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Perth-Wellington candidates talk agriculture at rescheduled meeting

by Mike Robinson

ARTHUR - Agriculture was a focus here at one of the first Perth-Wellington all candidate debates.

Traditionally, the Arthur meeting is hosted by agricultural groups, but it was called off because of a Wind Concerns Ontario protest rally. The details were published in last week’s Wellington Advertiser.

The meeting was re-booked, this time by Wind Concerns Ontario - the group that held the rally.

Of the six candidates Irma DeVries, Family Coalition Party; Chris Desjardins, Green Party; Ellen Papenburg, New Democratic Party; Randy Pettapiece, Progressive Conservative Party; and Robby Smink, Freedom Party attended. Only incumbent Liberal Party representative John Wilkinson was absent.

Prior to the meeting, he sent a news release to various media outlets saying he was more than willing to attend all non-partisan debates, but he declined an invitation from Wind Concerns Ontario.

“This is my fourth election. I have never missed a debate organized by non-partisan organizations serving to inform voters in my riding,” said Wilkinson.

“I have never accepted an invitation to attend an event organized by any group that has endorsed just one candidate.

“Free, fair and open debates are a hallmark of our democracy. It’s important for the organizers of debates to be non-partisan. I think WCO should be straight with people tonight and remind people they have taken a partisan position.”

Prior to the meeting a protest rally was held against wind turbine policies, the Green Energy Act and the current provincial government.

Inside the hall was a different story, as protestors were asked to leave their signs outside the building or in vehicles. Estimates of attendance ranged between 140 to 200 and a good third or more of that number appeared to be the same people involved in the protest rally.

Local businessman Wayne Baker stated “an unfortunate situation” caused the Wellington Federation of Agriculture, the National Farmers Union and the Wellington Christian Farmers to cancel the meeting.

WCO president John Laforet thanked Baker and Rob Unsworth, president of the Wellington County chapter of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, for their participation.

Unsworth said “Agriculture is an integral part of this community.”

Laforet stressed the WCO would use the same rules  developed for the original meeting.

Questions had to be written and were selected by a panel to avoid duplication and Laforet asked the audience keep the spirit of the original meeting.

The questions

Will your party work in a  consultative manner with farmers when regulating species at risk and their habitats?

DeVries said as a farmer she understands the species at risk legislation.

“There is some great concern with that Act because some species are infringing on our right to farm and we are not getting compensation for some of that.”

She is willing to work with agencies to come up with good plans so farmers are compensated.

Desjardins said the Green Party believes in rewarding farmers for stewardship that provides environmental and community benefits.

Papenburg said the NDP is in favour of consultation with farmers. However she added that being originally from Holland, where much of the original wildlife has disappeared, she sees the need to protect species at risk.

She said balances are needed, “but farmers should be compensated.”

Pettapiece said, “Farmers should have fair compensation to protect endangered species.”

Smink said the Freedom Party has roughly the same opinion as the Green Party.

Will your party promote locally produced foods in markets, grocery stores and public institutions?

“Absolutely,” said Desjardins. “It’s one of the building blocks of the Green Party. It’s one of our base beliefs ... We grow the best food here in Ontario and we should be eating it.”

Papenburg endorsed the buy local program.

“There’s so many good things happening with farms and family farms. Buy local is a key thing to keep things in Ontario for Ontario.”

Pettapiece said his party will bring in a buy Ontario food first policy. He used the example of requiring provincially owned institutions such as jails and schools buy Ontario food first.

“It doesn’t make sense to be importing food from other parts of the world.”

Smink said to his party, the idea of buying locally produced food “is basically a no-brainer.”

However, he noted one of the problems with locally produced foods is it is sometimes more expensive. He considers that an issue of overregulation and over taxation.

“We need to see local food in local stores,” DeVries said.

She believes a food strategy should be placed in the infrastructure so that local food can be sold locally. She said the current distribution system used by major grocery chains is actually a deterrent to locally sourced foods.

“We have to become self sufficient in food, or we become a slave to whoever feeds us.”

Others wanted to know how candidates would resolve the current crisis in rural student transportation so small rural businesses are not devastated.

Papenburg said that is part of doing things locally and that her party would work to resolve the crisis.

Pettapiece said the PC policy would be to review the process, fairly.

“It doesn’t make sense to bring in new regulations or new laws which put families out of business - which is happening in Wellington County and other parts of Ontario. We will try to fix what I believe is a broken process.”

Smink said the main political parties’ approach to education “is the equivalent of switching around deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“Our education system is a disgrace. Twenty-five per cent of our graduates are functionally illiterate, which means they cannot read the directions on a can of soup. The government couldn’t run a Mac’s Milk let alone an entire education system throughout the whole province.”

