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Candidate survey results – Peter Fragiskatos, Liberal Party of Canada, London North Centre

i Nov 23rd No Comments by

How do you think our current electoral system (FPTP) impacts women and minority groups? What difference would a proportional representation model or other electoral reform make to these groups?

When individuals and groups lack representation in parliament, they lack a voice. Proportional Representation (PR) has the potential to improve representation among women and minorities. As such, it would obviously strengthen our democracy by granting a greater role to those who so often find themselves excluded from the formal political system. The experiences of other countries – and the Nordic states in particular – affirms this. But while FPTP falls short in ensuring fair representation, I don’t think we can expect or rely on PR to serve as some kind of panacea. As far as electoral systems are concerned, we need to make sure that the way we vote creates the conditions for the kind of democracy we want. Voting is just one aspect – albeit a very important one – of democracy. For me, a genuine democracy is one that allows for active engagement, participation and respect. PR would benefit Canada as far as formal parliamentary representation goes, but my concern is that it fails to provide incentives for greater civility. This is why I support preferential voting (the Alternative Vote, or AV, variation), which can allow for proportionality but is not designed to guarantee it. In my view, the benefits of AV outweigh concerns about the fact that it cannot ensure a proportional parliament. The key reason I favour AV over PR has to do with its potential to generate a kinder and more civil politic. Ranked balloting – the central feature of preferential voting – pushes those who are running to engage each other in a more respectful and cordial manner. When such incentives are in place, constructive debate and genuine citizen engagement become possible. And if we want to create a society where traditionally marginalized groups feel included and valued, then we need to look at systems that encourage their participation. In short, we need to be worried about more than just seat counts. The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to enacting electoral reform within eighteen months of forming a government. While we want to move away from the unfairness of the First-Past-The-Post system, we will not commit to a particular reform until the matter has been studied thoroughly.

The Fair Elections Act removes the provision for people to vouch for those with no ID. This has the potential to disproportionately impede people such as those experiencing homelessness from voting. What is your plan to ensure these individuals are able to vote?

This (Un)Fair Elections Act is an affront to Canadian democracy and that is why the Liberal Party has committed to repealing it. Because it will prevent the use of vouching and the use of voter information cards as a means of legitimate identification, more than one hundred thousand Canadians could be turned away at the polls this October. According to the Conservatives, there are 39 options for identification allowed at the polls. The truth is that voters need ID that has their photo, name and current address and very few of the acceptable forms of identification provide an address (an exception is a drivers’ licences and paper copies of utility bills). Many advocacy organizations and respected commentators have criticized these reforms because it will make it difficult – even impossible – for marginalized and under-represented citizens to vote (including seniors, the disabled, indigenous peoples, the poor, and students or youth) simply because they do not drive or have their name on their household’s utility bill. The Liberal Party has committed to restoring the voter-ID cards that Elections Canada accepted at voting stations prior to the introduction of the act. I will work with any local organization or citizen-led effort trying to help those who are likely to be impacted by making sure they know what pieces of ID will be accepted on election day.

Newcomers to Canada experience high levels of social isolation and often have multiple barriers to receiving optimal healthcare. If elected, how will you and your party address these challenges?

We need to strengthen the ability of settlement agencies to do their job. Their staff are equipped with the expertise to help newcomers access the healthcare system. The Liberal Party also feels strongly that reuniting families is a crucial part of a successful immigration policy and essential in attracting the best and brightest. Just as important is the fact that family reunification provides newcomers with a support network, such as family involvement in childcare. When strong support networks are in place, health challenges – and this includes mental health concerns – can be mitigated. Although Mr. Harper’s Conservatives present themselves as the party of family values, placing limits on reunification to 5,000 each year has caused serious harm. In essence, the federal government has put a stop to the family reunification dreams of tens of thousands of Canadian families. This began with a dramatic increase in wait-times and has persisted under the false pretense of addressing a backlog they created. The result is that they are keeping families apart. On top of all this, rather than ensuring that there exist are sufficient resources to process immigration files, the Conservatives have been closing visa offices abroad and within Canada.

Please comment on Bill C24, the legislation that gives the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship and also makes it more difficult to become Canadian.

