Ontario election debate analysis: Five distinct candidates square off in Lindsay

By Roderick Benns

5 local political candidates debate before the June 7 provincial election.

Elections are always about personalities and policies. No matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise – that our choices are made only in the realm of policy – we assign and we label in order to understand.

There were five distinct ‘brands’ on display last night at Celebrations in Lindsay. From the three traditional parties, there were three brands that we might call the Veteran (Progressive Conservative candidate Laurie Scott), the Defender (Liberal candidate Brooklynne Cramp-Waldinsperger), and the Architect (New Democratic Party candidate Zac Miller.)

PC candidate Laurie Scott, NOTA candidate Thomas Rhyno, and Brooklynne Cramp-Waldinsperger.

From the political fringes, a Darwinian (Libertarian candidate Gene Balfour), and an Idealist (None of the Above candidate Thomas Rhyno) rounded out the five candidates. Green Party candidate Lynn Therien was not in attendance.

The Retired Teachers of Ontario and the Lindsay and District Chamber of Commerce hosted the political debate, the only one for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock for the upcoming provincial election on June 7.

For Laurie Scott, the veteran, her experience was evident. She deftly moved about the questions with a command of both riding-level knowledge and the more unsavoury issues at Queen’s Park – such low-hanging fruit like the $1 billion gas plant scandal; the $8 billion e-health scandal (16 years later, Ontario still doesn’t have a working electronic health records system); and recent Hydro One executives getting handsome bonus cheques. She hit these themes hard and hit them often.

She also talked often about putting more money in people’s pockets through tax cuts, ending “hallway healthcare,” lowering hydro rates, and creating jobs (the latter being the cry of every politician in modern memory.)

She latched onto the theme of a “tired Liberal government” that has been in power for 15 years. (Interestingly, that’s how long Scott has been the local representative for her riding.)

Gene Balfour, Libertarian candidate, and Zac Miller, NDP.

On the issue of affordable housing she praised the City of Kawartha Lakes for their recent efforts on this file. She also linked tax cuts, cheaper hydro, and promised lower gas prices now being touted by PC leader Doug Ford, as ways to make life more affordable in general.

Scott and the PCs were regularly under attack by the Liberal candidate, Cramp-Waldinsperger, who often declared that deep cuts were coming under any Ford-led government.

In her closing remarks, a fired-up Scott declared “the only job I’m interested in cutting is Kathleen’s,” referencing the Ontario Liberal premier, Kathleen Wynne.

Brooklynne Cramp-Waldinsperger was in the difficult position of playing defender. Inevitably, she had to defend 15 years of Liberal government and make the case that her Liberal party still represented some form of change – and she’s only 22 years old.

A Western University student who was born and raised in Kawartha Lakes, she constantly hammered home the point that Ontario could not afford “Doug Ford’s cuts” — often while Scott gently shook her head in disagreement. Her themes were the new programs recently announced by the Liberals:

  • Free daycare for children from age 2.5 to to Kindergarten ($2.2 billion over three years)
  • Free prescription drugs for all seniors ($575 million)
  • The biggest annual increase in hospital spending in 10 years ($820 million)
  • Expanded mental health services ($2.1 billion over four years)

Cramp-Waldinsperger displayed an impressive knowledge of her files, often citing statistics at the local level and with demonstrated knowledge of her party’s campaign promises. For instance, on affordable housing she noted the government’s investment that has created 100 low income spaces in the local area. She also emphasized the Liberals’ support for rent control.

On an audience question about the need for libraries, museums, and enhanced social infrastructure, Cramp-Waldinsperger spoke about the Liberals’ $85,000 investment in the riding to be used this way.

Cramp-Waldinsperger’s biggest fault of the evening was not speaking more closely to her microphone, for her voice to be more easily heard.

While the Liberals were attacked by the other candidates for missteps over their 15 years, Cramp-Waldinsperger focused on the fact that Ontario now leads the G7 in economic growth, has a low unemployment level, and that it’s rising debt load is still just one per cent of its GDP.

