Liberals, NDP face off in Parkdale-High Park debate

New Democratic Party incumbent MP Peggy Nash and former Liberal leadership hopeful Gerard Kennedy are locked in a tight race in the left-leaning riding of Parkdale-High Park.

And the two faced off in an all-candidates debate held at the May Robinson Auditorium on Monday night (Sept. 29), each hoping to convince the capacity crowd that they would be the best candidate to take on the Conservatives.

Drawing on his past experience as the riding’s provincial MPP, Kennedy called Stephen Harper “every bit as problematic as Mike Harris” and promised to “fight the right-wing conservative agenda” once he’s elected.

At the local level, Kennedy vowed to work for a local Parkdale agency which would develop jobs and affordable housing. He defended the Liberal Green Shift plan saying revenue raised through carbon taxes would help seniors, families and working people throughout the riding.

Nash said she would continue to push for an increase in the minimum wage as well as more funds to combat drug abuse and drug-related crimes that have plagued the riding.

While Nash and Kennedy agreed on the need to block the Conservative agenda and improve local services they also took aim at each other.

Nash attacked the Liberal’s Green Shift plan, which would increase taxes on carbon products such as gasoline while lowering taxes on income.

“A consumption tax disproportionately impacts middle and lower-income people,” Nash said. “Our view is to put hard caps on the big polluters … and use the money to make green solutions available to the average person.”

Kennedy shot back, saying the NDP promise to reverse corporate tax cuts in order to fund social programs would hurt the economy.

On the question of leadership, an audience member accused Kennedy of “poor judgment” for supporting Stephane Dion for the Liberal leadership. Kennedy defended his support for the embattled Dion, calling him “a man of integrity and passion” who is willing to fight for policies such as the Clarity Act and the Green Shift that would help the country, even if they were not politically popular at the time.

Kennedy also had to defend Dion over his decision to support or abstain from confidence votes put forward by the Conservatives in order to avoid an early election. He conceded that the experience for the party was “humiliating” but necessary in order to prevent a Conservative majority.

In a riding that hasn’t elected a Tory in 20 years, both candidates were eager to show why they were the best choice to send to Ottawa.

“The NDP spends a lot of time criticizing Liberals and to be frank they didn’t get a lot of results for (the) people in this area,” Kennedy said. “People want to see improvement in their lives and I think that’s what I have a better chance of making the case for in this riding.”

Nash insisted that her record and the NDP platform make them the best choice for Parkdale-Highpark.

“People know me, I’ve worked with the community and they see me actually deliver. They see Mr. Dion stand with the Conservatives,” Nash said.

“Mr. Dion has not done very well so far and I think people are impressed with Jack Layton’s leadership. If people want somebody that’s going to stand up for them and their families, that’s who’s going to do it.”

Other candidates present included Terry Parker of the Marijuana Party, Rob Rishchynski of the Green Party along with Conservative Jilian Saweczko and Andrew Borkowski of the Christian Heritage Party.