On September 19, Hart House played host to former Deputy Premier of Ontario Deborah Matthews and the campaign manager for the Progressive Conservative (PC) party that ousted her, Kory Teneycke.
The event was organized by the Hart House Debates and Dialogue Committee and also featured Jaime Watt, an expert in government relations, and Tiffany Gooch, a public affairs consultant.
The sold-out event aimed to discuss the actions taken by Premier Doug Ford and his government since being in office for almost 100 days. The topics touched on included Ford’s climate strategy, his decision to reduce the number of city councillors in Toronto, the threat of the notwithstanding clause to achieve that aim, and the repeal of the basic income pilot project. Their opposing views and political positions came to a head on the debate room floor.
In response to a question about Doug Ford’s intention to “scrap cap and trade, scrap the federal government’s carbon tax, and cancel nearly 800 renewable energy projects,” Matthews brought up how these large and provincial-wide decisions could have a very real impact on students and the U of T campus.
“The money that was raised through cap and trade, every penny was going back into [greenhouse gas (GHG)] reduction. For example, U of T would have received significant money to retrofit buildings to reduce the GHG emissions. That money was earmarked for colleges and universities… to make the buildings more comfortable, but most importantly, to reduce GHG emissions. That money is not available anymore.”
Teneycke responded by supporting Ford’s actions, saying that cap and trade raises costs for consumers at home and results in jobs being driven to “places like China and Mexico” at Canada’s expense.
“If you believe climate change is a global problem, then it’s about global emissions. And if you’re driving jobs from environmentally cleaner jurisdictions to environmentally dirtier jurisdictions — that are using coal power and other things — you’re not actually having a positive impact on global emissions as a whole.”
The back-and-forth dynamic of these two speakers dominated the event.
Their differences were most apparent when the issue of the basic income pilot project was addressed. This experiment was meant to look at the effects of a universal basic income on poverty reduction, but it was discontinued by the Ford government earlier in the year.
Teneycke compared the guaranteed income strategy to the politics of Venezuela, a socialist country that is currently embroiled in an economic crisis.
“It is a bad approach, it’s killed more people than any set of ideas that humanity has ever come up with. So, yeah, an experiment with communism is not something the government is going to double down on.”
Although he later described the use of this comparison as “in part, flippant,” he reaffirmed his criticism of the project.
“People having more money, having more choices that affords them, is a wonderful thing,” he said. “And part of how we do that is called getting a job. I know that’s not possible for everyone in society, but more people that are employed — gainfully employed — means more money we have to help those who are in a position, whether it’s through disability or through other circumstances, to be assisted.”
In opposition to this stance, Matthews said that “if you think that a market-driven economy, a capitalist market-driven economy, has no room for taking care of those that are most vulnerable, then you are wrong.”
Matthews went on to say that the basic income pilot was, at its core, about answering one question: “If people have a little bit more money, would they actually be more likely to go back to school, to get a job, to reduce their reliance on the health care system, to reduce their reliance on the justice system?”
Because the pilot project will not be allowed to run its course, Matthews asserted that we might never know the answer to this question.
Throughout the debate, profanity was thrown around, interruptions were made, and the numerous personal comments verging on attacks “disappointed [Watt] profoundly.”
From all this, Gooch’s response to an audience member, who asked what incentives there are for young people to enter politics, sums up this chaotic event best.
“You need to enter it because it needs you.”