PERTH-WELLINGTON – “It’s been a busy year,” said Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, as the veteran parliamentarian, first elected in 2011, reflected on his first year on the government side of the provincial legislature.
“Our government hit the ground running one year ago,” Pettapiece stated in a June 7 press release. “Looking back on our first year in government, I am pleased with the actions we have taken so far. The investments we have made in Perth-Wellington over the last year are astounding.”
The release indicates that since June 2018, the Progressive Conservative government has “invested over $60.3 million in Perth-Wellington,” including funding for transit, healthcare and housing.
In a telephone interview Pettapiece told the Advertiser he’s proudest of funding local transit solutions.
“Transportation is so important in a rural areas,” he said, pointing out the government is providing $3.4 million to create public transit networks in both Perth and Wellington County.
The Perth County Transit System will link Stratford, St. Marys, Mitchell, Sebringville, Monkton, Atwood, Milverton, Listowel and Millbank. In addition, the funding will help create a Stratford/Perth Regional Transportation Service connecting communities to services in London and Kitchener.
“Wellington County is proposing an innovative solution to meet the growing transit needs of our rural communities,” said Pettapiece. “These are the types of ideas our government wants to support.”
On Jan. 25, the province announced it would proceed with Community Transportation Grant Program funding of $449,500 to develop a demand-based ride-sharing system in Wellington County. The funds had originally been announced last spring by the previous Liberal government, however the county halted work on the project when the grant program was placed under review by the incoming Conservatives last fall.
“I’m looking forward to seeing them getting that up and running,” said Pettapiece.
Pettapiece told the Advertiser his greatest regret from the past session was that his private members bill The Rea and Walter Act was not passed. The bill would require signage indicating the presence of truss and lightweight construction to warn firefighters entering burning buildings they could collapse more quickly than other types of construction.
Pettapiece reintroduced the bill, which had failed to pass previously despite receiving a resolution of all-party support, at Queen’s Park on Sept. 19. However it has so far failed to become law.
“But we’ll keep working at it,” he promised.
Pettapiece also stated the government is taking “concrete steps” to address “hallway healthcare” and are investing over $2.3 million in local hospitals for upgrades, repairs and maintenance.”
“Securing more long-term care beds for Perth-Wellington and our rural communities is also a main focus of mine,” he said.
In May 2019, the government announced the addition of 41 new long-term care beds at three projects across the riding, the first time in over eight years the riding received new long-term care beds.
“Our healthcare system is under strain caused by a rapidly aging population,” said Pettapiece. “By investing in long-term care beds we free-up space in local hospitals and ensure families don’t have to travel long distances to see loved ones.”
The provincial government has also committed $2.3 million in funding for mental health and addictions services in Perth-Wellington, with funding going to seven different agencies.
“Our government is keeping our promise to make mental health and addictions a priority,” said Pettapiece.
The government is also spending over $10 million to improve community housing in the riding, with the City of Stratford, and the Perth County and Stratford Housing Corporation receiving $3.9 million for the 2019-20 year and Wellington County set to receive $6.1 million.
“Our government believes Ontario families shouldn’t have to live in buildings with crumbling walls, leaking roofs and broken elevators,” Pettapiece stated in the release.
The past legislative session has also generated considerable controversy, most recently through a government plan to unilaterally end a 10-year contract with The Beer Store in order to allow beer sales in Ontario convenience stores. While the contract calls for substantial financial penalties, in legislation which received royal assent last week, the government waived compensation. The move sparked opposition criticism and prompted objections from both the Canadian and US chambers of commerce.
“I’m learning a lot about these things,” said Pettapiece when asked for his take on voiding the contract. “I’m not a lawyer, but the previous government signed a 10 year-contract and constitutionally they’re not allowed to do that.”
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has stated that previous legislatures are not allowed to bind future legislatures beyond their mandates.
Pettappiece said the matter may well end up in court.
“We’ll see where this goes,” he said.
The MPP said some convenience store operators need the additional revenue beer sales would provide in order to survive.
“In my hometown of Monkton there’s only one store left and it’s a convenience store,” he pointed out. “If we can give them an opportunity generate some more revenue it’s going to help.”
While the government recently reversed some retroactive funding cuts to municipalities, councils across Ontario are bracing for cuts to the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund and other cuts to grants they’ve been told to expect in next year’s provincial budget.
Pettapiece said massive provincial debt and deficit means spending reductions are necessary.
“You can’t just keep borrowing to keep these things going. And if we don’t do something, we’ll be losing a lot more than what these municipalities are worried about,” he told the Advertiser.
On June 6 the government ended the legislative session and set an Oct. 28 return date, extending usual summer break for MPPs, who usually return to Toronto after Labour Day.
“We’ve passed more legislation than any government in recent history,” said Pettapiece, noting the government passed 20 bills, met 38 election platform commitments and “fostered an economic environment that led to 170,000 new jobs.
“I’ve been in Toronto this session more than I’ve ever been,” he stated, citing an extra session in July to deal with a college teachers strike and an interruption of the winter break to “deal with some things.”
The government reconvened in December, just over a week after rising for their winter break, to table a bill to stop threatened job action by about 6,000 workers at Ontario Power Generation.
Noting he has additional responsibilities this year as parliamentary assistant to Minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman, Pettapiece said he could use the additional riding time.
“The minister’s given me a lot of responsibilities and I appreciate that,” said Pettapiece. “However, I am looking forward to spending more time in the riding this summer and meeting with constituents, businesses and community groups.”
Message for farmers
During the interview Pettapiece added a message of concern for area farmers struggling to work the land through an extremely wet spring.
“Farmers have had an awful time this spring. It’s been so backward,” said Pettapiece, urging farmers “to make sure that they’re careful and not get hurt from being overtired or overstressed in what their doing.
“You’re talking to a guy who’s been caught in farm machinery twice and I’m very fortunate to be able to talk to you and walk around, and I got off lucky, but we don’t want to see anybody hurt out there so just be careful,” he continued.