Six Questions for Eric Walton

Eric Walton, Green Party, federal election, Kingston, OntarioBy this time next week the federal election will be over, and Kingston and the Islands will have selected a new Member of Parliament. In order to help undecided voters and further educate Kingstonians on where the candidates stand on important issues, we invited all of the local party representatives to participate in an interview via six questions. Three of the candidates agreed to answer questions, which were submitted by Kingstonist’s contributors and readers.  Throughout the remainder of this week we’ll be featuring their responses, starting today with our Green Party candidate, Eric Walton.

1. What do see as the biggest challenge facing residents of Kingston and the Islands over the next five years? Further, if you are elected as our federal representative, how do you propose to solve it?

Creating a collaborative anti-poverty program (with all levels of government) and effectively fostering a sustainable entrepreneurial spirit will be our biggest challenges in years to come. My 30 years of business experience and 25 years of environmental activism lead me to believe that harnessing a culture of creativity, backed by federal government spending and focused on sustainability, will help solve poverty in Kingston & The Islands and contribute to the health and prosperity of our riding.

For example, by attracting Green venture capital projects to Kingston & The Islands (by matching dollar for dollar funds administered by KEDCO in coordination with the Business Development Bank of Canada) we can begin to reduce poverty via job creation. While social programs and policies, including social housing, are a priority for the Green Party, we must also acknowledge that full-time well-paying and fair jobs – jobs that respect people and the planet – are an important factor in ensuring needs are met.

I also believe that a spirit of entrepreneurship is vital in retaining the intellectual and creative capital found at Queen’s, RMC, and St. Lawrence. A thriving riding – a riding which promotes and helps bring to fruition innovative and novel advances in the sciences and the arts – will help us retain the talents we have and attract all the more.

Finally, with an increase in significant Green undertakings, Kingston will make leaps towards its goal to be Canada’s most sustainable city. This will generate prestige and lead to further economic development and job creation. More importantly, a sustainable riding increases the health and well-being of all residents and benefits us now and in the future.

2. The federal Prison Farm program was terminated last year due to supposedly high costs, and to provide more relevant employment skills to inmates. Do you agree with the reasoning behind the closure? If elected would you commit to re-examining the Prison Farm rehabilitation program?

The Green Party commits to immediately reopen and bolster the Prison Farm program. I believe prison farms should be expanded to be state-of-the-art organic renewable energy operations. The rationale that the program was too expensive is questionable. The government failed to issue clear accounting for their decision in a timely manner. And the cost is only a part of the picture. Dollars and cents fail to account for the amazing rehabilitative effects of working with animals, the beneficial skills of farming, and the ways in which prisoners take pride in their work (knowing they are responsible for feeding themselves and others).

The Conservatives tell us that we must choose education programs which offer a “piece of paper” over the farming experience. This is not true. With progressive evidence-based prison reform we can marry certifiable education and farming skills.

Ultimately, the Prison Farm program is an example our nation should promote – not dismantle. The closure points to an American-like policy where prisons become hardened schools of crime. We must learn from the failed experiment south of the border and foster rehabilitation – not recidivism. Our community spoke clearly to save our Prison Farms. As your MP I will champion this cause.

3. While most candidates will agree that all Canadians should have access to the Internet, what’s your position on usage-based billing? Should the government intervene and stop plans to meter bandwidth and charge consumers more?

Usage Based billing (UBB) is a harmful policy to equitable access to the internet for all Canadians and to a competitive and growing telecommunications economy. The CRTC has abandoned Canadians by ruling in favour of big business and allowing large Internet Service Providers to charge gross overage fees disproportionate to the cost of their provision. Although bandwidth use has a cost associated with it, the arguments for UBB are based on false premises which are highly misleading. Specifically, that it is the amount of data transferred which increases cost – when it is actually the speed at which data is transferred that requires the use of greater resources.

Furthermore, much of the investment to upgrade and maintain our telecommunications infrastructure has been made by us, by Canadians. The recent CRTC decision in favour of corporations on the backs of the investment of Canadian citizens affirms that telecom has also become a corporate welfare industry in this country. Profits have risen while the growth of internet use has slowed and private investment in capital infrastructure has stagnated. This begs the question as to why the telecom oligopoly legitimizes its gouging of consumers on the basis of congestion is an issue when our infrastructure is more than capable of handling the traffic.

