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Analysis: Highlights from the Windsor Lake candidates’ debate

Windsor Lake byelection candidates (from left) — Progressive Conservative Ches Crosbie, New Democrat Kerri Claire Neil and Liberal Paul Antle, took part in a candidates debate hosted by the St. John's Board of Trade and moderated by The Telegram Friday in St. John's
Windsor Lake byelection candidates (from left) — Progressive Conservative Ches Crosbie, New Democrat Kerri Claire Neil and Liberal Paul Antle, took part in a candidates debate hosted by the St. John's Board of Trade and moderated by The Telegram Friday in St. John's - Joe Gibbons

Event hosted by St. John’s Board of Trade, moderated by The Telegram

The last candidates’ debate for the Windsor Lake byelection was held Friday in St. John’s and focused on four, key questions.

Candidates — Progressive Conservative Ches Crosbie, New Democrat Kerri Claire Neil and Liberal Paul Antle — each had two minutes to respond.

The Telegram has boiled down the responses here, and offers the nuggets, the takeaways from each candidate, as we saw them.

The complete debate was livestreamed, and is available for viewing on Facebook, through the St. John’s Board of Trade page, and at thetelegram.com.

•••

Q1: We want to hear something new about how you would reduce spending in the Newfoundland and Labrador government. Please use specific examples.

Crosbie: Health spending needs to come down.

“What we have to do is harness the insights not only of the managers, not only of experts, of economists, of people speaking in favour of change, like Dr. (Pat) Parfrey, but the energies and insights of frontline workers to enable us to get a grip on how we control healthcare spending while maintaining quality as a first priority overall.”

Neil: There are businesses that need to pay more.

“If you want: (1) lower taxes, (2) to prevent electricity rates from increasing, (3) avoid a federal a federal bailout and (4) not add to our debt, like the (St. John’s) Board of Trade and other parties are saying, you have to cut services and you have to lay people off. The board of trade is at least being honest about it.”

Antle: The Liberals are bringing costs down.

“Government has made strides in reducing management positions, the attrition plan is working really well and it doesn’t impact the youth who want to make a career for themselves inside the public sector. And there’s plenty of improvements that are going out through the system, department by department.”

•••

Q2: If you had the opportunity to change government policy, what would your number one priority be to help small and medium business in Newfoundland and Labrador succeed and thrive?

Neil: There are regulations to revisit, for example in cannabis retail.

“The regulation of profit margins for a recreational substance is an absurd distortion in our market, it hurt consumers who will be offered less choice, and it hurts businesses who are forced to operate on razor-thin profits.”

Antle: We need to simplify business regulation.

“If there’s one thing that I would like to harp on and to try and change by way of government policy would be the amount of red tape.”

Crosbie: We need to cut taxes.

“Step one is lower taxes. Lower taxes and it creates a virtuous cycle whereby people have money in their pocket to spend, and of course small business benefits from that.”

•••

Q3: Is the current immigration strategy enough to combat the aging demographics the province faces?

Antle: The Liberal government is on the right track on this.

“An aggressive immigration policy is important. The Ball government has already increased the number of applications to 1,200, and they’re on target to 1,700 in the next couple of years.”

Crosbie: We need to cut taxes and build public confidence.

“Time and again I’m told on the doorsteps, high taxes are driving people away. High taxes, fear of Muskrat Falls power rates increases and questions around affordability of power — those fears are keeping people up at night and driving people away.”

Neil: We need economic diversification, universal childcare.

“Those few immigrants that do come here, whether it be for academic, economic or humanitarian reasons are not staying. And it’s all for the same reason: there are no jobs.”

•••

Q4: How would you restore the credibility of the Newfoundland and Labrador government in the public’s eye, following the overruns of Muskrat Falls, questionable spending at the English School District and other controversies?

Crosbie: The Liberals are the problem.

“There will be no meaningful change unless we put an end to the tenure of the Ball Liberal government and its dissembling and B.S. Until that happens, we won’t have the confidence to conquer the future.”

Neil: The NDP deserve a chance here.

“The NDP is the only party that pushed back against this project, that asked for more research and for more time to consult, and is (now) being honest with the people of our province that this is a complex problem and requires complex solutions.”

Antle: The Progressive Conservatives are the problem.

“Well, let’s just remind everybody. Our government inherited the biggest financial mess in our history, responsibility for trying to resolve one of the biggest capital project disaster in our country, and we have been digging ourselves out of that hole ever since we won government in 2015. Mr. Crosbie … we wouldn’t have high taxes now if it wasn’t for your Tory government, sir.”

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