All five of the Yukon’s federal election candidates attended a Saturday evening debate hosted by Whitehorse resident Gurdeep Pandher and focused on immigration, refugee systems and multiculturalism.
Sixteen questions related to those three topics were submitted ahead of time and chosen by Pandher. The debate saw the highest attendance this election season, with more than 100 people in the audience. Each candidate was given one minute to respond, but they frequently spoke
beyond the allotted time.
They were called to answer in random order, and their responses are listed here in that order.
The debate, which ran 2 1/2 hours, has been condensed and some questions excluded for brevity.
Candidates were asked if they support immigration and what efforts they would take as an MP to support immigration-related inquiries.
In a follow-up question, candidates were asked if they would appoint staff dedicated to immigration inquiries and how they would support the mental health of immigrants.
All five candidates said they are in support of immigration.
The Green Party’s Lenore Morris said Canada needs immigration to thrive because of the aging population.
She added the MP’s office should employ staff who are knowledgable about immigration issues and can provide referrals and resources for immigration lawyers.
NDP candidate Justin Lemphers said immigration is vital to help the country grow. He said Canada can and should be a safe haven for immigrants.
He advocated for a citizenship and immigration office in Whitehorse because applications are complex and time-sensitive. Lemphers said the territory is facing a deficit in mental health support for immigrants and Yukoners since the closure of Many Rivers Counselling and Support
Conservative hopeful Jonas Smith said he believes in a fair and compassionate approach to immigration. He said immigration files take up a significant portion of the work of MPs, but that it’s premature to discuss staffing allocations before he is better informed of office resources.
Smith agreed with Lemphers that there is a deficit of mental health support in the territory. Smith added that Canada should prioritize immigrants with strong support structures in the Yukon.
Liberal incumbent Larry Bagnell said he is enthusiastically in support of immigration because it creates an influx of tax dollars, grows the economy and adds vibrancy to society.
Bagnell praised his current staff members who work hard to answer the concerns of immigrants in the territory. He said his office has had more than 1,500 interactions in the past year with immigrants from 69 countries.
People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate Joseph Zelezny said he is in support of immigration as long as it’s sustainable. He said there needs to be infrastructure available to support a population influx and noted Whitehorse already faces a housing shortage.
If elected, he said, the PPC would repeal the Multiculturalism Act and would not dedicate staff to immigration issues because he thinks it would create redundancy.
Candidates were then asked if they think the Yukon Nominee Program (YNP) is fulfilling the needs of Yukoners and newcomers. In a follow-up question, candidates were asked how they would overcome the challenges the program faces and whether they believe an audit should be
conducted to expose the exploitation of workers.
Lemphers said the YNP is fulfilling a service, but that doesn’t mean it’s fulfilling a need, and he wants to see a service that treats people equally.
He said improving the status of new workers starts with raising the minimum wage.
If there are reports of worker exploitation, Lemphers said, there should be an audit of the program. He put the onus on the federal government to hold the program to account.
Zelezny said Yukon needs more “economic migrants” and plans to raise the number of those from 25 to 50 per cent.
He said he would ensure that temporary foreign workers aren’t being funnelled into lower-income jobs and taken advantage of. He said he is in favour of an audit and increasing
accountability as a method of lowering national debt.
Bagnell said the YNP fulfills its intended purpose.
Bagnell explained to attendees that a pilot program now allows nominees to work for up to three employers in five Yukon communities without being tied to a sole employer, addressing some of the issues YNP employees face. The program was announced late last week.
Bagnell then suggested the Auditor General could look into reports of employee exploitation, which he said is “totally illegal” if the allegations are true.
Smith said the YNP is one tool in a toolbox, and is doing its best to fulfill a need. He suggested there should be more communication between territorial and federal governments to improve the program.
He said “exploitation of any kind has no place in Canada,” but couldn’t say if an audit was the correct method for investigation.
Morris said the YNP “basically exists for the benefit of employers” and is successful for them.
