Provincial candidates square off
While he wasn’t in the room, PC leader Doug Ford loomed large during a provincial all-candidates’ meeting Monday, with a number of references to the party leader and the fact that, just 10 days before the election, the PC party had yet to release a fully costed platform.
Hosted by the Haliburton chapter of CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons), county residents packed the ballroom at the Pinestone May 28 to see contenders for the provincial seat for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock. They heard from PC candidate and incumbent MPP Laurie Scott; NDP candidate Zac Miller; Brooklynne Cramp-Waldinsperger of the Liberals; Libertarian candidate Gene Balfour; Chuck MacMillan of the Consensus Ontario party; and Tom Rhyno, representing the None of the Above (NOTA) direct democracy party.
Lynn Therien, the local Green party candidate, was not in attendance, and a spokesperson has said she won’t be doing any media interviews prior to the election.
Minden resident Jack Sward wanted to know why, in his estimation, the PC party seemed unable to pick a suitable leader.
“In the past we’ve had Mike Harris, and we all know how that worked out – bad, for most of us, myself included,” Sward said. “You offered us up Tim Hudak, who scared the bejeebies out of everybody, cost you the election. Then you got Patrick Brown – what were you thinking there? Now, we have Doug Ford,” Sward said, before he was asked by moderator Jim Blake to get to his question.
“The question is, why can’t your party choose a viable leader?” Sward asked.
In what was the largest reaction to anything during the evening, much of the room burst into applause and cheers.
“A lot of what Doug Ford is saying and what I’m saying is going to help you,” said Scott, who’s been MPP for the riding for most of the last 15 years. “In terms of affordability, do you not want a break on your hydro bill, do you not want less taxes, do you not want the government to get out of the way and make Ontario a better place, where we can have more economic development? Most people that I meet every day want that type of relief, the type of relief that we are offering. So he’s out there, saying the things people have told me in this riding. They can’t afford to live in the province of Ontario, they need relief, and that’s why we’re offering people programs to give them that relief.”
“I’m sorry you don’t like Doug, but I’m here,” Scott added.
Questions to candidates ran the gamut from arts funding to preventing violence against women to voting reform to the wait times for and conditions in long-term care homes.
A question from CARP, citing myriad challenges for seniors in Haliburton County including a lack of affordable retirement housing, public transportation and shortage of services in general, asked candidates what they would do to help address these issues.
“The Libertarian party doesn’t believe that the government should be the answer to all problems in society,” Balfour said.
The party advocates for much smaller government and much less taxation.
“The government runs monopoly organizations,” said Balfour, a retired professional recruiter. “Every time the government does something, it’s always done by them and nobody else, and there’s no competition allowed. We’re going to change that. What we’re going to do is eliminate the regulations that enforce monopolies, so that non-government enterprises can come into the marketplace and provide services that the government cannot provide today.”
Cramp-Waldinsperger, a university student studying political science, said the Liberal party plans to open more long-term care beds.
“We’ve opened over 10,000 long-term care beds and we’ve committed to opening another 30,000 in the next 10 years because we understand that seniors put so much into their community, and they deserve to retire with pride and dignity,” she said.
Cramp-Waldinsperger added that the Liberal government’s OHIP Plus program was expanding the number of medications covered for those at or over the age of 65.
MacMillan, a head custodian with the Pine Ridge District School Board, said he’d work with the federal government to make life more affordable for seniors.
“First of all, I’m going to work with the federal government because our CPP and OAS has been deducted,” he said. “We’ve seen seniors go back into the workplace because they can’t afford [their payments] . . . They’ve worked over 50 years in our system, donating to the economy. We should be giving them a chance to retire with dignity, instead of overcharging them.”
Consensus Ontario, which is running a handful of candidates in the June 7 election, advocates for a consensus-based form to governing that would rely on residents of a riding to set the priorities of their independent MPP. The party seeks to abolish the partisan system.
“There’s many aspects to bringing affordability back to seniors and what we would do is lower hydro rates by 30 per cent by bringing it back into the public sector, and also by removing time-of-use billing,” said Miller, who is also a university student studying political science.
Miller added the NDP planned to create 65,000 new affordable housing units in the province, implement a tighter rent control system, and introduce universal dental and pharmacare, “so no one has to not take their medication, or cut it in half, to make it last.”
Rhyno told attendees that the NOTA party would allow residents to set priorities, and then take steps to make those changes happen.
“The None of the Above party, what we want to do, is send out information packages to you guys, so you can tell us where the care needs to be, and where the money needs to go, so we can figure out ways, and find and talk to the right people, who can bring those services in, and it’s going to be super easy for you guys, OK?” said Rhyno, a military vet and tradesperson.
The NOTA party, according to its website, “campaigns for the 3Rs of direct democracy – referendum, recall and real electoral legislative reforms that give voters control of politicians and parties.” NOTA members would be responsible only to their constituents, the party having no central policies.
“Seniors deserve more respect and attention to be given to them,” Scott told the room. “The thing I’ve heard loud and clear over the last many years is affordability, and the cost of hydro has sky-rocketed and left many seniors not able to stay in their homes.”
Scott said the PC party would help seniors by “definitely putting more money in their pockets, reducing hydro by 12 per cent, reducing income taxes, 10 cents a litre off gas . . . we do need to help seniors that travel, and that will help them, lower-income dental, so lower-income seniors can get free dental care.”