The solution is based on the principle of Fair Usage Based Billing (FUBB) for Internet services. By consulting with business, individual consumers and those with expertise in the area, as well as taking experience in other countries into account, we must build a regulatory and pricing model which reflects the true cost of high bandwidth usage. Canada is well down the list of quality and speed of internet access in the world. It must be a system that charges those consuming at astronomical levels a proportionate price without discouraging small business from entering the market or stifle equitable access to the internet for all Canadians in an increasingly internet-based society.

The CRTC should take strides to protect Canadian consumers and businesses that rely on the internet for their daily lives and success. This must start with a full review of the decisions made by the CRTC in the past and the regulatory neglect that has ensued. Our leading edge telecom industry is now being further crippled by this stifling of competition.

The CRTC’s recent ruling does not foster a fair market environment. Rather it assures the dominant providers their lion’s share of the market. I will work to ensure that FUBB becomes a reality and that more competition and investment in the Canadian telecommunications industry becomes a reality to ensure that Canadian business and consumers are able to compete in the global market with a world-class communications infrastructure.

4. As out population continues to increase, and a greater proportion of Canadians enter retirement, the availability of health care becomes increasingly vital. Are you concerned that the nation is headed towards privatization, or a two-tired health care system? Would you do anything to protect public health care?

I am very concerned by the idea that the only way to deal with the increasing demand for health care in Canada is by implementing a two-tiered system; this is absurd. The Green Party fully supports the Canada Health Act (CHA) and all of its principles. We oppose any level of privatized, for-profit health care eroding our public system – a system which the majority of Canadians believe to be a cornerstone of our nation.

Evidence abounds that a two-tiered system provides lower quality care at a much higher price to the population, save a very small percentage at the very top. We consider healthcare to be a basic human right and that equity and access for all must be a priority. We propose shifting our focus to a more comprehensive approach – not simply wallowing in our current position of throwing money at our health care problems as drug costs increase and service delivery suffers.

The five principles of the provincial plans set by the CHA will guide our way:

  1. Public Administration: The public health insurance plan must be managed in a public, not-for-profit fashion.
  2. Comprehensiveness: All residents must be covered for “medically necessary” health services.
  3. Universality: All residents must be covered by the public insurance plan on uniform terms and conditions.
  4. Portability: All residents must be covered by their public plan, wherever they are treated in Canada.
  5. Accessibility: All residents must have access to insured health care services on uniform terms and conditions without direct or indirect financial charges, or discrimination based on age, health status or financial circumstances.

The Green Party will work to make our public system more efficient and inclusive while using the full extent of the CHA to improve acute care. Canada has one of lowest doctor-to-patient ratios in the OECD. We will immediately invest in training of new physicians, provide services to certify professionals new to Canada, and expand our use of nurse practitioners and other similar healthcare providers.

The development of more cost-effective post-op recovery care in a community-based manner will reduce hospital costs and reduce wait times. By ensuring long-term care facilities are available, much needed hospital beds will not be used for those needing residential long-term care, such as seniors and those with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

We will immediately implement a Universal PharmaCare program – a Crown corporation to act as a bulk drug purchasing agency – and make new drug patent protection times shorter. Pharmaceuticals now account for 20% of health care costs. Through bulk purchasing and a bolstering of cooperative efforts these costs can be reduced by a large margin.

While improving these treatment-based methods, it is imperative that we shift our focus to a more comprehensive approach to health. Funding allocated for health promotion has fluctuated in the vicinity of 1% of overall health system funding, despite the demonstrated cost-effectiveness of these preventative programs. We will ensure that the federal government works in cooperation with the provinces, territories, and indigenous governments to ensure stable and increased funding for such initiatives. This will include immediate action to diminish the use of chemicals known to have a significant risk of causing human cancer, immuno-suppression, and endocrine disruption.

Health promotion is about more than health care or health education. It is about recognizing the profound health impacts of the determinants of health outside the formal health care system and working with many stakeholders (policy-makers, NGOs, health agencies, multiple levels of government, the private sector, and most importantly, affected communities themselves) to overcome those factors that harm health or act as barriers to health, and to promote those factors that enhance the health, well-being and quality of life of all Canadians. This must be our vision, effective and equitable for all.

