MINTO – Perth-Wellington candidates for the June 2 provincial election fielded questions on topics ranging from climate change and housing to a local worker shortage during a gathering at Pike Lake Golf Centre on May 24.
Six of seven candidates were on hand for the event, hosted by the Mapleton, Minto and Mount Forest chambers of commerce and radio station 88.7 The River.
Present were Laura Bisutti of the Green Party, Jo-Dee Burbach of the NDP, Ashley Fox of the Liberal Party, Bob Hosken of the New Blue party, Sandy MacGregor of the Ontario Party and Matthew Rae of the Progressive Conservative Party.
Freedom Party candidate Robby Smink did not attend.
Most of the roughly 20 questions presented were submitted by members of the audience of about 40 people, although some were posed by moderator Murray Calder.
Candidates were asked what their party would do about climate change.
“First we will have to put a price on carbon, because we want to make sure that we tax what we don’t want and we encourage what we do want,” said Bisutti.
“We want to offer incentives for buying an electric car, so $10,000 for new cars. We have to increase the electricity manufacturing by clean, renewable methods, whether it’s hybrid, making use of hydro power efficiently, or solar or wind.
“And then of course, retrofitting buildings is very important because the most important thing we can do is conserve energy – so actually not using the car, walking or taking a bus and making sure our homes are insulated.”
The Ontario Party believes in “clean air, clean water and clean soil,” said MacGregor.
“We will always pursue rational, non-radical measures which result in healthier lives. One of the biggest things we want to do is completely ban the dumping of untreated wastewater into bodies of water, which currently happens to the tune of billions of litres per year.”
He continued, “We would provide municipalities with funding to upgrade sewage and, to make this a reality, focus on keeping garbage out of our forests, lakes or rivers, direct conservation authorities away from the private properties and towards management of public crown lands.
“We just want to look at something that’s practical: water. We throw carbon tax at people like it’s going out of style. All it does is make the government get richer and … the common man poorer.”
Hosken said, “The New Blue party is definitely not on board with the carbon tax.
“Our leader Jim Karahalios has been campaigning against the carbon tax for two years.
“We believe in environment … Sandy talks about clean water. I’m quoting Rex Murphy from the National Post when he said, ‘Don’t talk about climate change to me, unless you can clean up all the water in every Native reserve in the country.’”
Hosken continued, “What the other side of the equation is in terms of carbon is, you know, Canada has 25 per cent of the northern hemisphere’s boreal forest.
“What they don’t tell you is that boreal forest is the biggest carbon sink in the world. We don’t have a carbon problem in Canada, we’re the biggest carbon sink in the world.”
Rae said, “It was great to see Premier Ford and minister Fedeli (Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli) partner with Dofasco, the steel maker in the Hamilton area. It’s a $500 million investment. They’re moving to a low emission electric furnace, taking their coal-fired furnace offline, which will take annually three million tons of Co2 out of the atmosphere.”
He added, “Just to put that in another perspective – 20 million cars off the road. And so it’s great to see this investment in partnering with business to meet our climate objectives moving forward.”
“Climate change, unfortunately, is a reality and it’s something we’ve unfortunately not been dealing with,” said Fox.
“So with the Ontario Liberal Party we will be looking at increasing protection of land (through expanding the Greenbelt) to 30%, from the 10% it is now. We’ll be looking at increasing green jobs, discounts on electric vehicles and increasing transit.
“We know that we have to have a net (zero emission) goal of 2030 and we’re not close, so we need to work on this as well. Reducing greenhouse gases is very important to our party and we would also work with the agricultural community because we know it would need a very unique plan that would address climate change.”
“The NDP has a plan called the Green New Deal and it’s an all-encompassing plan that looks at tackling GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions from many different angles.” said Burbach.
“We’re looking at 50% reductions from 2005 by 2030. Some of the ways that we would do that, that would affect everybody in this room, would be a whole retrofit program, so giving grants and interest-free loans to people to make their homes more efficient.”
Burbach continued, “And not only is that great for the environment, it’s also great for your pocketbook. We’d be looking at increasing zero emission energy production and looking at fair and equitable cap and trade programs, so it’s a little bit different than a carbon tax.
“One of the things we saw this past weekend was a storm and heard Premier Ford talking about it and he said it is a once-in-a-lifetime storm. We’ve had two of them in the past three years. So we need to do more, more quickly – not build highways, but look for alternatives.”
Candidates were asked what their parties would do about inflation, including high fuel prices.
“There’s a lot here that we haven’t been hearing from the establishment parties and that is that they are the cause of the inflation that you’re seeing right now,” said Hosken.
“When you spend money, or you print money out of thin air, and put it in the pockets of the people – I think we’ve been doing it for the last two years – that means there’s more money in circulation chasing the same amount of goods.”
Hosken added, “A symptom of inflation is higher prices. So in terms of inflation, what we’re seeing is the Bank of Canada, like every other central bank in the world, now realizing that they’ve kept interest rates too low for too long.
“And now they’re stuck in a corner and they have to raise interest rates. Well guess what? Raising interest rates is going to take care of inflation, and it’s going to take care of a quarter billion dollars as well.”
Rae said “affordability” is the number one issue he hears about when campaigning.
“Our government is committed to cutting the gas tax. We actually made it law so it will happen,” he pointed out.
