Housing, the economy after COVID, health care, mental health services, Indigenous relations, and education were among the issues discussed by provincial candidates at a 90-minute forum moderated by YourTV’s James Bowler on Thursday evening.
In attendance were Erin Horvath for the NDP, Graydon Smith for the PCs, and Matt Richter for the Greens.
Videos of candidates representing parties that don’t currently have a seat in the legislature were also presented. For their party platforms and the entire debate, see the link below.
Smith, representing the Progressive Conservative government, came under attack on several occasions, particularly on the Ford government’s record.
Horvath told Smith there were rumblings in the community that he had hosted a $1,000 a ticket fundraiser in Toronto. She questioned who attended the fundraiser. “They’re presumably big money. Cottagers, whoever that wants to influence our politics here, but you want us to believe that you’re going to be for the average person yet you’re taking large amounts of money from who? … and how are we supposed to trust that you’re going to be for us? You can’t make a living off of $15 an hour in this place…”
Smith said he’s been listening to people for 15 years. “I’m the only elected official around this table that has made decisions that impact people’s lives, people that have a lot, people that have a little, and everyone in between,” said the former Bracebridge Mayor. “That’s exactly what I’m going to continue to do because it’s what I’ve always done. I’ve listened to the concerns of the people, I take action, and I make things happen,” he shot back.
On housing shortages, Smith said there is a need to increase supply and one of the things the Ford government has done is to reduce red tape around getting homes built in Ontario. He said municipalities are an important part of that process as well and the Province is working with them to “make sure that you can still have a community that everybody recognizes and loves but at the same time make sure that you’re getting an adequate housing supply which is going to affect not only people having a roof over their head but the labour market as well.” He said in the last year Ontario has had over 100,000 housing starts, more purpose-built rentals “than we’ve seen at any point before,” and the government continues to invest in affordable housing as well. Smith also referenced investments in supportive housing and used the District’s Alex’s Place project in Bracebridge to house and provide support for at-risk youth as an example.
“We need to work across party lines to ensure that good public policy is in place so that towns can work on the solutions that are available for them,” said Richter. “You know we can’t be allowing developers to be coming within our towns – Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, and Huntsville – and just decimating our forests, our urban town forests to build unnecessary large development.” Richter also said in Bracebridge the failure of government from the Province down is apparent “when we see new home subdivisions being built right behind BMLSS, Bracebridge Muskoka Lakes Secondary School, in which the starting home price is… one million dollars for a starting price. That’s not sustainable. That’s not the housing we need.”
He said good government policy is required “so that we can build up the missing middle with gentle density, ensure that as of right, where we can have triplexes and fourplexes, can be done across all municipalities in our riding.”
Horvath said there is some displacement happening by people who are moving from the cities so purpose-built homes are only part of the solution. She said the NDP would also help first-time homebuyers with a 10 per cent down payment. “We are also looking to raise the speculation tax to 20 per cent so that we can kind of curb down that purchasing and grabbing by folks that [have]… greedy kind of motivations here, and we do have that. I was just told today that, you know, folks are scooping up condos at Deerhurst two, three at a time, living in one, renting the others. So, we do have to curb some of that.”
Horvath also said the NDP would introduce “a use it or lose it tax on developers that have permits and are ready to build but refuse to do so. So again, trying to curb that down,” she said. “To Matt’s point, we understand that we have to densify, not sprawl out and the NDP is committed to that type of development that respects our municipal planning processes.”
On health care, Horvath accused the Conservative and Liberal governments of cutting services. She said while there is a shortage of health care professionals in the community the Ford government put a freeze on increases to wages, capping them at one per cent, well below the inflation rate.
An NDP government would reverse those cuts, come up with strategies to entice and recruit health care professionals to the area, and increase the hourly wage of personal support workers by “at least $5.” She accused the PCs of continuing to privatize health care, particularly long-term care homes where the greatest number of deaths have occurred during the pandemic.
Smith said as far as long-term care goes, “the sad thing is the PC government inherited a terribly broken system from the previous Wynne/Del Duca government that just wasn’t up to the task.” He said a PC government would be committed to creating 30,000 new spaces across all sectors of long-term care in the coming years. He also referenced Fairven’s expansion, which would be municipally run, and said “commensurate with that, of course, is the hiring of new doctors, nurses, PSWs [personal support workers]to make sure that these facilities are full and working their best.” He said there are also plans for expanding the Northern Ontario School of Medicine here, which hosts medical students in their third year and encourages them to return to practice medicine in the community.
“The reality is we don’t have time and we don’t have the money to spend on nationalizing long-term care homes and we want to build beds. We want to make sure that people that need that service today have that service available to them,” he said, adding that his government would also invest $1 billion in home care services “to keep people in their homes longer.”
Smith also referenced a recent announcement of $14 million to move the planning process for two hospital sites – in Bracebridge and Huntsville – forward and book the capital dollars needed to make sure new hospital sites are created in both communities.
“That is something that the communities asked for and fought for for years. That is something that I personally worked on, asked for, and fought for for years and helped make happen in this community,” he said.
Richter said if elected he would hold the government to account to ensure that the hospitals actually get built. “I’d like to remind everybody that back in 2008 the third hospital that was part of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare, which was up in Burk’s Falls, was shut down. We need to do better,” he said, adding that Bill 124, the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, passed by the Ford government in 2019 which limits annual increases in compensation to one per cent for health care professionals, should be repealed. He said the lack of health care professionals in the area is one of the biggest issues affecting the provision of health care here and noted that people in the riding have been waiting for a decision on the hospital redevelopment for the past two years.
