Hundreds jam hall for all-candidates’ debate

Hundreds of Ottawa Centre residents filled the Churchill Recreation Centre to capacity for an all-candidates open forum Sunday evening.

The CBC's Rita Celli moderated the debate, which included all six local contenders: incumbent New Democrat Paul Dewar, Liberal Penny Collenette, Green Jen Hunter, Tory Brian McGarry, Marxist-Leninist Pierre Soubliere and Marijuana Party candidate John Akpata.

The discussion was opened up to the audience, who formed a lineup to the microphone that extended out of the door. About 20 questions were put forward, each being adressed by at least two candidates.

The issues ranged from commitments to foreing aid in Africa,  to the U.S. economy's potential spillover effect on Canada. But the emphasis was on matters that affect the riding.

Residents were concerned about the prospect of the Civic Hospital being relocated out of Ottawa Centre. Each of the candidates pledged their support for it to remain on Carling Avenue.

Questions posed to McGarry and Dewar about small businesses and infrastructure for cities ignited a heated argument. The two appeared to be the main focus of the questioners, while Collenette said she wished she was able to run in a coalition with Dewar.

The candidates also responsed to local concerns about toxic sewar dumping, water quality, keeping the Portrait Gallery in the riding and providing substance abuse treatment. 

One resident, who is a female artist, asked McGarry about his party's cuts to arts funding. He responded with the reminder that under the Conservative plan, she can take time off to have a baby and receive maternity leave, which left the crowd snickering. 

Akpata, on the other hand, congratulated her for being an artist and was generally well received. He offered some crowd-pleasing lines about the plant that symbolizes his party, as well as democratic reform.