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Martow and Tanen Spar at Thornhill Candidates Debate

Gila Martow, Ezra Tanen and Sabi Ahsan square off at the Thornhill Candidates Debate on May 23, 2018

May 25, 2018

By Reut Cohen
Communications/League for Human Rights Associate
B’nai Brith Canada

THORNHILL, Ont. – Candidates from the Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) squared off in a debate hosted by B’nai Brith Canada Wednesday at the Chabad Flamingo synagogue in Thornhill. The debate was moderated by David Elmaleh, a partner at McCague Borlack LLP.

PC candidate Gila Martow, who has served as Thornhill’s MPP since 2014, faced Ezra Tanen of the NDP and Liberal candidate Sabi Ahsan. Much of the debate consisted of a back-and-forth between Martow and Tanen about whether Zionism was an accepted ideology in the NDP.

Martow questioned Tanen’s desire to be an NDP candidate while still identifying as a Zionist, which he said was “offensive.” In return, Martow said she wasn’t questiniong his personal credentials but rather how he could run alongside NDP members that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Tanen responed that he’s experienced in building relationships between Jews and non-Jews and confronting difficult issues facing Jewish Canadians. He also said the NDP plans to undertake a review of the education system to eliminate discrimination in schools, and to set up a $20 million anti-racism fund. “Doug Ford does not have a plan to deal with antisemitism and that concerns me,” he said.

Audience questions focused on issues such as the ongoing strike at York University, easing traffic congestion, and affordability in the GTA.

“Young people in this riding must be able to afford to live here,” said Tanen, adding that the NDP is committed to increasing affordable housing. Ahsan promoted the Liberals’ housing plan and noted that costs have gone down since the implementation of rent controls.

Meanwhile, Martow said the government should not rely on taxpayer money for housing plans and that Ontarians should “get back to building so we can be the engine of Canada like we were before the Liberals took over.”

On the topic of the strike, which has lasted for almost three months, Tanen and Martow clashed on the use of back-to-work legislation, which was drafted by the Liberal government but opposed by the NDP.

While Tanen stated that the use of back-to-work undermines the position of the unions, Martow said taking this off the table diminishes the bargaining power of the government. “No one likes back-to-work legislation, the unions have the right to strike, but students shouldn’t be pawns,” she said.

Ahsan cited his management experience and emphasized the power of positive relationships. Under his supervision, he was always able to create a consensus amongst his employees so they didn’t feel a need for union representation, he said.

One audience question had candidates explaining how they would vote on an issue where the party line conflicted with the needs of their constituents.

Tanen stated that his constituency would be his priority and that he would not vote for a bill he saw as destructive. Martow countered by asking whether he would have supported her anti-BDS bill in the Ontario legislature in 2016, alleging that NDP caucus members had been forced to vote against it or risk being thrown out of the party.