Hastings-Lennox and Addington MPP candidates face-off during debate at Lion’s Hall

Derek Sloan of the Ontario Party speaks at the podium while Ric Bresee of the Conservatives, Ted Darby of the Liberals, Eric DePoe of the NDP and Joyce Reid of the New Blue Party listen during Wednesday's provincial Hastings-Lennox and Addington all-candidate meeting, held at the Napanee Lion's Hall. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Adam Prudhomme

Candidates vying to be the next MPP of Hastings-Lennox and Addington made their pitch to voters on Wednesday during a Q&A meeting held at the Napanee Lion’s Hall.

Hosted by the Napanee District Chamber of Commerce, five of the six registered candidates were in attendance: Ric Bresee of the Progressive Conservative, Ted Darby of the Liberals, Eric DePoe of the New Democratic Party, Joyce Reid of the New Blue Party and Derek Sloan of the Ontario Party. Absent was Christina Wilson of the Green Party.

Questions were submitted in advance by residents and drawn at random, the first being what would candidates do to ensure rural Ontario received its share of infrastructure improvements.

“The key thing in my mind is our current Ford government is focused on a centralized approach and investments in the GTA,” said Darby. “The 413 is the classic example of a $10 billion project. (The Liberal) platform stresses investment throughout the province, particularly in areas like education, fixing our schools, investing in our small municipalities, investing in affordable housing. A key part of that as I see it is in our communities, our towns whether its Loyalist Township or right here in Napanee or north in Bancroft or Madoc or Tamworth, is we have to invest in infrastructure that will allow for affordable housing and businesses to move in.”

DePoe said previous governments ignored rural Ontario.

“I’ve heard over the years a lot of promises of what we need or what governments are going to do for rural Ontario,” said DePoe. “But we never see it come into action. We don’t ever see these things materialize. Yes we do have to spread economic investments. One of the most serious lacks in rural Ontario is housing. We need to build housing in all of our communities, not just the big ones.”

Reid also spoke of the need for housing.

“Right now people are spending $1,500 to $2,000 in rent and are being turned down for a mortgage that may be $1,000,” said Reid. “This needs to be corrected. Our rural areas have room for business. In our neck of the woods we have stone quarries, we have lumber and we need to be able to attract more people. However with the constant threat with the Reopen Ontario Act, that businesses could be shutdown or you’re going to lose staff again, it’s not a very welcoming situation. We need to fix a lot of things in order to attract. I’m certainly not averse to putting forth the thought of tiny houses for our people who are not making six figure and can’t that $800,000 house. It would be a great way to start. I’ve been all over this riding, we have hectares and hectares of property that can be used for business and housing without disrupting the people who don’t want the dirt track anywhere near them.”

Sloan said other governments have focused too much on major centres.

“It’s a fact that Toronto and other cities take priority and precedence….(Housing) is one of the most critical issues that’s facing our province right now,” said Sloan. “There’s many things that have led to this. Obviously the cheap money that has been floating around as well as speculation and other issues. With respect to housing, I want to say that there are supply side issues that need to be dealt with in terms of red tape, but there’s a lot of demand side issues that need to be dealt with as well. There’s an unknown amount of foreign money in our real estate and farmland in our province and we want to have a complete moratorium, a complete ban on foreign real estate purchasing and farmland purchasing here in this province. We want to fight money laundering. We’ve known for decades that money is being laundered by criminal enterprises into real estate in Canada. The RCMP put a report out on that decades ago. We need to make sure that we fight that. With respect to immigration, which in fact would be helpful in our area, overall immigration in this province is also boasting the price of housing. We want as a province to have the same rights that Quebec does to have a say in immigration policy here in this province. With respect to investment in rural areas, we need to have regional tax breaks to encourage head offices to come here.”

Bresee highlighted his experience in municipal politics, having served on both Loyalist Council and Lennox and Addington County Council. He noted the Conservative government had spent $2 billion in the H-LA riding over the last two years to add 800 long-term care beds, expand hospitals and build schools.

“As a mayor and warden I was invited to make comment on the last couple of budgets,” said Bresee. “As we were coming through COVID we all knew that there would be significant infrastructure investments made and I pressed the point with our government that we needed to continue to spread that money across the small municipalities, across the rural areas. Because those investments mean that we’re using local workers, local suppliers. The local gravel pit. Whatever that is so that we’re building the local economy. Doing that in hundreds of small areas across the province is the best way, the fastest way, to build our economy to be prosperous for everyone.”

Candidates were asked what they felt was the root of the housing crisis.

“People need a place to live and that’s what our housing market should be doing, is providing people with a place to live,” said DePoe. “The other thing that it is is a vehicle for investment. This is something that I think we’ve got to stop because this means people with a lot of money want to make more money by buying up houses and maybe renting them out or flipping them for higher prices. Both of these activities drive up the prices in the housing market.”

DePoe added the NDP pledge to build a million homes in the ‘middle market’ of affordable homes over the next term of office.

Reid said rising costs of supplies was a contributing factor.

“You’ve got an increase in the price of lumber, the increase in gas and diesel to get those things to where you’re going to build and the prices just keep soaring,” said Reid. “We need to tackle the economy right off the hop to help bring some of these prices down. So if you’re building your own or a contractor is building it, some of it comes into a more reasonable amount. The other thing that we have to look at, and it is going to be a reality, is the price of houses will level off at the cost of the interest rate soaring.”

