Candidates debate housing, environment and food insecurity, among other social policy issues

Liberal's McBey calls Laurie Scott an 'absentee landlord'

By William McGinn

Nancy Payne, associate editor of the Advocate, left, moderated the local provincial candidates' debate. Tom Regina, Green Party, Don McBey, Liberal Party, and Barbara Doyle, NDP, participated. Photo: William McGinn.

With the provincial election just two weeks away, the Advocate hosted an all-candidates candidates debate yesterday evening at Cambridge Street United Church in Lindsay.

Candidates allowed to participate qualified under the playbook from the 2021 Leaders Debate, meaning the party must have a member elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, or the party must have received at least four per cent of the vote in the last provincial election or the party must have received at least four per cent support in a leading public opinion poll.

This included NDP candidate Barbara Doyle, Green Party candidate Tom Regina and Liberal Party candidate Don McBey. As she has with several other debates, PC candidate and incumbent Laurie Scott said she was unable to attend the debate due to a scheduling conflict.

The debate, moderated by the Advocate’s associate editor, Nancy Payne, also included five panelists who provided questions on various issues. These issues were housing, the climate crisis, food security, long-term care (LTC) home privatization, and the PC’s increased use of ministerial zoning orders (MZO)s.

All of the candidates agreed on a number of issues. Panelist Matthew Robbins expressed concern rent and mortgage prices have made affordable housing a struggle for friends and families despite steady incomes, and panelist Heather Kirby, executive director of Kawartha Lakes Food Source, said too many people rely on food banks, and for 54 per cent of the Food Source’s clients, ODSP (Ontario Disability Student Plan) and Ontario Works are their primary income source and they aren’t enough to be able to afford nutritious food in the market.

Regina said the Green Party would double ODSP immediately and ensure living wages for home care providers. Doyle said ODSP and OW would increase 20 per cent in the first year and raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour by 2026 under the NDP. McBey said the Liberal Party would rise to $16 an hour in Jan 2023 and reduce the HST (harmonized sales tax) to allow people to buy prepared foods, such as restaurant meals, up to $20 without tax.

Both Doyle and McBey said their parties are committed to building 1.5 million new homes. All three were critical of the recent increased use of MZOs. Panelist Brian Walsh discussed how MZOs were originally made for emergency purposes but the Ford government has used the order to “bypass municipal government and public consultation.”

Walsh brought up how 44 MZOs were issued by the Ford government between March 2019 and March 2021, which is double the total amount used from 1991-2009.

McBey said a Liberal government would only use MZOs in essential projects “like affordable housing.”

“The MZOs are now a way of eliminating red tape,” said Regina, “and the red tape is there to protect communities. It seems that anything considered to be in the way of development, including environmental concerns, is red tape to them.”

Doyle mentioned someone in Haliburton who recently donated land with the intent of having an affordable housing project built. But the project is currently stalled because rezoning has been a problem, “but yet developers have come into our riding and have been able to get MZOs for luxury homes.”

Panelist Ginny Colling, who is on the Kawartha Lakes Environmental Advisory Committee, expressed concern about meeting the international goal of reducing total carbon emissions by about 50 per cent by 2030 and getting to net-zero by 2050, in the face of record temperatures and the alarming recent IPCC report.

Every candidate discussed their love for our natural areas and a desire to keep it clean for the future. Regina and Doyle discussed plans for the building of new sustainable energy projects. They both proposed a $10,000 rebate to make the acquisition of an electric vehicle more affordable. McBey mentioned the Liberal party’s plan to make all public transit just $1 a ride throughout Ontario for two years to help lower income families with travel costs and to get 40,000 cars off the road.

For long-term care homes, every candidate voiced adamant opposition to further health care privatization, which the PC party supports. Regina said former premier Mike Harris’ PC government claimed businesses would be efficient at taking over LTC and health care and “they were more efficient at putting the money into the pockets of his shareholders at the expense of those who are most vulnerable.”

Doyle called it “despicable that shareholders are pocketing million-dollar dividend checks while residents of LTCs during a pandemic were dying of malnutrition and dehydration from lack of staff.”

In terms of their local PC opponent, Doyle said she believed Scott was deliberately not coming to debates to avoid being pressed on the issues. McBey called Scott an “absentee landlord.”

Some in the debate’s audience showed support for Ontario Party candidate Kerstin Kelly.

The election is Thursday, June 2.

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