St. Catharines candidates discuss NPCA, GO trains
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.
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.