Provincial candidates focus on the economy
BRACEBRIDGE — The five-way race for Parry Sound-Muskoka’s provincial seat took centre stage at Rene Caisse Memorial Theatre Monday night as the region’s candidates squared off in debate.
Hosted by Bracebridge’s Chamber of Commerce, the forum drew a decent crowd who watched and participated by asking questions, although about a quarter of the seats remained empty. Each candidate (Cindy Waters-Liberal, Matt Richter-Green party, Norm Miller-PC, Alex Zyganiuk-NDP, Andris Stivrins-Freedom Party of Ontario) gave a four-minute opening platform speech, followed by a little more than an hour of questions from the audience, many of which dealt with the economy, job creation and the cost of living.
Each addressed such things as investment in affordable and attainable housing as a local need, taxation and spending in terms of cost of living and ways to foster employment.
Waters said there is a current strategy through the riding with $1.3 million already invested in the area for affordable housing.
“It’s certainly something the government is working towards and we will continue to do so,” she said, adding apprenticeship training in Ontario has doubled under McGuinty’s government. The party intends to continue that, with a three to one ratio (of licensed masters/journeymen to apprentices).
Zyganiuk went as far as to call it a “housing crisis” in the region. He said the NDP is “committed to building 50,000 new housing units in the province, while also instituting a new low-income housing benefit and raising the minimum wage to $11 per hour to help lower income families keep up with cost-of-living increases.
Zyganiuk added his party will tackle the provincial deficit, “saving nearly $400 million a year by cutting high-priced consultants, capping public-sector CEO salaries and conducting an expenditure review.”
Miller said no one level of government can afford to build enough housing to meet demands, and that a three-tier partnership needs to be fostered to address the need.
“We’re also looking at providing relief for families so they can afford to spend money on rent,” he said, adding the PC party would eliminate the HST on hydro bills and the debt retirement charge. Miller added the PCs wish to create 200,000 new apprentice spots. He hopes curbed spending on government will see more money invested in the economy as well.
Richter said there is a great demand and long waiting list in the riding for affordable housing and that providing families programs to build equity in housing and purchase their home would alleviate some of the pressure. Investment in new housing as well as fixing older units, and reintroducing the energy efficiency rebate programs in conjunction with affordable, green-energy creation would spur jobs.
He added in order to further create jobs through apprenticeships the Greens would invest at both the high school and college level to increase those educational opportunities.
Richter said the Green plan is to balance the provincial budget by 2015, freeing up “billions of dollars each year,” when the government will be freer to invest.
Stivrins suggested creative ideas, such as low-cost leases on Crown land or support programs for people who build their homes to have mortgage rate protection. He, too, believed in creating apprenticeships and encouraging job creation, saying such a move would also help keep the cost of building housing down because of a more competitive trades market. He also intends to push for reduced bureaucracy, saying the cost of government is hurting families.
“The province is going broke right now; what’s causing it is the bloated civil service,” Stivrins said.
Each of the candidates also said they would support or help move toward reclaiming northern status for the riding.
Stivrins called the removal of the northern status in 2004 “mean-spirited” and Miller said he fought against the move.
The lone candidate with an alternative view was Waters, who said when the riding was first given northern status under the Harris government, there were “deep-deep cuts” to local programming and services, along with roads being downloaded.
“If there was a choice between the northern status and the downloading … I bet everybody would just like to stay the way it is,” she said.