Mayoral candidates discuss poverty at first debate

By Ally Harris
Oct. 29, 2014

Poverty was the big issue as the three candidates for mayor of Charlottetown held their first debate Oct. 19.
It was standing room only as Keith Kennedy, Philip Brown, and mayor Clifford Lee shared their views at the Parish Hall at St. Paul’s Church with around 120 people.
MLA Kathleen Casey was the moderator for the session, giving each candidate three minutes to answer various questions.
Casey began by asking the candidates what the causes of poverty are in Charlottetown.
Kennedy focused on food insecurity – a big element of his campaign – pointing to a February survey that showed P.E.I. was the second-most food-insecure province in the country, behind Nova Scotia.
“As the capital, that makes us responsible for looking after food insecurity. Food security needs to be addressed in Charlottetown.”
Brown blamed the situation on low incomes based on a lack of jobs.
“We have an economy that is growing other parts of the country but not down here. It forces people to pick up their bags and head out west. Is that the kind of community we want?”
Lee said there was no single answer to this question, citing unemployment, addictions and mental health as various reasons.
“I’m not going to sit here and pretend the city of Charlottetown is going to solve this problem. We need to recognize the strengths of the city and we need to continue to build on those strengths of the city.”
Next, Casey asked the candidates exactly what they would do to end poverty in the city.
Lee took the opportunity to note the work he has done since becoming mayor in 2003. He discussed the housing summit, which took place in Charlottetown last December, and how the city has stopped collecting property tax from places like soup kitchens and food banks.
Living in poverty can happen to anyone, he said.
“We’re all one or two paycheques away from being in the same position as those living in poverty.”
Brown said he would create a task force to look at the housing situation in the city. He also suggested setting a $12 per hour minimum wage for city workers.
“It’s only going to get worse if this employment situation continues to go downhill. People are poor. Working for $10.35 an hour, I don’t know how people make it.”
Kennedy said there are many committed people in the city and this problem is a community’s chance to show who they are.
“The city has to give. If people are hungry, we need action. I look at the word ‘responsibility’, and I’ve turned it into ‘respondability’. As mayor, what’s important is that I’m able to respond to issues that are happening within the community.
“If I’m the mayor, I want to be responsible, but I want to be respondable.”
UPEI student Derrick Biso asked the candidates what they would do to create purposeful employment, rather than just jobs.
Both Lee and Brown cited the need to work with other levels of government to solve this problem.
Brown also said several times he would like to develop a second source of water in the city so people are not forced to drill their own wells.
“If we want to attract new businesses that can provide jobs other than the tourism industry, we need water so they can operate their business.”
Lee said we need to keep young people in the city, noting a grant that was provided in 2012 to students at the Holland College Tourism and Culinary Centre.
“We need to provide funding where there’s truly going to be a job created at the end of the day. The other thing young men and women of this community want is more important, they want a sense of belonging to the city of Charlottetown. They don’t want to go to work eight hours a day and go home and sleep for the other 16.”