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Sault candidates weigh in on LGBTQ+ youth, mental health, crime, the environment and more

It's time to vote on Monday. Here are how the candidates answered a series of youth-focused questions
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Editor's Note: For the 2019 federal election, SooToday decided to team up with Algonquin College's journalism program to help quiz local candidates on issues affecting youth.

The interviews conducted during this Q& A series were done by Laura Nelson, a second-year student from Algonquin College in Ottawa. The issues and topics of discussion focused mainly on youth and young adults in Canada and the Sault Ste. Marie riding. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

With the rising cost of housing in Ontario, what solutions are you proposing to help homeless youth in your community? 

Sara McCleary (NDP) — I've seen first hand kind of the impacts of homelessness. And so, there are a lot of different parts of our platform that will help with that. One of the most direct is making affordable housing more widely available, whether that's directly through government or by making it easier for developers to build them, but also making way for foreign travel generally. It's like making a national strategy to make sure that we're not wasting food and that that food is more affordable and more easily available. Obviously, the different parts of our platform, like reducing student debt burdens would help. Eliminating the interest on the federal portion within a month of making grants more widely available. And then I thought somebody asked me about funding for shelters. So, you know, that's not a federal issue, but that's something that's kind of close to my heart. But before I do so, I would be working with the different levels of government to make sure that is happening.

Geo McLean (Green) — Green Party has a platform point for ensuring that safe, affordable housing is a fundamental human right. It’s not yet in Canada. That's a big issue as far as I'm concerned. I work in a housing first initiative for people with mental illness, addictions. And having that stability for them is so important. Retrofitting homes so that they are clean, but energy neutral and building new homes, new buildings that are energy neutral, also investing in housing and other innovative solutions to ensure that everyone has a place to go. On the house siding, getting homes retrofitted, not just establishing a more stringent code for energy efficiency in homes, but implementing that in homes that already exist.

Terry Sheehan (Liberal) — In 2019, we introduced legislation that recognizes the right of every Canadian to access adequate housing, and we went even further than that. We make it a requirement that every future government have a national housing strategy. We implemented the National Housing Strategy to make sure that everyone has an affordable place to call home. And, in fact, we helped more than 1 million people find places to call home, to build, repairs, renovations and rental, such as part of more than $7 billion in housing investments. We increased funding to fight homelessness by $2.2 billion and set a target of reducing chronic homelessness by at least 50 per cent over the next decade.

Sonny Spina (Conservative) — We are going to ease the mortgage stress test to make it easier for people to afford to get into their first home. Now, we recognized the issue for especially new families and people who are starting is not only the price of housing but the cost of living. We want to do everything we can to get that cost of living under control so that people can afford to save up to buy a house. For example, we want to reduce personal income tax rates in the very bottom lowest tax bracket. That's going to save the average couple fifty dollars a year.

Now, there's no use buying a house if you can't afford to keep it heated. We want to release it. We want to release it. We want to immediately remove the carbon tax from everything and then go a step further. The GST for heating and energy costs increasing. That's going to save someone, just the GST on home heating and energy. On an average of $107 a year.

Now, it's the other thing that people face when they are buying a new home is a direct cost to new parents. We're proposing to make parental leave tax free as well. That's going to save a couple of thousand dollars. These are not proposed tax breaks for any particular group. This is for everyone.

Amy Zuccato (People’s) — This is something I have experience with not with myself, but my son. He has been on the Rent Geared to Income list for over five years now because he is a single male and he keeps getting bumped and bumped. The system does not work. Social housing issues are provincially governed but what the People's Party of Canada is willing to do there is $40 billion across the board, through the tax of the GST or the part of HST tax. So, we're willing, for every province and territory, to keep that part of the tax. They get to keep it under the governance that it's been spent for, mental illness, health care issues and these social issues. They know that it'll be targets and goals that they have to produce because this problem isn't just locally, it's across the board. So, all of our platforms and politics effect every Canadian on some level.

What do you intend to do to help youth in your community get access to jobs? 

Sara McCleary (NDP) — Making sure that we're promoting our resources, making sure that we're reaching out to businesses that are looking at expanding and using the different resources available to the Economic Development Corporation, everything, making sure that all the levels of government are working together to reach different businesses. Making them aware that (there is) a relatively low cost of living compared to somewhere like Toronto and it's a great place to invest. We need to make sure that we're promoting that, making sure people recognize that you have a relatively low cost to do business here. 

