Election ‘21: Candidates’ views on top issues

The Lake Report interviewed all the candidates in the Niagara Falls riding for the Sept. 20 federal election. We asked them three identical questions to provide our readers with a sense of the candidates’ views and their stance on issues facing Niagara-on-the-Lake.

What are the two biggest issues facing Niagara-on-the-Lake this campaign and how will you address them?

Tony Baldinelli, incumbent

Conservative party

With the wine industry a major economic driver in the region, one of Baldinelli’s big concerns for Niagara-on-the-Lake is fighting the escalator clause on excise taxes for alcohol and wine.

Excise taxes are applied at the manufacturing level and the wine industry has been exempt from the tax since 2006 so long as they use 100 per cent Canadian grapes.

The exemption was the subject of a trade dispute through the World Trade Organization after Australia claimed the exemption was unfair to imported wines. Canada has agreed to end the exemption for wine by June 30, 2022. That means Ontario wines will cost more.

The Liberals also applied an escalator clause to the excise tax on alcohol in 2017. That means the excise levy will rise with the cost of inflation every April forever.

“We warned the government in 2017 not to implement an escalator clause on the excise tax exemption, which our grape and wine industry had since 2006,” Baldinelli said in an interview Monday.

In response, the Liberal government announced over $100 million in financial support for Canadian winemakers over the next two years.

“I’m hearing, from both our grape growers and our wineries, that that funding is insufficient for what is needed. They’re still waiting for a permanent replacement program,” Baldinelli said.

The federal government said a replacement program to help wineries through the financial changes would be implemented when the exemption ended.

The program is to be developed by Agriculture Canada but had not been completed when the election was called, Aaron Dobbin, president and chief executive officer of Wine Growers Ontario, said in an email.

Baldinelli said the government’s changes will hurt the grape and wine sector.

“How does a (winery) make investments going forward unless they know what that program is going to be and how long the program is going to run? You can’t treat businesses like that. So, that’s disappointing,” he said.

Support for Niagara’s tourism industry is his second priority.

“There’s 40,000 workers in Niagara that rely on the tourism sector. The government committed a billion dollars to a tourism recovery plan,” he said. But that isn’t enough when compared to the amount of money tourism brings to Canada.

“Niagara Falls itself generates $2.4 billion. The sector across the country is a $105 billion industry,” he said.

Baldinelli said the funding is not available to businesses that really need it.

“If you look at the criteria, it excludes restaurants, retail and hotels. So, who is it really for?”

Melanie Holm

Green party

Recovering from the pandemic, particularly in regards to quality of life and tourism, is the most pressing issue for NOTL, says the Green party candidate.

“The pandemic has brought attention to our need for better care for seniors, affordable housing options for everyone, expanded mental health supports, and a guaranteed livable income,” Holm said in an email response.

She sympathized with the struggles that local tourism has experienced but offered no suggestions for recovery.

With Niagara’s ecological importance, the region should become a leader in the fight against climate change, Holm said.

“Protecting our wetlands and re-establishing buffer zones around communities and agricultural areas will help protect us locally from the effects of extreme weather and development,” she said.

Andrea Kaiser

Liberal party

“Health is the number one priority. Ending the pandemic through vaccinations is the top priority for every community and that’s no different in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” the Liberal candidate said in an interview.

Kaiser said she is against a two-tiered health system after seeing how detrimental lack of health care access is during a pandemic.

“I am not in support of any kind of health care system that does not provide access for everybody, including the most vulnerable,” she said.

The second most important issue facing NOTL is protecting its heritage districts and tourism industry, she said.

“I’d like to work with the municipality to find local solutions on a number of specific items like congestion, heritage and climate action. Congestion in the Old Town and all through Niagara has been a challenge.”

Kaiser said she would support the tourism industry in NOTL. “I’ve worked in tourism and hospitality my whole life. I did see first hand what the wage subsidy did to support small businesses,” she said.

“I think the continuation of that is absolutely essential, as long as it’s needed.”

Brian Barker

New Democratic Party

Preservation of NOTL’s heritage and community character is a critical issue, the NDP’s Barker said in an interview.

“There are a lot of developers who see golden opportunities in the community,“ but he said what makes Niagara-on-the-Lake special is ”the fact that we’ve been able to maintain its heritage.”

“Any ventures that are looking to build or do something in NOTL, I think we have an obligation to the community to maintain and preserve our heritage. I mean, NOTL was the first capital (of Upper Canada).”

Barker said climate change also presents a threat to the municipality’s agriculture and wine industries.

“Unpredictable patterns in the weather will wreak havoc on our wine industry,” he said.

“Addressing climate change will be imperative for our future in terms of protecting the different agricultural investments we have here.”

Peter Taras

People’s Party of Canada

Infringements on personal freedom are the biggest issue, facing NOTLers, Taras said.

“The lockdowns have been a colossal failure, the mask mandate has been a colossal failure. They’ve done absolutely nothing to unite our country. Compared to two years ago, I feel less secure,” Taras said in an interview.

He offered the United Nations’ worldwide death statistics from the past four years as evidence that masks and lockdowns have not worked.