5. It is increasingly argued that changes to the electoral process need to be made in Canada. The most popular proposal for electoral reform is mixed member proportional representation. What are your feelings towards this kind of reform, and do you feel it will encourage more people to vote?

The Green Party is committed to True Democracy. We advocate for a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system where half of the House of Commons is elected by constituents (of ridings with approximately 200,000 people) via First-past-the-post, while the other half is elected by percentage of the popular vote.* I believe that MMP is the best way to ensure meaningful voter participation. Sweden saw a significant increase in voter turnout when they implemented a form of proportional representation.

While each vote counts in a First-past-the-post system (by way of policy influence and party funding), more and more Canadians feel disenfranchised and in many ways they are. In a four-way split race, an MP – even a government – could be elected with 26% of the popular vote, leaving 74% of Canadians without a voice in parliament. This is representative of Canada’s democratic deficit. This must change. Electoral reform is an issue about which all parties purporting democratic values ought to agree!

*Each party would be required to submit a list of desired MPs BEFORE the election. These individuals would be those who had run in past elections and placed favourably, either winning their seat or coming a close second or third. This would guarantee that the public had vetted the candidates and that back room deals did not place party cronies in the House.

6. Kingston has made some modest strides over the past few years to become Canada’s most sustainable city. What are the key environmental areas that you feel the city needs to improve upon? If elected, how would you and your party support continued green development in the Limestone City?

Kingston has made recent strides to become more sustainable with a few key initiatives. For example: investment in renewable energy, recycling, water treatment and the adoption of very high building standards. However, the city still has far to go and must be more visionary in the implementation of future projects. The Green Party supports an environmentally-informed approach to all of its decision-making processes in tandem with economic and social considerations. We would provide strong vision and leadership in working together with the City of Kingston to achieve the goal of becoming the most sustainable city in Canada. The goals below can be applied to the Islands as well and we can indeed make this the most sustainable riding in Canada!

The primary area which must be addressed immediately is our struggling transportation network. Kingston currently has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita arising from auto transport due to a lack of investment and innovation in public transport infrastructure. I would propose a low floor, energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly streetcar system. Using some existing infrastructure, right of way, and fed by additional bus routes, it will result in greater ridership and a beneficial return on investment in terms of positive development, moderating expensive urban sprawl and increasing social cohesion within the city.

Secondly, we must integrate our local economy in Kingston in a meaningful and environmentally sustainable fashion. A perfect place to start is investment in our local food system. With further integration into our local institution supply chains through a “Buy Local First” program, we can inject enormous amount of stimulus into the local economy. We can create upwards of 3,000 to 4,000 jobs and ensure that those receiving meals in the various institutions in our community get healthy choices.

Finally, through further investment in a truly green economy we can ensure our success in striving to be the most sustainable city. Future energy projects must be environmentally sustainable in all respects. For example, setbacks for future wind projects must be doubled at a minimum to ensure the safety of citizens and to garner local support for future investment. We also must continue down the road of recycling and organics processing. Kingston narrowly avoided going to the route of waste incineration just a few years ago, something I personally helped to fight. We must inject more green venture capital into our economy. The Green party would match dollar for dollar funds administered by KEDCO in coordination with the Business Development Bank of Canada to ensure that our economy and our community is a centre of green technology, green energy and sustainable living!

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

One thought on “Six Questions for Eric Walton

  • An alternative to MMP elections, and probably an easier and more cost-effective to implement one, would be instant run-off voting whereby voters rank the candidates in their order of preference. When counting the ballots this means that Elections Canada folks run and rerun the ballot eliminating the lowest performing candidate until a single candidate receives 50% +1 of the vote. No system is perfect but the MMP system is likely to explode the size and cost of the House of Commons for very little impact on its workings.

    Canadians – according to polls and the media – are not interested in true coalition governments and the MMP system will almost certainly demand such arrangements. Until we have become comfortable with coalitions or multi-party governments we're not ready for the MMP system. instant run-off voting, however, would give a higher degree of credibility of support to the candidates who represent the ridings.

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