The forum — not a debate, as moderator Melissa Royle made clear — drew its questions from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s platform of election issues, as well as taking a few questions from the St. John’s Board of Trade members in the audience at the Holiday Inn.
Two candidates running for re-election — Andrews, running in the Avalon riding, as well as NDP candidate Jack Harris, running in St. John’s East — took part, as well as two challengers: Liberal Nick Whalen and the Green Party’s David Peters, both running in St. John’s East.
All candidates spoke of the importance of investment in small business, with an emphasis on Newfoundland and Labrador’s particular needs, as well as a deterioration in the relationship between the provinces and the federal government under Stephen Harper.
“We want to repair the damage Mr. Harper’s done to the relationship between the federal government and the provinces,” said Harris. “His failure to keep his promise for a fisheries investment fund for Newfoundland and Labrador is a shocking example of his treatment of this province. This we’ll fix.”
Candidates’ remarks were largely cordial, with few overt shots taken at any of the other candidates present. Whalen twice slammed the Harper government’s “race-baiting” policies and said the NDP won’t be able to balance the books, as promised, with the spending commitments the party is making during the campaign.
“As for Tom Mulcair’s NDP platform, he has chosen to drive the Canadian economy down the same road as Harper: balancing budgets at all costs,” he said. “During a recession, with interest rates low, Liberals choose investing in infrastructure and training that we need for growth.”
Responding to a question about attracting and retaining workers to keep businesses competitive, Peters said his feelings align with the Green Party’s position.
“We need more robust immigration in this country. We need to transition out of the temporary foreign workers program,” he said. “It’s not working for business and it’s not humane and not the appropriate way to go forward.”
He added immigration policies need to acknowledge the province’s climate. “If you’re coming from, say, Jamaica, you might not be comfortable living here in Newfoundland and Labrador. So I think we need to target our immigration policy on Nordic regions of the world where there are labour surpluses, like Eastern Europe and Russia, for example.”
Andrews — who was expelled from the Liberal caucus earlier this year over allegations of misconduct from two NDP MPs — said the outcome will almost certainly be a minority government.
“That’s where I have an advantage. That’s why in Newfoundland and Labrador we can be well positioned by having just one independent member that can maybe hold the balance of power or work with other parties to get things done, and that’s what I’m excited about,” he said.
The Board of Trade invited all parties with seats in the last parliament, as well as Andrews and Jennifer McCreath, running for Forces et Démocratie in the Avalon riding, to designate a candidate for the forum. The Conservatives did not provide a candidate. McCreath originally planned to attend but had to pull out shortly before the event because of a sore throat.