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Tabbert, Clouthier engage Gallant over HST, contempt of parliament

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

COBDEN - A debate promising to deal with the Ottawa Valley's struggling agricultural industry shifted to charges of contempt for parliament and the HST.

Federal candidates trained their sights on Cheryl Gallant last night charging she has not only lost the confidence of her party for recent gaffes but voted for the controversial Harmonized Sales Tax before it was adopted by Ontario.

Speaking in front of a packed Cobden Agriculture Hall, Christine Tabbert chastised the Conservative government for disrespecting democracy and misspending billions of dollars while the economic difficulties of farmers are ignored.

"I care about the people in this riding and I care that our voice is heard in Ottawa," said the Liberal candidate alluding to the contempt for parliament ruling which ignited the May 2 election. "We need change. We need a member who is respected not only by her own leader but all members of parliament."

The all-candidates meeting, hosted by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, was the second straight night for the candidates to face off. Ms. Gallant came under fire for her recent comments concerning the Coast Guard. However, the Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP was also sharply rebuked by independent candidate Hec Clouthier for voting in favour of the HST when it came before parliament in 2009. Mr. Clouthier suggested she rubber stamps legislation on orders from the Prime Minister's Office.

"Everything runs through the PMO. I was there," said Mr. Clouthier, again making his case to voters that they should break with party politics. "If it's a minority government, they will work with me."

However, Ms. Gallant, who arrived late, insisted the Conservative government has been a collaborative process between the cabinet and the caucus.

"We start from the grassroots up," said Ms. Gallant. "This is probably the most democratic party that has existed."

In written questions from the audience, the candidates were asked how they would address rising farm debt and fuel costs. Calling sustained farm income the key to maintaining Canada's food production, Ms. Tabbert pledged that a Liberal government will institute their National Food Strategy and review all agriculture support programs.

"Farmers feed our country but they can't do it for free," said Ms. Tabbert.

NDP candidate Eric Burton insisted the government should deregulate multinational processing factories in Toronto so area farmers can bring their produce to local plants. He conceded there's no way to stop fuel prices from rising, however, the industry should invest in sustainable solutions such as renewable energies and efficient transportation systems. Green Party candidate Rosanne Van Schie proposed economic redevelopment could be achieved if farms adopted new technologies such as biomass and solar energy.

The future of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited was also on the mind of voters. Mr. Burton called for the Maple reactor project to be brought back into production adding AECL should work towards becoming world leaders in nuclear waste management technology. Saying the prohibition on reactor sales should be lifted, Ms. Tabbert said a long-term plan for AECL needs to be developed to ensure its business viability.

Mr. Clouthier, too, believed that Canada should not get out of the nuclear technology business noting its potential loss could repeat the Avro-Arrow debacle. In the wake of the Japan earthquake, Ms. Van Schie said more safeguards need to put in place around Canada's reactors, however, she favoured the continued medical isotope production at Chalk River.

Potential voters also wanted to know if the candidates would bring hi-speed Internet to under-serviced parts of the riding. Mr. Burton said the NDP would spend $500 million over the next three years on rural hi-speed. Ms. Tabbert promised that a Liberal administration will ensure 100 per cent hi-speed connectivity for all communities.

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist