Photo by + Photendo + from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
Last night at the Factory Theatre, the four provincial candidates of the Trinity-Spadina riding were given a chance to debate an important issue that is often cast aside by campaigning politicians—child poverty.
The debate was held by Make Poverty History, Campaign 2000, and the 25 in 5 Network, and hosted by playwright and poverty activist David S. Craig. Eccentric trumpeter and activist Michael Louis Johnson played the part of a wacky timekeeper, blasting his trumpet at any candidate who went over their time.
First to speak was the riding’s incumbent NDP, Rosario Marchese, who was at once both flustered and incredibly aggressive. His time as an opposition critic did not serve him well in this debate—he did little but criticize the other parties. He mentioned plans for an immediate increase in minimum wage to $10 an hour, a public dental plan, full-time kindergarten, and increased public housing, but most of his time was devoted to slamming the others. At one point, Marchese got into a heated argument with a woman in the audience who asked him to voice his party’s solutions to the problems of child poverty instead of attacking the records of his opponents. Marchese couldn’t give her a coherent answer. He also had a somewhat hilarious slip-up when discussing MMP, stating that women and visible minorities can’t win elections without it.
The Green Party’s Dan King was a little too situated in his own experiences. He told the audience that he worked as tax accountant for the disabled, helping them access the system to get the funds they are entitled to. He stressed the difficulty of getting through the bureaucracy and called for it to be simplified. Making the audacious claim, “No one in this room has seen as much suffering as I’ve seen,” King focused un the concrete link between child poverty and disability. Only the disabled are poor!
King made sure to repeat that his party didn’t support minimum wage increases, but instead supported providing all people with the basic requirements of life such as basic dental care, basic health care, basic housing, and basic nutrition. He advocated for a nutrition program along the lines of the American food stamp system. He was respectably non-partisan on most matters, saying that he would support any other party if it delivered on achieving many of his own anti-poverty goals. He was also the only candidate to call for a renewal of the ParticipACTION program to help poor kids get fit and stay healthy. Kudos to him.
The Liberal Candidate, Kate Holloway spent much of her time praising and defending the Liberals’ record, but also added a ,touch by talking about a time when she was homeless and on social assistance. She made sure to talk about her belief that child poverty is a systemic issue, one about human resilience, domestic violence, and self-esteem, not just an issue of low income.
Holloway reiterated many Liberal promises, including full-day kindergarten and improved standards of day care to help working parents. She also discussed the Ontario Child Benefit, which, combined with a incrementally increased minimum wage, would help increase the income of single parents by roughly $4800 a year. An interesting point, but we’ll see if they deliver.
The final candidate, Progressive Conservative Tyler Currie, was like a cool, collected, smug, robotic John Tory-praising machine. He prefaced every policy and comment by invoking the holy name of Tory. He spoke more about John Tory’s anti-poverty credentials than his own. He was the only candidate to mention revitalization plans like the one currently underway in Regent Park. He also made sure to let people know another Tory maxim—anyone who wants to work should be able to work.
For a local debate, each candidate seemed far too focused on their party’s overall policies rather than on what each plan means for Toronto. One interesting proposal by an audience member was for the implementation of a “Local Minimum Wage”—a minimum wage based on the cost of living in a particular region. All candidates agreed that it would be an improvement.
The debate itself strayed from the topic at hand a number of times. Lamentably, there was no mention of support for anti-poverty projects, such as Pathways to Education, Campaign 2000, or Moorelands. These programs are on the right track, but more and more are needed to fight such a pressing issue.
Photo by Bahman from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.