In terms of long-term care, Richter criticized the millions of dollars given to private long-term care facilities, “just so they can return $170 million dollars to their shareholders. That was the other striking issue that happened during this pandemic. That was a choice and this is why we must shift our long-term care model from private to public, from profit to non-profit, it’s what the people of our riding expect and it’s what they deserve.”
On the lack of affordable and accessible mental health services, Horvath said her government would create 60,000 supportive-care housing units, has created a universal mental health care plan with the goal of having it covered by OHIP, and would increase harm-reduction strategies such as safe injection sites capped by the PC government. Horvath also spoke of the creation of more treatment centres and accused the PC government of cutting services.
Smith said the current PC government has created an associate ministry for mental health and addiction and read out a list of investments the PC government has made: $3.8 billion dollars over 10 years in support of the Road Map to Wellness, “a comprehensive plan to address the mental health and addiction needs of all Ontarians”; $40 million in new annual funding to address the mental health and addiction needs in northern Ontario; and $204 million in new annualized funding through budget 2022 to help addiction needs across the province.
Greens will continue to consult with the Canadian Mental Health Association and all mental health organizations. On March 4, Richter said he joined Mike Schreiner, Green Party leader of Ontario, to present the party’s mental health and addictions plan.
On Indigenous relations, the Ontario Greens would invest in 22,000 permanent supportive housing units led by Indigenous communities. “We’re going to be investing and bringing Indigenous communities to be part of the process so that we can protect 25 per cent of nature and water in Ontario by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.”
Richter, a teacher at Riverside Public School, also said the Greens would be investing in education “so that we’re not gutting the Indigenous curriculum… we’re actually empowering and having our Indigenous communities be respected and honoured and we’re going to ensure that the entire scope of the education calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be honoured and respected.”
Horvath said one of the reasons she can represent the NDP platform is because of the party’s commitment to nation-to-nation relationships and because of the commitment to work in a community-led way and making sure everything from education to water to child welfare “is up to the standard of the rest of the province… so no more ping pong, no more trying to pass the buck of responsibility. That is why I can represent the NDP platform as someone who’s worked in Indigenous communities for 25 years and who has [Indigenous] family.”
She said her government would create 22,000 new homes created by the Indigenous community for the Indigenous community. It would also establish a treaty commission of Ontario with a clear mandate to independently and impartially help settle land claims and assist negotiations between the governments of Ontario and Canada and First Nations.
Her government would also ensure that every First Nations youth in Ontario is able to attend high school and come up with a strategy, led by First Nations people, to address the suicide rates among First Nations.
Smith said he was heartbroken to learn in 2021 of the mass unmarked graves of children who had been placed in residential schools and has embarked on a learning journey to better understand Indigenous history. He said he’s proud to have been part of an Indigenous Leadership Table over the past couple of years and looks forward to expanding those relationships. “I think there’s a real opportunity for us to work together whether it’s the First Nations, or whether it’s urban Indigenous, to make sure that they’re getting the supports and resources they need, and that as the rising tide of Ontario prosperity takes hold that they’re part of that,” he said.
In terms of economic recovery following the pandemic, particularly for the tourism industry, Horvath said her government would give people a $1,000 rebate to encourage people to vacation close to home. They would bring in two rounds of small business recovery grants – one in 2022 and another in 2023 and expedite the grants so they can be done quickly and easily. They would be working to regulate the rise in insurance premiums and looking to implement rent control for businesses at the end of their lease. She said they would also improve the quality of life for workers to provide the work base that businesses need.
Smith said his government is investing in a staycation tax credit. “And so I’m glad that our government is investing again in a staycation tax credit and I encourage people to take advantage of that this year and go to businesses in Ontario. Go to businesses in our own riding and spend a night. I know my wife and I a few years ago went over to Windermere, it’s only 10 miles from our house or 16 kilometres from our house but it felt good to be supporting a local business,” he said. Smith said his government has also invested over $3.4 billion to help support over 125,000 small businesses through the pandemic as well as $600 million made available to help offset fixed costs.
Richter said he wished retirees and young families could afford to go to Windermere “but unfortunately that’s not part of our local economy right now,” he said. “We do require tourism… we must protect nature and water. It’s vital. And so when the Conservative Ford government axed the environmental commissioner’s office at the beginning of their four-year term it was unconscionable. It was irresponsible. We need good guidance. Impartial guidance. Guidance that’s going to show us evidence in ways to protect our water and our nature so that we can have a thriving tourism sector,” said Richter. He said the Conservative government’s staycation credit was a good measure but “a bit of a half measure.” He said that credit needs to also be applied to restaurant owners to encourage people to get out for a meal “and also to honour the hard work that our restaurant owners had to get through during that pandemic and actually make ends meet.” Richter criticized the Ford government for lack of proper consultation with restaurant owners.
In terms of education, Horvath made a point of noting that her government would be the only party to provide OSAP relief and turn loans into grants and bursaries and reverse cuts to OSAP by the Ford government. Horvath also noted the need for educational institutions to have sexual policies in place to address sexual violence on campuses.
Smith said his government is investing in skilled trades to get people into jobs that make a difference not only in their lives but those of their community and have frozen tuition rates.
Richter said freezing tuition rates is not enough, they must be brought down. He also said a successful high school career is the first step to set youth up for the options that they need and spoke against hybrid and mandatory online learning and spoke in favour of smaller class sizes. He also spoke of the importance of mental health support for youths.
You can follow the debate and what other candidates had to say here.
Ontario heads to the polls on June 2, 2022.
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