, but we’re not going to tell the public what they want and then try to sell it to them. We also have rejected out of hand promising a coalition government before an election. We don’t think that we should preclude the decision of voters. We will be working on an issue-by-issue basis, as we have historically, and we’ll be working with everyone in government.

The Harper government scrapped the mandatory long-form census in 2010. The head of Statistics Canada resigned in protest of the government’s decision. Many statisticians and bureaucrats say the survey that has replaced the census is inadequate for understanding the circumstances and needs of Canadians. Can we continue to govern without a long-form census, or should we bring it back?

Information is critically important to putting together the evidence to make good policy decisions. Parties that rely on ideology—that have the answer to the question first and understand the question later—run us into trouble. The long-form is a critical piece of infrastructure for government that must be returned to us as part of the tool box for making effective policy decisions.

The other side of it is that the long-form census has woefully undercounted people who live in high-rise buildings. The City of Toronto has gone to court to try and get them to recount urban areas. Many federal programs are doled out on a per-capita basis, and if you are deliberately or accidentally overlooking people who live in high-rise buildings, large urban centres in Toronto and ridings like Trinity-Spadina don’t get their fair share.

We have to use the long-form census as evidence to drive our programs forward, and I support bringing it back. But this isn’t the first attack the Tories have launched against the civil service, against science, against evidence. When you have ideology—and they’re not the only party with ideology—you tend to put ideas on the back burner because you already have the answer for the question before anyone has asked it.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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