Sloan said the province needs to clamp down on foreign investors.

“We’ve had unrestricted access by foreign, non-Canadian people that don’t live here or work here, buying up property for decades,” said Sloan. “A recent article that I read showed that in Toronto and Vancouver anywhere from five to 10 per cent of new builds were being purchased by people who don’t live in this country. This is something that needs to stop.”

Sloan referenced an report by Bank of Montreal Chief Financial Advisor Douglas Porter that cites Canada as right in the middle of G8 countries in terms of housing supply and yet boasts housing prices much higher than its fellow G8 countries.

“We need to make sure that we are banning the foreign purchase of real estate until we get things under control,” added Sloan. “We need to fight money laundering which is an issue as well and I mentioned immigration, which is a good thing for Canada, we’re having an issue where we’re bringing too many people in at once. That has an impact on housing demand. One in two houses purchased in the GTA are purchased by people whose country of origin is not Canada. I don’t blame them for wanting to purchase housing in Toronto, but we have to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for Ontario.”

Bresee said a lack of supply was the root cause of the housing crisis.

“I don’t know which statistics that Mr. Sloan is seeing but the statistics that I see show that Canada has the lowest number of houses per capita of any of the G8 countries,” said Bresee. “So we do need to improve our supply and this government has been promoting the reduction of red tape, the speeding up of the processes to get homes delivered and it’s been working. In the last year over 100,000 homes were built in this province, the most that have ever been built in this province. So we are moving towards the right place where we can have enough homes. Mr. DePoe’s comment about needing the right size of homes is absolutely accurate. We need the right mix of homes. We need purpose built apartments, small homes and large homes so everyone can have an opportunity to own a home. But the biggest thing we need is the income.”

Bresee said improving the economy would create better paying jobs for everyone.

Darby agreed supply and demand was a major factor, pointing to investments in the GTA as the reason prices have skyrocketed in that region more so than the rest of the province.

“Why is it in the GTA? Because of investment in the GTA,” said Darby. “Continuing to invest in the GTA with things like the Bradford Bypass and the 413 are actually counter-productive in the sense that they’re actually increasing demand in that geographic areas. At the same time we have areas like here, Hastings-Lennox and Addington, where the demand has increased but is still nowhere near what it is in the GTA. We need to invest in communities like ours and other areas in the province so that we shift that supply and demand paradigm and have more supply in areas like this.”

The last question asked candidates what they would do to address supply chain issues.

“This government is committed to helping small business in whatever they need,” said Bresee. “They spent over $7 billion in the last two years to support small businesses, to ensure that they continue to get the product they need, that they have the staffing, that they have the PPE that they require.”

Bresee highlighted the Conservative’s support in bringing the manufacturing of n-95 masks to Brockville.

“We need to continue to bring manufacturing home to create jobs so that people can afford their cost of living, afford their homes and build things here and by doing so we no longer have the big gap in supply chain because the products are right here,” said Bresee.

Darby supports the idea of a decentralized approach to manufacturing.

“We need to make sure that we are supporting our agricultural as well as small businesses in our local area,” said Darby. “We need more food processing capacity in this area, that is a known need.”

Darby said the Liberals plan to use incentives and procurement guidelines to encourage local manufacturing.

“Economic resiliency is something that’s very important to the New Democratic Party,” said DePoe. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. I have personal experience because I ran a restaurant in Yarker for 17 years. Built and ran that business. I’m currently running a paralegal practice. I know how small business works, I have first hand experience in it. I know how the community relies on it. The NDP is all about small business. We’re here for local business, not the big box stores who were favoured by the government during the pandemic and were allowed to stay open when small businesses and small stores had to close. We’re talking about supports for small business. One thing that we want to do is rebate for local tourism. If you tour locally you can get a rebate for spending your money in your local area and patronizing the small businesses.”

Reid says the government needs to bring down the rising cost of fuel, which she says was a major contributor to 6.8 per cent inflation increase in April.

“As the expenses keeps going up and up and up, and the price of goods goes up and up and up and we all pay for it and it becomes a vicious circle,” said Reid. “We need to decrease the price of fuel. We need to keep our smaller businesses open and not have them living of the threat that if a virus rears its ugly head in the fall again, even if it’s a small issue, that we’re all going to be locked down. We’ve lost too many small businesses and we’ve got a bunch that are worried constantly of how they’re going to do.”

Sloan said Canada needs to bring more manufacturing within its borders.

“Much of the issue that we’re seeing with supply chains have been self inflicted by Canada, by other countries who unnecessarily lockdown businesses and impeded supply to begin with,” said Sloan. “We need to make sure that we’re in control of our own destiny to bring as much manufacturing back to this country so that things are made here.”

Sloan added affordable energy is bedrock to any economy.

“Our party would like to propose an energy corridor between here and Alberta,” said Sloan. “The federal government would have to approve that and we know how that will go, but we need provinces to be asking for what needs to be done. We need to be refining, producing our own oil and gas here.”

The event closed which each candidate making their closing statements to those in attendance and those watching at home via television or live stream.

Ontario’s election day is June 2. To find out where to vote, visit https://voterinformationservice.elections.on.ca/en/election/search?mode=postalCode and search by postal code. Advance polls run now through May 28.

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