Geo McLean (Green) — We want to eliminate post-secondary tuition and eliminate student debt. This is a huge barrier for a lot of people for accessing education, which in turn is a huge barrier for accessing employment.  

Terry Sheehan (Liberal) — Harvest Algoma was looking for employees so what I was able to do, I was able to get them Canada summer job students. Where these youth were able to save for school and contribute to a really important program. We doubled the Canada Summer Jobs program from the previous Conservative government. We provided 1,150 jobs for youth in our community over the past four years. 

I've been able to get over a quarter of a billion in investments for Sault Ste. Marie. And, you know, it's critical. When I first ran, the unemployment rate in Sault Ste. Marie was an epidemic. When it comes to youth unemployment, it is double that number. Whatever the area of youth is multiplied by two. It was in dire straits. I was hard at work. 

Sonny Spina (Conservative) — This is a very big part of this plan, as well as increasing the ability for people to obtain jobs, keep jobs and become entrepreneurs. We recognize in the last three and a half years, there have been 4,300 new regulations put on small businesses. There have been crippling tax increases put on small businesses across Canada. What we're seeing, and I'm seeing it here, is a reduction in (what is) stopping a lot of businesses, that it's important that we help those businesses so that they can employ people, that they can be profitable, so they can employ people in our communities. We are proposing immediately to reduce the 300 regulations; we want to reduce the regulations by 25 per cent. We also want to reduce strain. We also want to propose that, yes, we're going to introduce a new piece of legislation on small businesses. It's important for us to first make it attractive for businesses to set up in our communities. We know, and I've seen businesses leaving, leaving our province, leaving our country. Part of the reason they're doing that is that the cost of doing business is just too high. I do not want to give any of these businesses one more reason to leave our city or province or our country. 

Amy Zuccato (People’s) — We have a mill and a steel plant, and the federal government allowed, granted China a contract for $42 billion in steel, lumber, electrical and plumbing. That was done illegally and it's an illegal contract. We would ensure any infrastructure capital purchase, especially $40 billion, stays inside of Canada and strengthens the economy. If we strengthen the economy, especially in Sault Ste. Marie and talking about steel, it will increase jobs and increase the amount allocated to the company to me in this general area. When the steel plant does good, so does the community. If more people are working, more people are spending money, it goes back into the community.

Many of Ontario’s youth are struggling with mental health. What can you do to include to better support mental health and substance abuse issues in your community? 

Sara McCleary (NDP) — I have often referred to a high-functioning depression. My husband had depression, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. So, 100 per cent more this year because he's having a bad day. Either wait six months to maybe see a psychiatrist at the hospital or go to the Canadian Mental Health Association on Tuesday for their walk-in. That's the only choice unless you want to go to emerge and sit there for hours. We need more funding going into mental health. And that's part of our commitment to making sure that healthcare generally is being funded properly, but particularly mental health care, and that the funding is going to the provinces and that the provinces are using it appropriately. And then in terms of the opioid crisis drug problem, like I said, we're committed to declaring a public health emergency nationwide here in the Sault, making sure that we get the funding, that Level 3 clinic here and that there is access to overdose prevention because different people approach the recovery differently at different rates. And we need to make sure that everybody is supportive no matter their journey to recovery. 

Geo McLean (Green) — We have a mental health strategy as well as an opioid and drug use strategy that allows for greater access to services and allows for better services to be available. In terms of mental health, it is about access to professionals, workers and resources. Addiction is fundamentally an issue of trauma and it's an issue of community. The program I work for only has, what is it, ten clients? And probably 15 workers. Super-high ratio. It's kind of a pilot as it is. I want to see that way more available because there are so many people who need this kind of support. It's wonderful.

