PARRY SOUND-MUSKOKA — As election day draws near, we asked the provincial candidates the following questions:
ONTARIO VOTES 2011 — Parry Sound-Muskoka.
A. How would you go about creating and protecting full-time permanent employment in this riding?
B. Since the province looks after the Municipal Act, would you support the idea of forming a single-tier municipal government in Muskoka?
Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Progressive Conservative incumbent Norm Miller:
A. The Ontario PC Party has a comprehensive plan to create jobs that focus on families and small businesses. We will immediately remove the provincial portion of the HST from hydro and home heating bills, lower personal income taxes, and introduce income-sharing between spouses to ensure families can afford to go out and support a local business or restaurant.
We plan to train 200,000 more skilled workers by expanding the apprenticeship system and changing the journeyman to apprenticeship ratio to one-to-one to create more opportunity for our youth. We need to eliminate the wall of red tape and regulations and reduce the tax rate for small businesses, allowing them to reinvest that capital into expanding and creating more jobs to create a strong, sustainable local economy.
B. I believe that changes in the structure of municipal government are best achieved when they come from the grassroots. That is, if two or more municipalities decide that they want to join up, then I would support their decision to form a larger single municipality.
In recent years the discussion around amalgamation has come up more in Parry Sound District, where there are many small single-tier municipalities. The Ontario PC platform, Changebook, does not address this matter directly, but one of the key points we are focusing on this election is the need for greater accountability, transparency and responsiveness in government.
I fully would support a single-tier municipal government in Muskoka, but only if the decision were made at a grassroots level and had the collective support of the municipalities and citizens of Muskoka.
Green party candidate Matt Richter:
A. I would immediately work towards reinstating and expanding the Ontario Home Energy Savings Program. Combined with the Eco-Energy Retrofit program, these two incentives will accelerate jobs in carpentry, plumbing, roofing, insulation, heating and cooling, window installation, among others. Furthermore, our local small- to medium-sized businesses are currently faced with paying an employer health tax the moment their employee payroll exceeds $400,000. The GPO wants to extend the exemption level to $800,000.
Lastly, we need to address the problems of rules and regulations being a one-size-fits-all approach. The farming and food industry is often overlooked, however, the food sector maintained growth during the recent recession, and our riding has a vast amount of potential growth in this area, especially as demand for locally grown and raised food continues.
B. I have been following this issue through the developments of the One Muskoka initiative with considerable interest. This is an issue that I hope the public truly gets engaged with. If reported annual cost savings can actually achieve $4.5- to $5.25 million through less duplication of government, naturally many will be supportive of this.
Even though the province looks after the Municipal Act, rather than imposing a new structure, the Green party values empowering the local decision-making process. Therefore, I would support the idea of forming a single-tier municipal government in Muskoka, only if that is the will of the people.
Liberal candidate Cindy Waters:
A. Just like the 100-mile diet, I’ve wondered about a similar approach to our natural resources in a value-added approach. Natural resources like our hardwood logs that are sent from Ontario timberlands to offshore countries or even south of the border should have incentives included to manufacture locally.
Keeping this in mind, there is a Liberal initiative to support small businesses by cutting the income tax rate for small business by 55 per cent to encourage new investment (a cut to corporate income tax on small business taking it from 5.5 to 4 per cent). Add to that the initiative for green renewable energy and the potential jobs that go with it is already on the radar by some municipal leaders and private business in Muskoka.
B. I have questions about one tier. There are many voters who elect municipal government for a four-year term, but don’t live here for more than a month of the year. Some of them only want cheap property taxes. Some don’t care about our schools, or our infrastructure, our snowplowing, roads and libraries as much as they do at their principal residence. There was an instance where a township held their township meetings in Toronto.
I don’t think you can call that representation of the people by the people; it’s almost disrespect for the true custodians of the land and water. I’d need to know that residents of Parry Sound-Muskoka are being heard and cared for. If the answer is yes and the people, the environment and the economy are sure to benefit, I could be supportive.
NDP candidate Alex Zyganiuk:
A. Under McGuinty’s Liberals we have seen full-time jobs disappear, replaced with temporary, part-time work. Both McGuinty and Hudak believe that corporate tax giveaways are the way to go. They are wrong. We need to reward businesses who create jobs, not the ones who ship them overseas.
The NDP will reward companies who create full-time positions and invest in training with tax credits. To reward entrepreneurship, small business taxes will be lowered to four per cent. The Buy Ontario program will ensure that tax dollars are spent in our province to create local jobs, while a jobs commissioner will provide oversight when layoffs are threatened.
A policy to process our province’s natural resources in Ontario will open opportunities for new industry in our riding. The NDP jobs policy is about putting people first, not corporations.
B. With our leader Andrea Horwath’s roots in municipal politics, the NDP values the important role of local government. But in the end, it is the people of Muskoka who must decide how they would like their municipal government to be structured.
As your MPP I would help to facilitate a change to a single-tier municipality if there is support for the issue at a grassroots level. I am hearing some concern from residents who feel that the existing structure is inefficient and costly. But, a movement to change the status quo must come from the people and the process must give all local residents a voice.
The province shouldn’t impose this kind of change. There needs to be adequate consultation with the community. Holding a referendum is one possible way of measuring public support for change in Muskoka’s municipal structure.
Freedom Party candidate Andris Stivrins:
A. The issue of sustainable, well-paid jobs falls into two areas. The first is a matter of priority at the municipal level. Much of our area has cottager-controlled councils that do not welcome development or industry. Their concerns seem to be focused on esthetics and social planning. One Person, One Vote would correct this.
Provincially, the hiring of civil servants for job creation and green schemes not only increases direct and indirect taxation — hydro costs being one example — but also interferes with the ability of private enterprise to function. With that many people on the public payroll, where does the money to pay them come from?
Stop hiring civil servants and claiming that it creates jobs. Ultimately it is just another level of welfare.
B. Regional government never seems to be cheaper than the local powers concept it replaces. As well, it removes the ability of each area to act as master of its own destiny. Somehow, the idea of South River taking direction from Gravenhurst, or Port Severn deciding how Henvey Inlet is to be governed, or any mix similar seems more likely to cause friction across the riding rather than efficiency.
Using the small-scale local example of Seguin Township, it is quite clear that amalgamation generally results in nothing more than bureaucracy bloat. Four townships came together and formed Seguin, and costs have never been higher. Service levels did not increase. Only the office staff has.