Scott also said she’s been fighting for years for more long-term care beds in the riding, which would help alleviate pressure on hospitals.
On behalf of the student council at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, Andrew Carmount asked a question regarding post-secondary tuition. Citing Statistics Canada, Carmount said the average university grad carries $26,000 in student debt, and noted a number of countries have eliminated tuition altogether, to put their students on top, competitively.
“Will your party, if elected, commit to reducing to eliminating or reducing tuition fees, and assist in reducing debts for Ontario students?” he asked.
“I put two daughters through university, so I know how expensive it is,” Balfour said. “Again, it goes back to what I said earlier, that everything the government does is through a monopoly, and of course, our post-secondary system is a monopoly system.”
Balfour pointed to the wide range of online learning opportunities that are now available.
“It’s a lot cheaper, it’s a lot more flexible, and there’s a market of services out there that are designed to meet the needs of individuals . . . so that’s what I’d be recommending, is more non-government options in the education system, at all levels.”
Cramp-Waldinsperger said the issue was one she was very familiar with personally, as a current student.
“For myself, I would not have been able to afford attending post-secondary without the Ontario Student Assistance Program, and this is one of the main reasons I put my name on the ballot,” she said. “With a Liberal government, we are currently sending all the students whose household income is less than $50,000 to school for free.”
Cramp-Waldinsperger added that recent regulations also mean that graduates do not have to start repaying their student loans until they are earning an income of at least $35,000 a year.
“This is so important, and this is helping our students get ahead in life,” she said.
MacMillan told the room that his daughter had attended five years of university to become a physiotherapist.
“And her debt’s not $26,000, I can tell you that right now,” he said. “It could be anywhere from $70,000 to $90,000, and it’s ridiculous. We need to put money back into our tuition programs, so kids can get a good education. Let them cover the cost of maybe housing and food and stuff, but our governments need to put the commitment back into the kids . . . streamlining programs that make sure they have a job at the end, not give them programs that at the end, they come out and they have a BA, and they’re flipping burgers.”
Miller called the tuition reforms being made by the Liberal government another example of the party’s incrementalism and gradualism.
“So what the New Democrats will do is turn all loans into grants, so students are leaving university ahead, not burdened with $28,000 worth of debt,” Miller said. He said the NDP would also forgive all interest for anyone carrying provincial loan debt, and give back a rebate for interest that has previously been paid on it.
Making tuition free is another pledge by the NDP.
“I believe education is really, really seriously important, although I didn’t do it,” Rhyno said. “I joined the military, it’s pretty rough, but they’ll pay for your tuition too, though.”
Rhyno added, “And you get paid the whole time you’re there.”
“For sure the cost of education can be a challenge, but we want more children, more students to go into post-secondary and we want to match the jobs that are available with the education that is available,” Scott said, “and Fleming College does a good job of that here, in Haliburton. We need to make sure students who go there, they need to have affordable costs in life, and that’s why there’ll be no income tax if you make less than $30,000, and quite often, when you’re in school, you are working also, so that is more money in your pocket.”
Scott added the PCs would not change the tuition regulations that are currently in place for students from low-income families.
During closing statements, Miller and Cramp-Waldinsperger took shots at Ford and pointed out the PCs had yet to release a costed platform.
“This election has to be about where we want this province to be, for us right now, and for future generations,” Miller said. “And with the corruption displayed by Doug Ford in just two short weeks of this campaign, I want you guys to imagine what he could actually do in four years with the full support of Laurie Scott.”
Last week, a story about Ford trying to sell bogus PC memberships surfaced in the national media.
“We’re really the only party willing to tackle the issue of why so many of us are living in poverty, and to do that, we need to start having an honest conversation about unemployment and underemployment and stagnant wages and why people are working 40 hours a week and still can’t put food on the table for their children,” Miller continued. “An NDP government will stand up for families, and we will stand up for working-class individuals against the powerful corporations, against the elite and against the political parties that have created the many crises that we have seen today.”
Cramp-Waldsperger said Ontarians couldn’t afford the kind of cuts Ford would bring.
“This election is so important, it really presents us all with a clear choice,” she said. “We can choose to vote for progress, infrastructural improvements and historical investments in care, while the alternative is the Doug Ford Conservatives, who will cut the $15 minimum wage, they’ve given up the fight on climate change, and will cut billions of dollars from critical services. Once again, we’re 10 days to election day, and they still haven’t released a costed platform.”
Scott implored voters to put their trust in her again.
“We’ve discussed a great variety of topics here, and I appreciate the efforts of my fellow candidates,” Scott said. “But we need to be sure what we are asking ourselves. Yes, this is an election about change, change in who will be the government of Ontario. I can tell you this, I don’t get my thoughts off a campaign sheet listing things I can throw out there as ideas. I get my understanding about what has to be done when I talk with all of you, and when I work with you. Election promises can’t turn into rhetoric.”
Scott said Ontarians could not afford more of the tax-heavy plans of the Liberals, or the NDP.
“The election is not about taking chances, it’s about trust,” she said. “I ask you to trust me one more time. I ask some of you to vote for me for the very first time. Together, we can bring the change Ontarians need. I ask for your support on June 7.”