Terry Sheehan (Liberal) — Currently, 500,000 young Canadians are not receiving basic mental health services. We responded by investing $125 million in emergency response . . . restoring harm reduction and improving almost 40 supervised consumptions. We provided $19 million for five years for community support for youth at risk. Established a national suicide prevention crisis line to ensure Canadians can access crisis support across the country. We cut the red tape and removed barriers to treatment. We continue to tackle this epidemic by expanding access to a safe supply of prescription opioids and supporting those on the front lines and fighting stigma. This is a medical issue, not a moral one. We’ll continue to do all we can. We announced $150 million in 2018 for emergency funding. The minister of health signed an agreement in January allocating $51 million to the province — they had to match that $51 million. There is $102 million there to be accessed. My biggest concern is the Ford government, so we have been cranking up the pressure because this is not acceptable, that there is $102 million since January, the drug force task committee has many great ideas. Resources are there. We continue to apply that pressure to the province. And I'm going to continue to lobby them. And I'm working with local stakeholders here to continue that pressure.

Sonny Spina (Conservative) — I hosted the very first ever town hall on the opioid issues. There's a very specific reason that I did that. I brought our partners together because I saw an increase in calls for service, not just in the police service, but to paramedics, to the hospital. I saw that increase happening with regards to opioid poisonings. I recognize and I've worked with a lot of people on the frontlines. They are giving everything they have to this issue to help people in our community, our frontline workers. Our police officers are doing everything they can to stop these drugs from flowing into our community. Now, the way I look at this is very clear. Someone who is addicted isn't always a criminal. Just because they simply have an addiction does not mean they're a criminal. We look at it through a harm reduction lens where we can do everything, we can reduce the harm caused by these addictions. The one thing that we need is, all these folks need a way out. They're battling with addictions. We need to offer up that ability to get out. I recognize that not everyone is ready to get out of their battle at the same time, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be offering it to them. 

Amy Zuccato (People’s) — We want to see better health and better dignity for these patients. We need to take control from the provincial government. It’s killing people and that’s when the federal government has to step in and change the laws.

According to Statistics Canada, violent crime has been on the rise both in Ontario and Canada-wide since 2015. What are some strategies and programs you can propose to make students feel safer on campus and in their communities?

Sara McCleary (NDP) — That's something that you hear a lot about here. A lot of people are concerned about it. We need to make sure that the municipalities are feeling supported. whether that's through, you know, federal. Also developing a national action plan to end gender-based violence. So, making sure that women feel safe that way and that we're addressing the issue head-on when it comes to that particular gender-based violence. And then although we want to make sure that there is access to shelters when women do need them so that they can get away. Make sure that local shelters are being funded properly and that women have access to that, and they know where they are.

Geo McLean (Green) — Often, or at least lower-level violent petty crime sort of stuff, is often addiction, mental illness based, or poverty based. Putting in place supports for those issues is a huge part of minimizing crime. 

Terry Sheehan (Liberal) — We've given universities and colleges $10 million to develop and implement equity, diversity, inclusion policies and training on campus. That's critical. And we know that we need to work together to make sure that our community is welcoming and is safe for all students. 

Spina (Conservative) — One of the reasons we're different is because of how welcoming we are and how open everyone in our community is with our police service and with things like our schools and our different ethnic groups around the city. There isn't anyone in our city, there isn't any group in our city that doesn't feel comfortable right now going to the police. And that includes students on campus. Those conversations are important. I have spent a lot of time at both our college and our universities as a guest speaker in our different courses. And also, I was a teacher at a local college for a while. So these days, these are ways that allowed me to communicate with the students regularly, and they often do have amazing questions and sometimes it's the fear of the unknown. They just don't know what they're facing. We can't help someone know where resources are and know how to access those resources. You're giving them the freedom to be able to go anywhere they wanted and feel safe. So that open dialogue is incredibly important. 

When we look at a national level, and I can tell you this from experience, there is a difficult time that folks have with our justice system. People do not feel heard often in our justice system, and they often feel that criminals who commit violent crimes are just let off of life sentences. Our party is proposing a lot of amendments directly related to things like gang violence and gun violence and mandatory minimum sentences for things like this. 

This is important because it gives our frontline officers and top-line workers the ability to keep crime, guns off the street and the ability to help keep gang members off the street so that we can make sure that we make it safer. We can protect everyone. 

Amy Zuccato (People’s) — We want to increase it to a mandatory 10-year sentence if someone uses a gun in a crime.

What will you do to support youth in the LGBTQ2+ community in your area?