DeVries said the Family Coalition Party would totally revamp the bus program.

“Local companies need to have first dibs, rather than some big city company coming out to our area. If local companies can compete, they should be the ones who get the job.”

Desjardins said the problem with rural schools is that it appears there are not enough children going to them.

He said, “We have to get out  of the mind set that we need 50 kids per teacher. We need to go back to the way kids were taught when I was younger, where there were 15 to 20 kids per teacher.”

He does not believe a school needs to be at capacity to be functioning.

If the effect of the Green Energy Act is any indication, rural Ontario is becoming an insignificant participant in the political process. What will you do allow the rural community to thrive to protect the rural countryside?

Pettapiece said “We want to give local municipalities the right to plan these projects. This was taken away as a result of the Green Energy Act. People in their own communities through their local councils should have the right to do that. We will restore those rights.”

He advocated a full moratorium in order to study the health effects.

Smink said his party thinks the Green Energy Act “is way out of line. It is just another symptom of big government, of Daddy McGuinty telling us how to live our lives.”

He said green energy is too expensive, especially since there is tons of cheap energy available from Quebec and Manitoba.

The other issue, he said, is that Ontario has a surplus of energy because of the downturn in the economy.

DeVries said the Family Coalition Party supports private property rights.

“We’d like to see that enshrined in the constitution. We need to have power given back to municipalities so that they can decide where wind turbines can go, or decide not to.”

DeVries supported additional studies.

Desjardins said the Green Party believes there is a surplus of energy as well.

“We don’t need all this [additional] energy. We could achieve the same things through efficiency and conservation.”

However, he said energy should be produced closer to the point of use. “The urban areas should really be looking after their own energy.”

Papenburg agreed with Desjardins.

But, she added the key thing is these should be community based projects, not big corporations. She added there are many ways to become more efficient.

How would you provide relief to Ontario residents from the burgeoning deficit?

DeVries said Ontario’s debt load is morally and ethically wrong.

She remained surprised Ontario residents would support a government that allowed the debt to increase exponentially in the past several years.

She supports paying off that debt like a mortgage, and to try to privatize as many agencies as possible. “We need to pay down the debt as soon as possible.”

Desjardins said the Green Party would introduce a carbon tax and direct that money towards the debt. He said companies and businesses that have been getting incentives would be asked to put some of that money back.

Papenburg said there would be a cap on corporate tax giveaways, which could help reduce the deficit in a number of years.

The NDP advocates balanced budgets. “Of course when you inherit a debt, it would take some time.”

She stressed, “We can do it without sacrificing valuable programs.”

Pettapiece said “We are going to look at government agencies and review them. If they are working, that’s fine, but if they need fixing, we’re going to get them fixed. But if they cannot justify their existence, then they’re gone.”

He advocated using two cents of every government dollar to be used towards debt reduction.

“We’re also going to get rid of the [Local Health Integration Networks] which has cost over $300 million since its inception.”

Smink believes a lot of government waste needs to be eliminated. He said balanced budgets should be law. He advocated reductions to levels of government by 10 per cent.

But he also stated a plan is needed to pay off the debt within 20 to 30 years. He considers the carbon tax another rip-off and said it would only increase taxes.

Smink said government should get out of health care and education.

Alluding to health effects to livestock caused by industrial wind turbines, candidates were asked if they endorsed studies as part of the approval process.

Desjardins said his intent would be to put the matter before the community to determine what residents believe is best. He believes more studies should be done for humans first of all, “and then we’ll look at the livestock after.”

He said most turbines are too big and should be smaller.

Papenburg said some of her customers have noted that their cattle are actually doing better close to the turbines, while others are not doing so well. To her, the issue is about eliminating corporate turbines. She is concerned about what happens when the turbines reach the end of their life expectancy.

Pettapiece said livestock health effects were not included in the PC policies; however he said comments such as this are important and he is willing to bring those concerns forward.

“But we would prefer to get the human health studies done first.”

Smink believes there could be as many detrimental effects to animals as there are to humans. But he considers the wind turbine business a scam to make the government look like it is doing something about energy problems that do not exist.

DeVries supported health studies for humans, and added “the animals are just as important to our farmers.”

She said if there are effects, they need to be taken into consideration.

Mainly agriculture

On the content of the meeting, Unsworth stated 47% of the questions were agriculture related while 23% were related to wind energy and the Green Energy Act, another 23% of the questions were considered general in nature, and almost 6% were defined as rural.

“So this definitely was a rural meeting,” Unsworth said.

Baker said he did not want to make a political statement “but if it was not for [Laforet] and the Ontario wind coalition, this event would not have happened, that’s the bottom line.”

Laforet thanked the audience and the candidates in attendance.


September 23, 2011


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