Quiet Oshawa debate livens up over GM closure

All six Oshawa candidates debated on Oct. 3. (from Left) Conservative Colin Carrie, Green Jovannah Ramsden, PPC Eric MacKenzie, Communist Jeff Tomlinson, NDP Shailene Panylo and Liberal Afroza Hossain. Photo credit: Liam David

The gloves were left on for the most part in a subdued Oshawa Media Debate as all six of Oshawa’s federal candidates largely read from prepared material in binders.

The Oct. 3 event at the Oshawa Golf Club featured an audience of 75 members of the golf club and local Rotary clubs. Only 100 tickets were available.

While the discussion was largely cool, passions did flare, particularly around General Motors (GM).

About halfway through the hour-long debate, candidates were asked how they would handle the closure of GM’s Oshawa plant.

Green candidate Jovannah Ramsden, a law clerk, who just arrived as the debate was starting, said workers need to be retrained into a green economy through trade apprenticeships.

Colin Carrie, Oshawa’s five-term Conservative incumbent, blamed Liberal tax policies, claiming businesses are “expanding, just not in Canada”. He said high electricity rates and new environmental regulations are also problematic. Finally, he blamed the Liberal carbon tax claiming, “we won’t know how high it going to be. It’s the uncertainty these guys face.” According to the Liberals, the carbon tax will rise to $50 per tonne by 2022.

Liberal candidate, Afroza Hossain, a non-profit manager, insisted the Liberal government, “has been standing behind GM workers since day one.” She cited $6-billion of investment and 110,000 jobs created in the auto sector since the Liberal government took office in 2015. She also accused the previous Harper government of leaving millions unspent in the Automotive Innovation Fund.

The NDP’s Shailene Panylo, a motivational speaker, suggested the plant be bought and used by the Canadian government to make electric vehicles. She proposed the 2,500 employees set for layoffs be retrained into more sustainable fields, saying “of course it’s not the fault of the worker. We’ll support all workers to transition to clean green sustainable jobs.”

After the Peoples Party of Canada candidate, Eric MacKenzie, and the Communist party’s Jeff Tomlinson had their say, the fight began.

Ramsden was quick on the attack saying, “I just want to say to my Conservative friend, it’s not the fault of the worker that companies are abandoning them to pay other workers less for the same work. The price on pollution is a necessary safeguard against the climate crisis.”

Carrie replied with an attack on the Liberals.

“When GM closed only one leader [Andrew Scheer] called me that night, he was down at the gates the morning after.” He added NDP leader Jagmeet Singh didn’t come to Oshawa for a week and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t come at all. Carrie claimed he successfully fought for GM during the financial crisis of 2008, but said Trudeau did not do the same in 2019.

In the fallout of the closure announcement, Trudeau did pledge to get GM workers back on their feet. Meanwhile, Ontario’s Conservative Premier Doug Ford told the media: “What can we do? The ship has already left the dock.”

There were other moments of action throughout the debate. When asked about increased rates of gun violence, Communist candidate Tomlinson insisted we “disarm the police,” and treat the root cause of crime. This got a laugh from the audience that Panylo was quick to quash.

“We all have different views up here,” she said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for the audience to be mocking the candidates.”

Candidates also discussed the opioid crisis, limited choices for affordable housing, and climate change. The full debate will be aired on Rogers TV Thursday.