NORTH DUNDAS – Five of the six candidates vying to be the next member of provincial Parliament in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry met for the third and final all-candidates meeting Thursday night.
The meeting – sponsored by the Dundas Federation of Agriculture, North Dundas Chamber of Commerce, and South Dundas Chamber of Commerce – covered a range of topics from funding for Dundas Manor to ODSP rates, wind turbines to supporting local businesses after the pandemic.
The only candidate on the ballot not in attendance was New Blue Party of Ontario candidate Claude Tardiff, who was allowed to have a proxy speak during the opening and closing remarks.
The nearly two hour meeting was not a traditional debate, rather questions could be posed to up to two candidates to respond to.
Former Dundas Manor board chair Bill Smirle called the last four years of advancing the long-term care home redevelopment project “frustratingly slow”, and asked Progressive Conservative candidate Nolan Quinn and Liberal candidate Kirsten Gardner what they would do to get the process moving. “And I want to see action by the end of June,” he added.
“I started already,” Gardner said, alluding to a campaign video pledging to advocate for the project. “Knowing that if I’m elected and that Dundas Manor doesn’t get that funding it needs in my term, that video will live on. We need the funding and enough is enough.”
Quinn responded that he was committed to all LTCs in the riding including Dundas Manor. “It has been years in the making and it really needs to be finished. People need to be able to age where they’ve lived for their whole life.”
Winchester District Memorial Hospital and Dundas Manor CEO Cholly Boland continued on the funding issues with the Dundas Manor.
“Dundas Manor is the only not-for-profit home in this riding. Winchester Hospital serves at least half this riding. For the last four years, both organizations have been ignored by the government,” he explained. “We can easily point to neighbouring ridings were similar organizations got early approvals, substantially more funding, and just ongoing repeated support from the government.”
Boland asked Gardner and Quinn if either are elected, “What are you going to do so our important health care institutions here are treated fairly and on par with other ridings with star MPPs and cabinet ministers.”
Quinn spoke of looking past the demographics of the area and the need to fund the two to provide better service. “We have more people over 65 than under 14,” he responded. “Home care is important. It’s a mix of everything. When it comes to Dundas Manor it is important that we get it done.”
“This makes me mad as hell,” Gardner stated, pointing out that individual donations that have been given in the community towards the two facilities. “The idea that our fundraising keeps increasing but the commitment from the province keeps decreasing. If I’m your MPP I will sit at the table with you, not sending the message from Toronto and being a delivery person. We’ll shine light on South and North Dundas and get it done, and it doesn’t matter what party is there.”
South Dundas agriculturalist Tom Smyth directed his question to NDP candidate Wendy Stephen and Green candidate Jacqueline Milner. “Coming through this pandemic, some of the things we are looking to increase is the local food movement, and agri-tourism. What can you do,” he asked.
Milner said that local markets like in Cornwall and partnering with the local chambers of commerce is one step. “And funding, if there is any there,” she added.
Stephen reiterated her party’s Ontario Food Strategy “to work with farmers to get more locally sourced food to the consumer directly rather than going through grocery store chains.” She added that properly funding municipalities would allow municipal funds to be used to support agri-tourism.
Rainer Pethke asked about Ontario Disability Support Program increases. Quinn replied that his party has promised to increase OSDP rates by five per cent, then tie to yearly inflationary increases after. “When we have times of high inflation, it’s extremely important that it’s tied to inflation to get them caught up.”
“An increase of five per cent. Disability is not a choice,” Stephens reacted. “The folks who are collecting ODSP – it’s not for fun. They need this income to live with dignity and respect. Five per cent is nothing.” She explained her party would increase rates 20 per cent if elected, with an additional 20 per cent increase the following year.
Another question asked by Smirle asked how, if elected the next MPP, candidates would educate politicians in Toronto about rural issues.
Gardner answered that a more localized approach from the government is needed. “We need to push to get rid of this one-size-fits-all solution because it does not fit for us most of the time.
Quinn said his relationship building ability was a strength. “Just like I do in my business to ensure it is going to thrive. Relationships are really important to be heard, but at the same time behind closed doors I am going to challenge everything to make sure we are heard in this area.”
Registered nurse Tanis Brown asked about Bill 124, which was passed in the last term of government and caped increases for nurses among other employees.
“It’s gone,” Gardner answered quickly.
“We’ll scrap it immediately,” agreed Stephen. “The Conservatives brought that in and we think it is completely wrong.”
The event drew about 80 spectators to the Royal Canadian Legion in Chesterville.