“We should be focusing on hope and courage because fear limits our ability to reason,” he said.

The second most important issue for NOTL is reopening the U.S. border, said Taras.

“(Border closures) had a massive deleterious effect on Niagara-on-the-Lake with really no backing that there was benefit to it.”

Are you and your staff double-vaccinated? Why or why not? How will you approach issues surrounding vaccine mandates and a vaccine passport?

Tony Baldinelli

The Conservatiive said all leadership positions in his campaign are fully vaccinated but that volunteers either need to be vaccinated or submit to daily COVID rapid testing.

He doesn’t directly support vaccination mandates but said that rapid testing could be mandated instead.

“Canadians have the right to make their own decisions. We firmly believe that rapid testing is needed for the unvaccinated to protect our most vulnerable Canadians,” he said.

“We’re going to require federal public servants who aren’t vaccinated to pass a daily rapid test.”

Baldinelli said decisions about restrictions against unvaccinated individuals should be left to individual businesses or the province.

“(Vaccine passports) are pretty well a provincial issue but businesses have the right to establish rules,” he said.

Melanie Holm

The Green candidate said she and her staff are double-vaccinated, but she worries about protecting her own children from the spread of the virus. They are both under 12 and unable to receive a COVID vaccine,

She understands some people can’t get vaccinated but said, “This isn’t about any one person’s right to choose. This is about the wider community.”

“If people have concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines they should be discussing this with their health care providers, not their politicians.”

Andrea Kaiser Kaiser said she is double-vaccinated and said she will be asking all of her volunteers and Liberal campaign staff to have two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I am supporting mandatory vaccines, as in the workplace here, and I would ask that all other candidates do the same to make sure that we are having a safe election.”

“(Vaccination) is the best way to end the pandemic and truly support local businesses because they can’t afford another lockdown.”

She said children have needed vaccine records to go to school for many years and noted the concept is not new.

Brian Barker

The candidate he and all his top campaign workers are double-vaccinated, Barker said.

“Not only am I doing it to protect my health and the health of my family, but more importantly, it’s something I’m doing for the community,” he said.

As a school teacher, he said he has dealt with immunization records and so-called “vaccine passports” his whole career. Barker has a degree in biotechnology and said he trusts the science behind vaccines.

“Vaccination has played an important role in the eradication of many diseases. It’s more than likely that I never contracted polio, measles or diphtheria because of immunizations I was given as a child,” he said.

He acknowledged that people can be medically exempt from vaccinations or invoke the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to refuse them but said it was important that people get vaccinated.

“We’re all tired of lockdown and vaccination is a tool that will help make sure we can move forward in a positive way.”

Peter Taras

When it comes to vaccines, Taras is quite straightforward.

“I am not vaccinated and I don’t care if my campaign staff are vaccinated or not. If they want to be, that’s fine. If they don’t want to be, that’s also fine,” he said.

Vaccine passports and mandates would be “opposed vehemently,“ he said.

“I think that bodily autonomy is a right. Our government has violated many Charter rights, so I’m not surprised they violate bodily autonomy as well.”

He said he is against any employer creating vaccine mandates for employees and stressed it should be a purely individual decision.

What commitments will you make to support Indigenous Peoples living in Niagara?

Tony Baldinelli

The Conservative said he would defer to Indigenous leaders to target specific issues for Indigenous residents in Niagara.

“I look to them for advice and guidance on some of the issues that are of importance and what we can do.”

He said he would pursue the mandates of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continue to provide funding for initiatives such as the Canada Summer Job Program.

Melanie Holm

The Green party is dedicated to implementing every action in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, she said.

“I am listening. Whether elected or not, I will follow the guidance and leadership of the Indigenous community and do whatever is needed to support them in healing the damages done by colonization and genocide.”

Andrea Kaiser

Kaiser said she would work to continue Liberal programs for affordable housing and financial support.

“Historic investments have been made, but there’s so much more work to do – $638 million has been allocated to support Indigenous Peoples living in urban areas outside of reserves,” she said.

She touted the Liberal government’s $40-billion national housing strategy as a way to boost Indigenous home ownership and stressed that she would work with Indigenous leaders to tackle the problems they deem urgent.

“I’m a listener. I’ve been speaking with community leaders in the Indigenous Peoples communities and I’m very committed to continuing the conversation,” Kaiser said.

Brian Barker

When it comes to working with Indigenous communities in Niagara, Barker is eager but cautious about claiming to know what’s needed.

“I’m here to be their biggest ally, but I think we need to bring the communities together and give our friends at the friendship centres the opportunity to share their needs,” said Barker.

“As a white man, I’m not going to profess to know the issues of the Indigenous community. We think of them as stakeholders. We need them to sit down and lead the conversation.”

Peter Taras

The best role for the Canadian government in handling Indigenous issues is to back off, Taras said.

“If I was Indigenous affairs minister, my goal would be to make myself redundant in my first term,” he said.

He would push to make homeownership easier for Indigenous residents in Niagara and criticized reserves as “socialist” systems where homeownership is impossible.

“There’s no reason to have a patronizing Indian Act, which actually only enslaves Indigenous people rather than providing the circumstances for human flourishing,” Taras said.