Candidates tackle schools, housing, medically assisted suicide
School closures, social housing, and medically assisted suicide were just three of the issues that the five provincial candidates tackled to contend with during a political debate hosted by the Martintown Goodtimers at the Martintown Community Centre last Tuesday evening.
South Glengarry resident Bill Chambré asked the StormontDundas-South Glengarry hopefuls, Progressive Conservative MPP Jim McDonell, Liberal Heather Megill, NDP Marc Benoit, Green Party’s Elaine Kennedy and Libertarian Sabile Trimm, how they intend to support rural education. His comments were sparked by the memory of the school closures that hit the province a couple years ago and how supporters of Char-Lan District High School lobbied for its survival.
Ms. Megill, who is also a teacher and union representative, said that schools are important as educational institutions and as community hubs. She said that Williamstown Public School will need extensive renovations in the near future; she also pointed out that the Liberal government had invested $20 million in rural schools, some of which went to the Upper Canada District School Board and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario.
She said she’d support the streamlining of the four competing school boards “just to make sure rural schools survive.”
Mr. McDonell, who said he tabled a motion calling for a moratorium on school closures, agreed that streamlining works, though he accused the Liberals of having no plans in that direction.
“School boards can share the same buildings,” he said. “Glengarry District High School and Le Relais did that at one time [in Alexandria] and it worked out well.”
Mr. Benoit said that there’s a $50 billion backlog in school repairs that needs to be addressed and that there should be no further school closures under the educational funding formula is updated.
Ms. Kennedy took a much more absolutist stance regarding amalgamation.
“One school board with one set of trustees and one transportation,” she trumpeted, stressing that technology can help students connect with the best resources.
Ms. Trimm took a completely different approach, saying that families should be given educational vouchers that they can spend at the school of their choice.
One audience member wanted to know if physicians would be required to participate in a medically-assisted suicide if it violated their conscience. The PC, Liberal, and Libertarian candidates all said that physicians should not be required to participate. The NDP candidate said that there isn’t anything about the subject in the current platform so he wouldn’t commit his party to a definitive answer, though he suggested that it would likely not require it.
“In NDP philosophy, there is a common theme of more freedom,” he said.
Ms. Kennedy also said she couldn’t find anything concrete in her party’s platform, though, “I think we’d agree a doctor has the right to refuse.”
Ms. Megill said that people need access to good quality housing and that she would promote social housing, adding that the Liberal platform is “about care and compassion.”
Mr. Benoit said that social housing has “always been a strong issue” for the New Democrats and that there needs to be more publicly funded social housing available.
Mr. McDonell said social housing doesn’t necessarily have to be publicly run.
One audience member grilled Mr. McDonell about the Ontario PC party hiring actors to cheer for the Tories at a rally in Toronto earlier this month.
Mr. McDonell downplayed the seriousness of it and said that about 300 people attended a rally in Cornwall recently to support party leader Doug Ford. “There were no actors,” he said. “People were coming out to see him because they are tired of what they see in the government.”
For her part, Ms. Megill said that Doug Ford’s winning his party’s nomination was what encouraged her to run. She likened him to US President Donald Trump (“Lincoln’s party has a buffoon for a president,” she said) and hopes that Doug Ford is “just a blip on the road.”
She pointed out that Mr. McDonell did not support Mr. Ford (he actually endorsed Christine Elliott) and that many Conservatives were shocked to learn Mr. Ford made the final cut.
Regarding government trust, she said, “I believe in truth and integrity.”
Mr. Benoit said that the NDP has an MPP code of conduct. He also accused the PCs of several incidents where they used private data.
Ms. Trimm suggested that the system could be improved with proportional representation, which would eliminate strategic voting.
Ms. Kennedy commented that the Greens backed proportional representation, a method that would translate to more seats for the Green Party, and opposed back-room deals and no-bid contracts. She added that there should be online publications of MPP’s voting records and that freedom of information requests should be dealt with promptly.
Summerstown Station resident Jacqueline Milner wanted to know the candidates’ plans on dealing with the provincial deficit, which could jump to $12 billion in 2018. Mr. Benoit said that whoever is elected needs to take an honest look at the deficit. Ms. Kennedy said that deficit elimination is a long-term plan that can’t be done in four years without “seriously hurting services.” The other three representatives didn’t address the issue, though Ms. Megill said that the Liberals ran a deficit budget to invest in child care and free tuition. She said the deficit was small and could be paid back.
ADDRESSING THE ISSUES: Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry Liberal candidate Heather Megill speaks while Sabile Trimm (Libertarian), Jim McDonell (PC), Marc Benoit (NDP) and Elaine Kennedy (Green) look on.