Hastings-Lennox and Addington provincial candidate hopefuls squared off for the first time in L&A County on Wednesday afternoon, taking part in a debate held at the Napanee Golf and Country Club.
Hosted by the Napanee District Chamber of Commerce, the debate featured NDP candidate Nate Smelle, Green Party’s Sari Watson, Progressive Conservative candidate Daryl Kramp and Liberal candidate Tim Rigby.
“We’re seeing the most stark difference between the parties that are running to govern this province that we have ever seen,” NDP’s Smelle, a native of Bancroft, said in his opening remarks.
“I’ve knocked on thousands of doors throughout the riding and what I’m hearing is at least 80 per cent of the province wants change,” said Smelle. “What we’re trying to decide is what type of change we want that to be.”
Smelle says people have expressed “excitement” in the NDP’s platform.
“I think the energy and excitement is directly connected to things we’re offering for the people of Ontario through our platform in 2018,” said Smelle. “Things like universal dental care, universal pharmacare, free child care for those who need it with an average of $12 a day for those that can afford to pay a little bit. These are things that are going to improve the quality of life for the majority of Ontarians. It’s going to address the crisis of affordability that we’ve seen throughout the entire riding.”
Among the NDP’s platform is a plan to buy back HydroOne in an effort to reduce hydro costs.
Smelle, who comes from a background in journalism, says he felt the province needed new direction.
“We’re seeing not just a crisis of affordability, but also seeing our healthcare system and our education system failing,” said Smelle. “We’ve seen 15 years under the Liberals where nothing’s really been done to address these problems.”
Watson, a registered massage therapist who hails from Stirling, laid out the Green’s platform.
“We need to prioritize the environment,” said Watson. “We haven’t quite prioritized the environment and the effects of our lifestyle on the environment quite as much as we need to.”
She says climate change is a real issue facing not only this riding, but the province as a whole.
“In our agricultural sector our growing seasons are growing shorter, crop yields are going down,” said Watson. “That’s affecting our local farmers directly and our local economy. It’s great to talk about the GDP and the global economy, but if you don’t have a habitable planet to live on right here, we don’t have an economy.”
She says the Greens will focus on creating ‘green’ jobs-that is jobs in the renewable energy sector.
“The Green platform is basically to unleash the power of the local economy,” said Watson. “We have infinite renewable energy at our fingertips. We have the innovation of young minds in school we want to transition to green jobs in this thriving sector. This is a $3 trillion sector, this renewable energy sector. We are losing out on it every day we are not tapping into this renewable energy. We’re falling behind.”
She added that the Greens also promise to provide incentives to businesses that adopt more carbon neutral business practices and invest in ‘clean’ technology in the renewable energy sector.
Kramp, who previously represented parts of the riding at the federal level from 2004-2015, spoke of the PC’s campaign.
“Everybody’s concerned about our future,” said Kramp. “Many have called this election the most important election they’ll see in their lifetime. We have a very clear choice and sense of direction we need to go. On the one hand you have the Liberals and the NDP, they’ve taken high taxes, high price, high borrow, endless spending…Folks, you can not spend your way to prosperity. It just doesn’t work. We need to find a way to reduce taxes across the board, we need to cut the hydro rates and we need to promote strong economic growth in our community.”
Kramp says rising hydro rates are a concern for the manufacturing sector, which is why his party promises to lower them which he says will keep those jobs local.
“No matter how well our hospitals are run, and Napanee is amongst the best, the Liberal budget is creating a health-care crisis,” said Kramp. “We will eliminate income taxes for minimum wage workers. We will help small businesses create jobs.”
“We will cut taxes for diesel and gas by 10 cents a litre,” Kramp added. “We will cut middle class taxes by 20 per cent. We will cut hydro bills by 12 per cent for the average Ontario family.”
Kramp also echoed party leader Doug Ford’s promise to invest in 30,000 new hospital beds over the next 10 years.
“We will hire nurses, doctors and home-care workers,” said Kramp. “That has to happen folks.”
Rigby, a native of Stone Mills who comes from a teaching background, outlined the Liberals’ plans.
“There’s a very important story being written from the very first moment of a newborn baby’s life,” said Rigby. “A baby born in Ontario today is protected today thanks to 16 different vaccinations under Ontario’s immunization program. Before he reaches four he will be enrolled in one of 100,000 new childcare spaces being delivered across Ontario — a real game changer for his hard working parents. From birth until 25 every prescription his parents fill to help keep him healthy will be free under OHIP+, the largest expansion in health care in over 50 years. He won’t be on his own as he heads to college or university thanks to help in OSAP which is already delivering free tuition to 225,000 students this year.”
Rigby says the Liberals plan to return to a balanced budget.
“In the previous year we had a balanced budget and for nine straight years (Ontario) Finance Minister Charles Sousa has hit his target,” said Rigby. “We have a path, a path to a balanced budget that uses buying power and the economy of Ontario to invest in our children and in our future and taking the money that we produce as the leading economy in the G-7 with the lowest unemployment in almost 20 years, and will take that buying power and invest it in people.”
Following their opening statements the candidates answered a series of submitted questions. There was no ‘open-mic’ format from the audience. The event was well attended, with some 50 people filling the Napanee Golf and Country Club hall.
Absent from the meeting were Trillium candidate Lonnie Herrington and Libertarian Greg Scholfield.
The 42nd Ontario general election will be held June 7.