MPP-elect sees province’s finances as a challenge for government
Someone turned off a television monitor showing Premier Kathleen Wynne’s concession speech just as Hastings-Lennox and Addington candidate Daryl Kramp started his victory speech Thursday evening.
It was a gesture symbolic of the mood of Ontario voters that day as they resoundingly chose a change of direction and leadership. Kramp and the Progressive Conservatives sailed to a majority government at Queen’s Park with 76 seats, the NDP became the official opposition with 40, and Wynne’s Liberals lost party status with just seven seats. The Green Party also carved out a bit of history with leader Mike Schreiner winning its first seat in Guelph.
While television networks rushed to declare the PC win just 15 minutes after the polls closed — aided by the advancement of electronic polling — Kramp was much slower to announce his victory in the largest geographic riding in Southern Ontario. It was about an hour later when he felt comfortable enough to celebrate with backers at the Black Bear Ridge Course in Thurlow.
While it was smiles and jokes for a time, the four-term MP for Prince Edward-Hastings got serious when speaking about the state of the province that government will inherit and the tough job ahead.
“When I decided to go for this plunge, I knew what I was getting into, obviously. I know the challenges. I’ve said one of the biggest concerns I have is we want to be a sharing, caring people. That’s the nature of what we are and who we are, but you can’t do it if your hands are tied behind your back and you’re broke — and that’s the position this blessed province is in,” Kramp said.
He wondered aloud how any government could reach out to help friends, neighbours and communities “if we are literally so far behind the 8-ball that money is going to pay for interest instead of the programs we need.”
That rising debt was sobering enough for Kramp, but he also revealed to supporters that he’s really not sure what the PCs will find when they have a chance to review the province’s accounts.
“I don’t want to throw a downer on a night like tonight, but the biggest concern I have right now is we haven’t even seen the books. Oh my goodness, I really, really hope that we see what has been stated, but I’m deeply, deeply concerned,” he said. “That’s why it’s difficult to say ‘I’ll promise you this,’ and ‘We’re going to do that.’ You have to have the means from which to be able to do it. The first thing I’m going to be able to do is put the eyeballs right to the spreadsheets. We’re going to see exactly where we’re at, then we’re going to move forward in a caring way.”
Speaking with the Beaver later, Kramp dismissed warnings from other parties that the PCs were solely focused on budget cuts. He said the government will addresss issues like health care, education, and youth employment as it addresses financial issues.
“It’s tremendously important to get our fiscal house in order — you can’t spent money you don’t have, but you do have to spend money to take care of the needs of the people. We have to take care of the needs of all the people, not just a few insiders.”
A need Kramp says is high on his priority list for the riding is improved broadband access that eliminates cellular communications gaps.
“There are some of our areas where you couldn’t call an ambulance or police. That’s not even acceptable, let alone desirable,” he said. “That has to change and it has to change immediately. I want that to commence within the year and I’m going to push hard on that.”
Kramp said he’s already been working with members of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and he doesn’t want to see a promised provincial investment in the technology delayed or forgotten. It’s not surprising the project is high on Kramp’s list as he was a major advocate of the original Eastern Ontario Regional Network investment in 2010.
Another priority will be raising the economic standard for people in Hastings-Lennox and Addington.
“People don’t want to be the working poor. We have too many people who have a job who are finding it very, very difficult to survive. It shouldn’t be that way,” Kramp said, adding there are two challenges to consider: that wages aren’t high enough and that expenses are too high.
“Is it a combination of both?” he asked. “We know we’re paying too much for too many things, but if we raise everything up we’re not going to be competitive. It has to be done in a balanced effective way.”
In light of the deeply partisan and divisive rhetoric of the past campaign, Kramp was asked how he plans to pull the people of his riding together. He said he believes he has a history of working across party lines to serve people.
“I’ve never been an overly partisan individual and I do believe there’s great strength in diversity. No party… I, we or anybody has all the perfect answers. I’m willing to look, listen, and see if there’s a better way to build the proverbial mousetrap,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with people from all across the political spectrum to see what we can do best for our province.”
Addressing a concern raised in recent years in lower Lennox and Addington County about representation in a large riding, Kramp said he is hoping he’ll have two offices, one in Lennox and Addington and one in Hastings if his budget allows. He said he doesn’t feel constituents should have to travel hours to see their MPP.
He also stressed that he’d like to make constituency issues his priority, but he would consider any cabinet assignments Premier-elect Doug Ford may bestow upon him in the future.
“I’ll take that as it comes. If there’s a responsibility that they want me to do, of course I’ll take it on, but I have a clear priority on my riding.”
Kramp took 22,636 (50.3 per cent) votes across the 93 polls in the riding, an 8,179-vote margin over the NDP’s Nate Smelle, with 14,457 (32.12 per cent). Liberal Tim Rigby had 5,173 votes (11.49 per cent), Green candidate Sari Watson had 1,910 (4.24 per cent), Trillium candidate Lonnie Herrington had 466 (1.04 per cent), and Libertarian Greg Scholfield had 362 (0.8 per cent).
The voter turnout in Hastings-Lennox and Addington was 61.69 per cent, higher than the provincial average of 58 per cent.
Flanked by his wife Carol Ann, daughters Shelby, Taryl, and Kari Layne, and several grandchildren, Kramp said he was humbled by his new responsibility and thanked his team for an “unbelievable” effort to get that vote out.
“Of all the years I’ve been engaged, I’ve never worked with a team ever in all my political time that came together and worked so hard,” he said. “The most inspirational thing to me was it didn’t matter what was going on between leadership, polls, conversations, or whether it was a good time or a bad or weak moment. Everybody stayed together as a team. We pulled together. There was no indecision and no second guessing. It was full stream ahead from the time we started to the time it ended. This was no easy victory.”