She also spoke out in favour of the basic income pilot and other poverty-reduction measures for the riding.

Zac Miller, at only 19, played the role of architect last night, sharing the NDP vision of a better, caring society that could be constructed if we just made the right investments.

While the first-year political science student from University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) was admittedly nervous, he found his policy footing eventually. He reiterated the NDP promises of:

  • drug and dental coverage for all Ontarians
  • taking on student debt by converting loans to grants and creating thousands of student jobs
  • ending hallway medicine and fixing seniors care
  • getting the wealthiest people and corporations to pay their fair share
  • cutting hydro bills 30 per cent by bringing Hydro One back into public ownership

The NDP policies and leader Andrea Horvath’s personality have created some buzz for the NDP, with the party in second place in the polls (ahead of the Liberals) and showing signs for more growth potential.

“This is what change for the better actually looks like,” said Miller, after reciting the new policies promised, and declaring the need for a better, more caring society where no one is left behind.

While one question from the audience focused on Peterborough and Lindsay’s hospitals merging certain services, such as the integration of clinical and front-line services, Miller says the NDP will increase hospital funding by 5.3 per cent. He said this would avoid any pressure for the hospitals to continue merging services.

Gene Balfour, as the Libertarian candidate, offered the greatest clarity out of any of the five candidates and was the most comfortable sharing the stage with the veteran, Scott.

And yet that same clarity of thought was striking for his Darwinian outlook on how society should work. For instance, on a question about education he declared that public education was a monopoly that, ideally, would be broken up to allow the market to decide the best schools. “Once you have competition,” he declared, it makes everything better, from price to quality.

“It allows only the best to survive,” he said.

That was his consistent, clear message throughout the two hour debate – that competition for most everything is good and that government gets in the way.

Balfour mentioned several times that there were more than 380,000 regulations the current and past Ontario legislatures have assigned to government “responsibilities.” Libertarians believe that government is not the solution, but the problem, and that non-government options need to be introduced.

Even on a simple question to gauge support for the Liberal government’s sex education curriculum, Balfour again reiterated the need for less government policies. Parents, not teachers, would create a “market” for sex education if it was wanted, he said.

On another suggestion about providing more training opportunities for people, he said training was very important for individuals to better themselves — but that government wasn’t the answer.

“If you take pride in what you do, you’ll find a way” to get the training you would need, he told the audience. (Of course, this suggests that everyone has the same level of drive and motivation when in reality some people will always need more guidance than others to improve themselves.)

As for climate change, again with the clarity:

“I’m a non-believer in climate change.”

The fifth candidate who shared the table was Thomas Rhyno, a tradesman and former combat engineer in the Canadian Army who lives in Kawartha Lakes. Rhyno, certainly an idealist, is running under the banner of NOTA – None of the Above.

According to their website, the NOTA Party campaigns for the three r’s of direct democracy – “Referendum, Recall and Real electoral and legislative Reforms that give voters control of politicians and parties. Candidates are accountable to their constituents and there are no central party policies or controls of elected MPPs.”

That pretty much sums up Rhyno’s responses to all questions – the idea that we just need to gather folks together to talk – that partisan politics was “not bringing us together.”

His laid back style had the audience chuckling at many points during the night, but they were laughing with him, not at him. At least once, perhaps more, Scott helped Rhyno find the right words in an effort to help him out.

“We’re going to bring democracy back to the people,” he said – and he said it often.

Debates and Elections

It is said that debates don’t decide elections and this one will certainly be no different. There were cheers for the veteran, Scott, when she talked about her party ousting Wynne, a premier who has undeniably made political missteps. There were also cheers from other audience members for Cramp-Waldinsperger, for defending the Liberals’ formidable social policy record.

The loudest cheer of the evening was the most disturbing. One woman in the audience who had the microphone lamented the Province’s large debt, the cost of social policy programs being promised, and the worry that our society was going to “bring in all the illegals.”

So no, debates don’t decide elections. Voters do. A key question that remains is what candidate – what brand – will triumph on June 7 — and what kind of voter will prevail?

And just as important…just what kind of society are we looking to create?

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