Only three of five candidates turned out to the first federal all-candidates meeting in Langley on Monday, Oct. 5.
Margot Sangster of the NDP, Leon Jensen of the Liberals, and Simmi Dhillon of the Green Party all took part, while Mark Warawa of the Conservatives and Lauren Southern of the Libertarian Party were absent.
About 100 residents, most of them seniors, packed the Aldergrove Legion hall to watch the mid-day debate.
The politicians spent most of their time taking pot-shots at past Conservative policies and talking about what they would do if their party wins the Oct. 19 election.
Organizers asked about retirement income security, seniors housing, a new health accord, transportation, and veterans issues, among other topics.
“I was very involved in my parents care as they aged,” Sangster said.
On seniors pensions and benefits, she noted the NDP has promised to restore Old Age Security and General Income Supplement to previous levels and to protect workplace pensions.
“I collect my pension as well and I sure don’t want anybody changing the rules,” Jensen said, also promising to reverse recent changes by the Conservatives that would increase the age at which Canadians can start collecting OAS and GIS.
On accessible homes, Dhillon said a Green government would call on the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to do more, increase grants, and work with local communities.
Jensen touted the Liberals promised 10-year investment in social infrastructure.
Sangster, who has worked in public health, said the NDP would recognize housing as a right.
On transportation, Sangster shared the story of a local woman who spent five hours getting to a medical appointment.
“That is simply not accessible,” she said, promising the NDP would increase transportation funding and make it more stable.
Jensen said the Liberals would quadruple investment in infrastructure and most of that would go towards funding for transit, particularly rapid transit projects.
Dhillon emphasized the importance of local knowledge, saying that giving provinces and municipal government the power and tools to deal with local transportation was the way to go.
One question from the floor was about whether any of the parties would create a single dedicated Seniors Ministry. Currently seniors are part of a mixed ministry that includes other duties as well.
Dhillon agreed that Canada needed a minister or a national seniors strategy.
Jensen and Sangster noted that it wasn’t in their parties platforms specifically. Jensen said if elected he would hold four annual town halls in Langley, one of them entirely on seniors issues.
Sangster said the NDP would work with provinces on seniors issues.
“You need to have all the players at the table,” Sangster said.
Veterans issues were also raised, and Jensen noted that as a veteran himself, he felt he had been made a “second class citizen” by the Conservatives.
“We need to re-emphasize we have a social covenant with veterans and their families,” Jensen said.
Sangster, who was a development worker in Afghanistan, talked about the need for mental health supports.
“I know a veteran who still struggled with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, many decades after he served,” Sangster said.
“The way we’re currently treating our veterans is shameful,” said Dhillon. She said it was important to see that every veteran has the benefits to which they are entitled.
The debate was organized by local seniors groups, and a similar debate for the Cloverdale-Langley City riding wil be held at the Langley Senior Resources Centre on Oct. 7 from 1:30-3 p.m.