Sara McCleary (NDP) — The NDP has always been supportive of the LGBTQ2+ community. No. 1 is we need to end the blood ban because it's completely discriminatory. There's no scientific basis for it at this point. Ending conversion therapy for minors for sure. And then work with provinces and territories to ban it outright across the country. The Employment Equity Act doesn't mention sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. We want to make sure that we add that as well, to make sure that you aren’t discriminated against it at work.

Geo McLean (Green) — We need better access for trans people to access gender reforming surgeries and end the blood ban.

Terry Sheehan (Liberal) — We made LGBTQ2+ youth a national priority participating with the Canada Summer Jobs Program.

Sonny Spina (Conservative) — There are two parts of our community that are so welcoming that it doesn't matter who you are as you walk in. You immediately feel welcome. One of them is the cycling community here. And the other is our LGBTQ community here in the Sault. These folks don't care who you are, where you come from or anything. They just want everyone to be a part of the same community and everyone to move forward together. I mean, I've been a part of a lot of events over the last few years with this part of our community. And we've had some great conversations . . . Increasingly the message from our LGBTQ community is quite clear. We're all a part of this community. We're all in this together. Let's all work together for the same common goal and let's all love each other and move forward together. I love that message. And as a Member of Parliament, I want (to do) everything I can do to promote that message across our community, and just help everyone come together and work together towards a common goal. 

Amy Zuccato (People’s) — Our platform doesn’t (offer) anything for a specific group or area. Our platforms are for all Canadians.

Youth like all Ontarians care about the environment. In your community what do you intend to do to support your local ecosystem? 

Sara McCleary (NDP) — We need to invest in green technologies. We need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as we can. We are reliant on the steel industry. We need to make sure that we're not leaving workers behind. (There are) a couple of different kinds of approaches to that. No. 1 is we need to make sure that here in the Sault with the steel plant we have environmental regulations in place and that they are meeting requirements in terms of emissions and that there are relatively strict requirements. Supporting them and helping provide funding for them to invest in emission-cutting technology, that's something that I would support looking into. And then at the same time, we need to invest in retraining and making retraining available for all workers.  

Geo McLean (Green) — Ensuring that climate change is dealt with. We are right beside a large body of water. We already have flooding issues. Preventative measures for emergencies caused by climate change, such as flooding and fires — that’s going to be a huge issue for the Sault, and we need to get on that now before it tears the city apart. Bolstering the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Terry Sheehan (Liberal) — We believe the economy and environment go hand in hand. We are supporting renewable energy nationally. We put a price on the pollution — we don’t believe it should be free. Investing in energy-efficient buildings.

Sonny Spina (Conservative) — I am an avid cyclist, I spend a lot of my time outside, a lot of it, whether it's cycling on the road, whether it's cycling on the trails or whether it's fishing or hunting or any of those things. I spend a lot of time outside. So when I looked at that, when I look at running for politics, I needed to support a party that had a real plan to protect that. So when we look at what the Conservative Party has — it's a plan and you can find it online — I replied, "That's great."

When you look at our plans, I was hoping to see many things. One that focuses on the largest emitters, not just focusing on (but) forgetting the carbon tax that exempts the largest emitters and puts that on the backs of everyday Canadians. So our plan, I think, is this idea that this is the largest emitters, and it forces them or (encourages) them to invest their dollars to become greener and more energy-efficient. Part of the reason that's important for us to save money is that we are surrounded by industry. And so, it's important for us to make sure that those industries are living up to the high standards we expect and that they are protecting the environment around us. That's right. I firmly want to support that.

The next thing our plan does is support a cleaner, greener natural environment by helping to restore funding for waterways, ecosystems and wetlands. And that's important. I announced that recently, because we are surrounded by waterways and different kinds of plant lands and ecosystems. That's important for us. And the next thing we talk about and (is) in Conservative plans is taking the climate change fight global because we recognize that emissions, unlike people, do not require a passport to cross borders. We are right on the border with the United States and we recognize that we have to help our partners from around the world reduce their emissions. If we're going to have a real, significant impact on global emissions, we can do everything we want here in Canada to be a leader on this. And I think we have to be. But the first thing that we also have to recognize is that we have to get our partners around the world to do the same thing or else we're not going to have a significant impact on our climate change globally. 

Amy Zuccato (People’s) — We need to clean up the waterways and ensure everyone has access to clean drinking water.