“We also introduced many initiatives over the past year, the immediate relief was with the license plate refund immediately in the pockets of people and families. I know a lot of people appreciated that relief.
“We’re also extending the upper limit for low income individuals in family tax credits.”
“In regards to affordability, we’d be looking at the bigger picture,” said Fox, noting the Liberals would remove the 8% HST from processed foods and restaurant meals under $20.
“We’d be looking at re-implementing the rent control that was removed. We will also be addressing the 10 paid sick days, which will help our frontlines, wherever they work, retail, hospitality, etcetera, to be able to manage their time.
“And also we will be looking at implementing a regional living wage because we because we know that there isn’t the same wage across Ontario.”
Burbach said NDP has a plan to cover the costs of mental health care and other health concerns.
“So you won’t be paying out of your pocket when you want to want to see your therapist. Dental is another thing that can be completely covered. We know the average family spends about $500 per visit to the dentist when they have a problem. So these are everyday costs for people that we would like to help them with,” she stated.
“We’d also look at regulating gas prices. So rather than decreasing gas tax, which in actual fact, will likely increase your property taxes, because that gas tax is what keeps your roads repaired … rather than that, (the NDP) would be regulating gas prices, which would cut into the profit margins of the big oil companies.”
Bisutti said the Greens want to “make sure that we are building permanently affordable community housing over the next 10 years.
“We want to create thousands of jobs with the green retrofit programs, and good paying jobs as we revert to a green economy. And then we want to make sure that workers are paid fairly and increase minimum wage each year by $1 starting at $16 in 202,” she stated.
Bisutti said her party also wants to protect gig workers by guaranteeing them employee status and “ensure that they have payment for all hours of work, with a clear understanding of how pay is calculated.”
MacGregor said the Ontario Party would encourage entrepreneurship by reducing the paperwork and cutting all fees associated with starting a business.
“We’ve seen over the past few years how the government has punished small business by not allowing them to be open and allowing big business to be open and we would provide generous tax benefits and wage subsidies for businesses in the agricultural food and manufacturing sectors,” he stated.
MacGregor said he would like to see “immediate benefits” to farmers because “they grow green crops and they cut down on carbon.
“We should maybe give them a benefit and begin to help spearhead the revitalization of the domestic auto industry which is trying to compete with foreign auto companies. Put trade leverage back into Ontario’s hands and open up thousands of careers for Ontarians.”
In light of a worker shortage experienced by many businesses in recent months, candidates were asked “How would you get workers into vacant jobs?”
“I think we have to promote the fact that hard work is rewarding,” said Hosken.
“We’ve had two years of essentially letting people stay home and paying for them to stay home. That doesn’t promote the fact that hard work is important in your life. You should be rewarded for the fruits of your labour.
“So I think that’s the message that we have to send out to the public. There’s no less people really here today than there was in 2019. So why aren’t they working? Well, because they’ve been spoon fed money to stay home for the last two years. That’s why.”
“I think it’s very important question,” said Rae.
“Our area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, 3.3% last time that I saw. And so our government is committed to spending $1 billion annually for employment training programs that help people retain their jobs or upgrade their skills. And it also includes $114 million for our skilled trades strategy.”
Rae cited the example of a new skilled trades hub in Atwood, which he said represents a $1.8 million investment from the province to help alleviate “our shortage of labour locally.”
Fox pointed out affordable housing and liveable wages are keys to solving the worker shortage.
“In order to have locals able to work in these jobs that we have locally, we need to be able to allow them to afford to be here,” said Fox.
In addition, she said, “We would bring back the 10 paid sick days and we would ban employer doctors’ notes that were mandatory in the past.”
Fox also said Liberals would reimburse the costs, up to $200 a day, “to some of our small business communities to be able to help with those sick calls and we will build back affordable benefits and equal pay for equal work wages.”
Burbach said, “We believe that paying people proper wage job helps them stay in their jobs, because right now, when somebody’s working on minimum wage and they were working full time, they are not able to support their family.
“So I think it is really important to look at, in various areas, what the living wage is and make sure we’re paying people that,” she added.
Burbach also pointed out “we don’t have enough people in this area to fill all the jobs we have.
“So we need to either figure out a way to retain people so that they can live here, which is housing. We need to make sure they can live where they work,” she said.
“We would also look at making people welcome that are coming from outside. So whether that’s from the GTA, or other places, for instance, newcomers … if there’s a lot of skilled labourers that come and work on farms here, we want to make it easier for them to stay here and become citizens and become part of our communities,” Burbach added.
“I agree we want to make sure that we increase the minimum wage so that people can work in these jobs and support themselves,” said Bisutti.
“And we want to make sure that we have affordable housing for them. We want to ensure that we’ll make any work count towards permanent residency applications; make sure that people that are here can stay here. And of course, support farmers, make sure there’s no hurdles in retaining their workers,” she added.
MacGregor said, “We need to get more affordable housing for people to be in the areas that they want to live in, the area they want to work in.
“And again, I’m going to go back to carbon tax. We need to get the carbon tax down so people can afford to drive to jobs, or drive to other places to get jobs.
“Another thing that I would like to introduce is small transit vans or mini buses or things like that to go from place to place to encourage entrepreneurship. Or they can start businesses in that kind of field to get people to their jobs without having to take single cars or trains or buses.”
Candidates also answered questions on topics such as education, infrastructure spending and the security of vote-by-mail systems during the two-hour meeting.