St. Catharines can­di­dates dis­cuss NPCA, GO trains

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Local - AL­LAN BEN­NER

Although St. Catharines pro­vin­cial elec­tion can­di­dates were pit­ted against one an­other dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s all-can­di­dates de­bate, harsh­est crit­i­cism was re­served for the party lead­ers.

Lib­eral MPP Jim Bradley and can­di­dates in­clud­ing Colin Ryrie from the Green party, New Demo­crat can­di­date Jen­nie Stevens and Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date Sandie Bel­lows pulled punches to­wards each other dur­ing the Be­hind the Bal­lot de­bate broad­cast live on Co­geco’s YourTV — but they had no such reser­va­tions when dis­cussing PC Leader Doug Ford, Lib­eral Premier Kath­leen Wynne, or even Ni­a­gara Penin­sula Con­ser­va­tion Author­ity.

Asked about pro­tect­ing On­tario’s green­belt in­clud­ing farm­land through­out Ni­a­gara, Bradley said he was “dis­cour­aged to hear (about) Doug Ford be­hind closed doors talk­ing to de­vel­op­ers say­ing he would sell off big chunks of it.”

“There are those out there who would like to pave ev­ery­thing from Hamil­ton to Ni­a­gara Falls and Lake Erie to Lake On­tario. I’m one who be­lieves we should pre­serve these agri­cul­tural lands,” Bradley said.

NDP can­di­date Jen­nie Stevens, too, at­tacked Ford re­gard­ing his state­ments, say­ing he has been “quite hon­est and quite up­front” on the topic, re­gard­ing “his prom­ise to pave it all over and al­low de­vel­op­ment.”

Bel­lows, how­ever, said Ford’s about-face on the green­belt is­sue is an ex­am­ple of his com­mit­ment “to lis­ten to the peo­ple on en­vi­ron­men­tal issues.”

“This is a leader that lis­tens to the peo­ple,” she said.

Bel­lows then fired back at the Lib­er­als, say­ing, “Wynne’s cap and trade scheme is noth­ing but a slush fund that makes it harder and more ex­pen­sive for On­tario fam­i­lies.”

As a Green party can­di­date Ryrie said he ob­vi­ously sup­ports the green­belt, but cur­rent leg­is­la­tion has failed to stop the de­vel­op­ment of 144 hectares of farm­land per year.

“This is a se­ri­ous prob­lem … That’s just not sus­tain­able,” he said.

Moder­a­tor Mike Bal­som asked can­di­dates a dozen ques­tions pro­vided by mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, cov­er­ing top­ics that also in­cluded NPCA, GO train ser­vice, hy­dro costs, min­i­mum wage, ap­pren­tice­hip pro­grams, tuition, dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits, poverty, the opi­oid cri­sis, se­niors as­sis­tance and taxes. Can­di­dates read from party plat­forms in re­sponse to many of the ques­tions, although that wasn’t an op­tion for rid­ing-spe­cific issues like NPCA.

Asked about the con­ser­va­tion author­ity, Bradley said a “prode­vel­op­ment group ap­pears to have taken over … and started mov­ing in the direc­tion of be­ing more ac­com­mo­dat­ing to the de­vel­op­ers in our area.”

“It’s very dis­cour­ag­ing when Ed Smith, who de­cided to chal­lenge the con­ser­va­tion author­ity, was crit­i­cized heav­ily and then sued, and that so many of the work­ers who were in­clined to be en­vi­ron­men­tal peo­ple in­volved at the con­ser­va­tion author­ity were given their walk­ing pa­pers and oth­ers hired in their place,” Bradley said.

Stevens said Ni­a­gara Cen­tre’s New Demo­crat MPP Cindy Forster has “worked very hard to fight with the NPCA, re: de­vel­op­ment and pro­tect­ing the wet­lands right here in Ni­a­gara and in Ni­a­gara Falls.”

Ryrie said the prov­ince needs to fo­cus on restor­ing NPCA to its man­date, fo­cus­ing on con­ser­va­tion and science, and that “they’re not spend­ing their time and our tax dol­lars abus­ing our democ­racy and at­tempt­ing to sue pri­vate cit­i­zens.”

“That has been the big­gest dis­ap­point­ment and the big­gest shock,” he said, adding it re­minded him of “some­thing you’d ex­pect from Rus­sia, not from Canada.”

Although Bel­lows sup­ported a St. Catharines city coun­cil mo­tion in De­cem­ber calling on the prov­ince to ap­point a su­per­vi­sor for NPCA, dur­ing the de­bate she com­ple­mented the or­ga­ni­za­tion say­ing it “plays a vi­tal role to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment here in Ni­a­gara.”

She said the or­ga­ni­za­tion “should be trans­par­ent and ac­count­able to all,” but added she ap­pre­ci­ates “the good work they’ve done, and I hope they con­tinue the good work that they’re do­ing.”

Bring­ing reg­u­lar GO train ser­vice to Ni­a­gara re­ceived en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port from all four can­di­dates.

De­spite com­ments Ford made at a campaign stop in Wel­land when he said he’d “want to review the plan,” Bel­lows said the party is “com­mit­ted to bring­ing GO to Ni­a­gara, both ways.”

“We are com­mit­ted to this $5 bil­lion in ad­di­tional fund­ing to build tran­sit in­fra­struc­ture,” Bel­lows said.

Stevens, how­ever, said Ford an­nounced ear­lier Wed­nes­day that he would cut $5 bil­lion from pro­vin­cial fund­ing to sup­port tran­sit, high­ways, main­te­nance and trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture.

“That tells me that he is not com­mit­ted to GO,” Stevens said.

The NDP, she added, “will make sure two-way rail tran­sit GO is a go.”

Bradley said he has sup­ported GO ex­pan­sion in the leg­is­la­ture de­spite the costs, “be­cause it seems to me that if you put the ser­vice avail­able for peo­ple, they will take it.”

The de­bate will be re­broad­cast MaSatur­day at 1 p.m., May 26 at 8 p.m. on Chan­nel 700, and posted on Co­geco’s web­site.

AL­LAN BEN­NER THE ST. CATHARINES STAN­DARD

St. Catharines rid­ing pro­vin­cial elec­tion can­di­dates, from left Jen­nie Stevens, Sandie Bel­lows, Colin Ryrie and in­cum­bent Jim Bradley, pre­pare for the start of a live tele­vised de­bate in Ni­a­gara Falls, Wed­nes­day.

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