 The Liberal Party is opposed to Bill C-24. No government should ever have the ability to take away an individual’s Canadian citizenship. Any Canadian who commits a crime ought to be punished. Yet, the revocation of citizenship crosses a line that we must never accept. Without citizenship, the rights and equality we enjoy become meaningless. I also want to add that while this position reflects my stand and that of the Liberal Party, it was John Diefenbaker, a Conservative Prime Minister, whose government changed the law in 1957 to ensure that no Canadian would ever be stripped of their citizenship. Until recently, this is an issue that all parties agreed upon. But Mr. Harper has changed this. Bill C24 is another example of the Harper Conservatives using fear for political gain. As far as other reforms addressed by the legislation, it needs to be pointed out that the government’s own data shows that processing times for citizenship applicants have doubled under their watch, from 15 months in 2007 to 31 months in 2012. The government acknowledges that inadequate resources are the main reason for this increase. Indeed, processing times for all major categories of immigrants, as well as for visitors, have also skyrocketed over the past five years. At the same time, the bill proposes to increase the fee for new citizens from $100 to $300. This means would-be new citizens are getting double the waiting time for triple the fee. Further, while we agree with the government that Canadian citizenship is a privilege and that new citizens should be genuinely committed to our country, we disagree with their decision to extend language tests from those aged 18-54 to the broader age range 14-64. The age 14 is too young, while 64 is too old.

How would you address the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada? Do you support an inquiry?

The extraordinarily high disappearance and homicide rates faced by indigenous women in Canada is unacceptable and part of a systemic problem that requires careful scrutiny. Our party fully endorses the need for an inquiry and completely supports the recent recommendations published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Liberal Party won unanimous parliamentary support in 2013 for a motion in the House of Commons for a special committee to investigate this issue and suggest solutions addressing the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls across the country. Unfortunately, the Conservative government used their majority on the special Parliamentary committee to do away with its report.

Education funding levels in First Nations have long been noted to be sub-standard to what is provided across Canada. On average on reserve education spending is $2000 less per student than what is offered by the provincial education systems. What steps would you take to begin closing the funding gap for First Nations students on reserve?

Only one in three First Nations youth living on reserve graduate from high school and the funding gap is a key reason why. Reversing this unacceptable situation will require strong leadership and our party is ready to provide it. Whereas Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have only committed to improving the graduation rate by eight percent by 2018, Liberals will commit to doing better. It was a Liberal government that negotiated the Kelowna Accord in 2005. That agreement – turned aside by the Conservatives – was built on a foundation of real engagement with First Nations leaders and communities. It would have provided $1.8 billion over five years to improve high school graduation rates so that they matched with those found in the rest of Canada. It also aimed for a fifty percent increase in the number of students graduating from post-secondary education. Mr. Harper’s government did commit funds to address the gap. However, their approach failed because it ignored the need for a grassroots approach that consulted a wide range of voices and perspectives among First Nations. It is therefore no surprise that the reforms introduced by Conservatives have gone nowhere. Bringing about a different outcome will require MPs to begin a dialogue with First Nations communities in their riding as to how the problems plaguing First Nations students can be addressed. I am ready to engage in that dialogue.

Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. Where do you stand on creating such a strategy?

The Liberal Party’s stand on this question is as follows: Canada faces a stark shortage of affordable housing – making it harder for Canadian families to make ends meet. But we need more than just affordable housing. We need housing that’s accessible and available to the people who need it. Liberals believe the federal government should invest in the development of more affordable housing units to help Canadian families ease their cost of living. Every Canadian has the right to safe and affordable housing. Current programs to provide affordable housing are short-term and under-resourced. Every year, 1.8 million Canadians are in need of housing, including approximately 300,000 homeless. Yet, the government is in the process of ending rent-geared income subsidies to co-operative housing and other social housing projects that make affordable housing more accessible. Tackling the housing shortage requires collaborative planning between the orders of government and sustained funding. On a personal note, I also want to say that housing is essential if we are to address the issue of mental health and its consequences. According to a recent study that appeared in the Globe and Mail, for each $1 spent on housing and assistance for the homeless, more than $2.00 is saved in prison, hospital and shelter costs. In other words, housing is not only a morally appropriate policy but an approach that is fiscally responsible.

Federal funding for homelessness through the Homelessness Prevention Strategy (HPS) has not been increased since its inception over a decade ago. As the rates of homelessness have increased significantly since that time, would you increase funding? What other strategies might you recommend to reduce homelessness? As well the steady decline of low cost housing is contributing to the homelessness problem. What suggestions would you have to address the issue of increasing access to affordable housing?

More will be said about this issue in our platform. In the meantime, the Liberal Party believes the following: Canadians deserve a high quality of life and are committed to a poverty reduction plan for Canada. Canadians deserve a high quality of life where everyone is given a real and fair chance to succeed. Liberals are strongly committed to a poverty reduction plan for Canada. Little progress has been made in reducing the poverty gap under the Conservative government.