The North Dundas Chamber of Commerce (NDCC) with the Dundas Federation of Agriculture (DFA) hosted a candidates debate September 22nd at the Winchester Arena.
Provincial election candidates in attendance included Liberal Mark A. MacDonald, Libertarian Darcy Neal Donnelly, NDP Elaine MacDonald, and, PC Jim McDonell. Absent was the Green Party’s Justin Reist.
In an email to the Leader, Reist stated: “Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend the debate in Winchester due to my responsibilities with school. ”
The debate got underway with a short introduction and welcome by Jackie Pemberton, President of the DFA. Bill Smirle, Secretary for the NDCC played emcee and kept everyone on target and on time.
PC candidate, Jim McDonell, opened the introductory speech portion of the night where each candidate had five minutes to say what they pleased.
McDonell talked about his upbringing, his political background, and his plans for the area. “Strong farms are vital to a strong Ontario,” said McDonell.
He claimed that Ontario is a “have not province for the first time in our history,” going on to talk about getting rid of government red-tape and putting “more money back into the hands of the people.”
He finished with a plea: “Vote for the party you can trust to do what they say they’ll do.”
Next up to the podium was Libertarian candidate, Darcy Neal Donnelly, who began by saying that he was there to “create awareness of our political party.”
He shared that he and his party “believe in law and order” and that people should be “treated equally, not even our government will be above the law.”
He went on to say that his party is “against government assuming control.”
He repeated an earlier plea for recruits and funds: “We’re looking for people to join us. We’re looking for new leaders. We’re looking for financial sponsors.”
Third in the introductory lineup of statements was Liberal Candidate Mark A. MacDonald who began by saying, “it’s nice to see so many people getting engaged with the political process.”
He them moved directly into his personal accountability record saying “I’ve been a fire fighter my whole life – people counted on me, people trusted me, and I never let them down.”
As for his party’s record, he had this to say: “We’re living in a time of great global uncertainty.”
“Ontario is a great place to live. Would you rather be living in New York?” He continued, “Ontario is leading the way on the economic front.”
Last, but not least, in the opening lineup of introductions was the NDP’s Elaine MacDonald who reminded the audience that there aren’t just two choices in this election: “You have a third choice.”
She told the audience that if her party were elected they would first “have to kickstart the economy (by) investing in job creation” as well as by “reducing taxes for small businesses.”
Secondly, she promised the NDP would “strengthen public services” by making education affordable, creating access to jobs, ensuring adequate pensions and care for seniors, as well as improving access to healthcare.
Upon completion of the opening remarks from each of the four candidates present, Smirle opened the floor to audience questions.
People came from far and wide to ask candidates some tough questions, most of which centered around farming, health, education, jobs and poverty issues.
The theme for the majority of the questions appeared to be one of government accountability.
The second question of the night fell into several categories: education, jobs, poverty, and government accoutnability. “How do I advance?”
The individual in question is on welfare, applying for jobs, but getting turned down due to lack of experience. Government response to the predicament was to suggest further education. But, there’s no money to pay for the education and this person doesn’t qualify for any of the government programs.
Mark MacDonald’s response: “There’s a number of programs out there. I’d be more than willing to meet with you after and get you as much help as I can and see what resources there are.”
McDonell, in response to MacDonald’s answer, said that the Liberals are a “party that has lost touch with the people it represents.” He continued, “we have to set priorities and put people first.”
The fifth question of the night received a massive response from the crowd. The question was a matter of trust and healthcare. A woman from the audience reminded candidates that the PCs were accusing Liberals of putting Winchester District Memorial Hospital (WDMH) on the chopping block.
She said, “I believe past behaviour predicts future behaviour” and then reminded everyone of Mike Harris and Tim Hudak’s history with chopping healthcare. She asked McDonell, “How do we trust PCs not to do this again?”
McDonell’s response: “You can trust us because we have a reputation of being trusted.” He went on to point out that the Liberals have “much more aggressive spending.”
He further accused Liberals of covering up a plan to close WDMH: “ordered Liberal government to turn over records” and they haven’t, “so we can’t get down to paperwork that tells us they were closing.”
In response, Mark MacDonald glided over McDonell’s accusations and instead focussed on the people of Winchester: “The people of Winchester deserve a lot of the credit” for the WDMH.
He continued, “The Ontario Liberal government along with the federal government and the people of Winchester put that hospital there.”
Another question centered on Bill 152 and poverty reduction.
McDonell’s response: “I can’t speak for the laws now because it hasn’t been ours for eight years. We have a plan to get people working and lower your cost.”
Elaine MacDonald commented on the state of things now saying, “poverty has grown in Ontario” and the “system is obviously broken.” To support her opinions she pointed to the fact that many “of the people who attend food banks are the working poor” and that “homelessness is growing” in the province.
In addition she talked about the difficulty for those trying to get away from government assistance: “the penalties for working are a deterrent.”
She claimed that she and the NDP “have a multi-faceted approach” to the issue and most importantly, government needs to “treat people with dignity.”
The most common concern for voters seems to be the question of HST and taxes on essential items.
To this, Mark MacDonald asked: “Who wants hospitals and who wants schools?”
“Now is not the time for change.” He continued, “ it’s not about the tax that we pay, it’s about the value of our tax dollar.”
In response, McDonell questioned where the money went. He pointed to the Liberals who “increased 60 per cent spending on healthcare” and questioned, “on what? Have you seen?”
He reminded the audience that in terms of money and taxes, “it comes down to managing the system.”
After more than twenty questions, it was time for concluding remarks.
Elaine MacDonald stated: “We are the only party that’s promising to put people first.”
Mark MacDonald reiterated an earlier opinion that it “is not the time for change” and invited voters to “mark your mark for mark” on election day.
Donnelly reminded the audience that he and the Libertarians are “asking you to help us shrink the government of its control over us.”
McDonell concluded by reiterating his views on Dalton McGuinty and by reminding voters that “Tim Hudak has a masters in economics.”
Owen Shortt, President of the NDCC, finalized things by thanking the candidates for their courage in sharing their views and in running for election.
For those still unsure of where they stand politically, there’s a website that might help: www.votecompass.cbc.ca. Answer the questions; find where you stand.