Candidates face off in Scarborough-Agincourt

The cost of living is too high, especially for the many residents of Ontario who spend most of their income on rent, according to Scarborough-Agincourt NDP candidate Paul Choi.

Choi faced off against fellow candidates Liberal Soo Wong, and Green Party Pauline Thompson at the Scarborough-Agincourt public library Monday night. The debate was held as part of the October 6 provincial election. Progressive Conservative candidate Liang Chen was absent.

At present the riding of Scarborough-Agincourt is up for grabs, as former incumbent Gerry Phillips retired after 21 years of holding the seat for the Liberals. The riding is also the one of the most ethnically diverse ridings in the country, with dense populations of Chinese and South Asian residents.

Affordable housing and employment were the key issues at the debate, organized by the Scarborough Civic Action Network. SCAN is a network of agencies, community groups and individuals working to improve the quality of life of Scarborough residents through civic action.

NDP candidate Choi emphasized the burden that many people face when using most of their income on rent. He also pointed out the increase of people on waiting lists for affordable housing.

“One in five tenants pays more than half their income to rent on a monthly basis,” he said. “There’s 150,000 (people) on affordable housing waiting lists, and that’s an increase of 20 per cent from 2009.”

The Green’s Thompson criticized the NDP plan to raise the minimum wage by $1 dollar.

“I’m not sure that $1 dollar more per hour in a part-time job is going to make a significant difference in your lifestyle,” she said. “What we need to have is more full-time jobs.”

“In terms of affordable housing, we think it’s important (with new buildings) that a certain number of units be allocated to low-income families because it’s important not to “ghettoize” low income families,” Thompson said.

She believes it’s important to integrate low-income families into new buildings and homes among other families with different incomes. She said that putting low-income people together creates “a neighbourhood of poverty,” one that is difficult to get out off. She added that it’s important to avoid a “defeatist” attitude about poverty.

Thompson added that in 2008, small and medium sized businesses created job growth and need higher tax exemptions in order to hire people.

Liberal Soo Wong argued that poverty needs to be addressed by having quality education and increasing the minimum wage.

Choi criticized Wong’s plan, stating that she was “out of touch” with listeners. “If we assume that all new wage jobs end up under the poverty line, that’s not fair,” he said. “I don’t think that’s fair for all of us that have to make ends meet working many part-time jobs, if that’s what we have to do.”

Wong responded by pointing out her party has invested heavily on social housing and has been in the lead by providing funding for social services and programs at the local level.