The process, however, is challenging for small businesses. She said the YNP is successful in that it gives workers a path to citizenship. Morris said she would require more than “anecdotal evidence” before recommending an audit.
She said these programs have consistently created issues, ones the Yukon government should address.
The candidates were asked to respond to two incidents that have created waves this election period.
First, candidates were asked to respond to a third-party billboard depicting Maxime Bernier alongside the phrase “Say NO to Mass Immigration” which was removed from Canadian highways amid massive controversy in August.
Zelezny said the billboard was posted by a third party as a means of attacking the PPC and it is “not reflective of Canadian values at all.”
Zelezny added, however, that Canadian immigration numbers are too high, creating a burden on the housing market.
Lemphers said the billboard creates an “us and them dialogue” that fuels hate and prejudice in the country. He said Canadians should realize racism and hate exists in the country and “we need to take on ownership and deal with it head-on.”
Smith said he is not in favour of the billboard, which uses “hyperbolic rhetoric” that is not helpful to the question of immigration.
Bagnell said the billboard’s message is completely unacceptable and he works “passionately” to fight against hate.
Morris said she disagrees with the message that mass immigration exists in Canada. She said immigration is highly controlled and “one of the best systems in the world” that has helped create diversity in many Canadian cities.
Secondly, candidates were asked if they think Justin Trudeau committed an act of racism when he wore blackface, as depicting in photos released earlier this month, at a 2001 “Arabian Nights”-themed party, and on two other occasions more than twenty years ago.
Bagnell said the event was racist by Trudeau’s own admission, and that he accepted Trudeau’s apology when the photos were circulated.
Bagnell argued that Trudeau has historically fought to promote multiculturalism in his political career.
Zelezny said he doesn’t see value in Trudeau’s apology, which he found to be hypocritical. He condemned what he called an overwhelming culture of political correctness for the political storm caused by the photos.
Lemphers said the incident absolutely was racist, and he acknowledged Trudeau’s apology. The focus, however, needs to shift from Trudeau to the people who were hurt by the incident.
Lemphers suggested Canadians could better spend their time checking in with those affected by the incident than by focusing on Trudeau.
Smith said it was racist by Trudeau’s own admission and is another reason why Trudeau is not fit to be the leader of the country.
Morris said the incident was racist and “outrageous.” She said the time of the incident, in 2001, wasn’t that long ago, and she has never thought blackface to be acceptable.
She said white people are able to walk through the world without considering other people and privilege leads to unacceptable incidences like this one.
In the last section, candidates were asked how they would protect vulnerable minorities including people of colour and LGBTQ+ communities.
They were also asked how they include minority groups in their offices and campaigns.
Smith said there is no room for hate in Canada. He said he has worked toward building an inclusive campaign team and he is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community with which he has experience through his many years working in the bar scene.
Bagnell said his party has historically worked to protect minority groups but there is still “a lot of work to do.” He explained that his staffers come from a variety of genders and backgrounds.
He said his party has made great strides to improve the situations of LGBTQ+ people in the last four years.
Zelezny said one person cannot determine what is offensive or hateful, and believes in free speech. He said he believes the PPC to be the most inclusive party, and there are no examples of candidates who are hateful or racist, despite the backlash the party has faced in this election. He
said he is inclusive to LGBTQ+ communities.
Morris said it’s increasingly important that Canadians call out racism and bigotry and she believes the long-term answer to fighting hate is through education.
She said she hopes to be a representative for all Yukoners, and has worked with members of the LGBTQ+ community throughout her career and hopes to continue to work in support of them.
Lemphers said the NDP has the most diverse slate of candidates with hopes of bringing more power to minority communities.
He added he has love for the Yukon’s LGBTQ+ community but reiterated avoiding an “us and them” rhetoric that separates LGBTQ+ people from the rest.
He said he doesn’t want to “tokenize” his team, and invited attendees to get to know his staff and their diverse qualities for themselves.