Wide rang­ing de­bate

Four BGOS can­di­dates touch on schools, health, wages and other mat­ters at cham­ber event

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - PM 40069697 FOUNDED IN 1853 - ROB GOWAN

The lat­est all-can­di­dates meet­ing for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound hit on a wide range of is­sues -from school clo­sures, long-term care beds and job losses to youth un­em­ploy­ment, cli­mate change and out-of-con­trol taxes.

Ap­prox­i­mately 160 peo­ple at­tended the meet­ing at the Harry Lum­ley Bayshore Com­mu­nity Cen­tre on Tues­day night where they heard in­cum­bent Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Bill Walker, Lib­eral Francesca Dob­byn, Karen Gven­ter of the NDP and El­iz­a­beth Marshall of the Tril­lium Party, lay out their po­si­tions on many is­sues in ad­vance of the June 7 On­tario elec­tion.

When can­di­dates were asked if they would sup­port the planned in­crease of the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019, thei rre­sponses drew some of the big­gest re­ac­tions from the crowd.

Walker said an in­crease was needed, but the prob­lem was how quickly they “rammed it through.”

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in­creased the min­i­mum wage on Jan. 1 from $11.60 per hour to $14, an in­crease of 21 per cent. An­other in­crease to $15 is sched­uled for Jan. 1, 2019.

The Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­nesses has re­ceived feed­back from al­most 1,000 small busi­ness own­ers. The re­sults show that 59 per cent said they re­duced or elim­i­nated plans to hire young work­ers, 46 per cent cut em­ployee hours and 22 per cent au­to­mated jobs.

“Some of the un­in­tended con­se­quences are go­ing to be our youth are not go­ing to have as many jobs or get as many hours,” said Walker. “I am be­ing told by peo­ple like gro­cery stores that we are go­ing to start cut­ting shifts, start cut­ting hours.”

Dur­ing Walker’s com­ments, one man stood up and started shout­ing, say­ing there should be con­se­quences for those who are mak­ing mil­lions of dol­lars a year. When the man didn’t stop shout­ing, an­other man stood up and pulled him out a door.

Over the shout­ing, Walker said an in­crease should hap­pen in a strate­gic and bal­anced way.

“We should have con­sulted more with the busi­ness com­mu­nity,” said Walker. “Just hav­ing a round­table and say­ing we had con­sul­ta­tion is not con­sul­ta­tion, it is not lis­ten­ing.”

Gven­ter said the NDP would in­crease the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019 and then con­tinue to in­crease it with in­fla­tion.

“The min­i­mum wage should have been raised over the years for many years so we didn’t have this sud­den jump all at once,” said Gven­ter, adding small busi­nesses also need to be sup­ported.

“It is be­cause the NDP fought to sup­port the small busi­nesses that we had their in­come tax rate drop a little bit with the min­i­mum wage in­crease this past year,” Gven­ter said. “The NDP would fur­ther sup­port small busi­nesses to make sure they could af­ford it.”

Gven­ter said the gas and gro­cery store chains are mak­ing a lot of money so with a higher min­i­mum wage it is only slightly in­creas­ing their costs.

“All across the board we can af­ford to pay peo­ple a liv­ing wage,” said Gven­ter. “Ev­ery­one should be able to live.”

Dob­byn said the prov­ince “ab­so­lutely” needs to move to a min­i­mum wage of $15 an hour.

“The av­er­age Cana­dian makes $27 an hour, so there is a huge in­come dis­par­ity be­tween the top and the bot­tom wage earn­ers,” said Dob­byn. “Thirty per cent of On­tario’s work­ing peo­ple were mak­ing min­i­mum wage.”

Dob­byn said those who were mak­ing min­i­mum wage be­fore the raise didn’t have any dis­pos­able in­come, and were us­ing food banks and util­ity as­sis­tance pro­grams to get by.

“That is not mak­ing a liv­ing. That is just sim­ply ex­ist­ing,” said Dob­byn. “Thirty per cent of our pop­u­la­tion just ex­ist­ing.”

Marshall said she agrees min­i­mum wage should be in­creased grad­u­ally, and has heard from one busi­ness owner that it is ben­e­fit pack­ages, paid hol­i­days and un­paid sick days that are killing his busi­ness.

“He is ac­tu­ally go­ing to get rid of the ben­e­fits he has for his em­ploy­ees,” Marshall said.

“In re­gards to the $14, that is your con­sti­tu­tional right now to have that $14, but your em­ploy­ers do not have to sup­ply you with ben­e­fits. They just made a mess of your life.”

Among the many other top­ics cov­ered on Tues­day were the prov­ince’s debt, keep­ing se­niors in their homes longer, af­ford­able hous­ing, rent con­trols and help­ing farms, busi­nesses and small com­mu­ni­ties re­main com­pet­i­tive.

There were ques­tions about own­er­ship of the Owen Sound har­bour, pro­vin­cial ar­bi­tra­tion on po­lice and fire­fighter con­tracts and the role of nu­clear power.

Can­di­dates were also asked if they would be in favour of lo­cal, pri­vate dis­tri­bu­tion of mar­i­juana.

Gven­ter said the NDP sup­ports LCBO-type dis­tri­bu­tion, but thinks there cur­rently aren’t enough sites ear­marked in the prov­ince to sell mar­i­juana.

She said the LCBO is the ideal way to sell mar­i­juana be­cause it brings in money to pay for ser­vices, and also has well-trained em­ploy­ees.

“If you know about to­bacco sales, it is not un­com­mon that your mo­mand-pop cor­ner stores will not do the best job of weed­ing out peo­ple, of not sell­ing to un­der age,” Gven­ter said, a com­ment many in the au­di­ence dis­agreed with.

“That is a fact. We need to make sure that we have trained peo­ple like the LCBO, the pub­lic sec­tor, sell­ing cannabis. Do your re­search. That is a fact. I work at the pub­lic health unit. I know what the stats are about to­bacco sales.”

Dob­byn said she would like to see a two-step process when it comes to mar­i­juana sales.

“For the first cou­ple of years – two to three years – have it with the LCBO, see how it rolls out, see how we can man­age the safety as­pect of im­paired driv­ing and see how things are go­ing,” said Dob­byn. “Once we get a han­dle on the mar­ket, open it up then to the gen­eral pub­lic as we have done with the beer and wine sales out into the com­mu­nity, into the gro­cery stores.”

Marshall said her party’s plan is pri­vate dis­tri­bu­tion, “have it reg­u­lated to the nines,” charge li­cenc­ing fees and use the money and put it into health care. Marshall said even with mar­i­juana avail­able at the LCBOs, there will al­ways be “kids get­ting pot off the streets if we do not elim­i­nate that through pri­vate dis­tri­bu­tion.”

“That is not go­ing to cut it with the pop­u­la­tion of On­tario,” Marshall said.

Walker said mar­i­juana needs to be con­trolled and safe along with an ed­u­ca­tional com­po­nent.

He pointed to phar­ma­cies as a pos­si­ble pri­vate busi­ness where mar­i­juana could be safely sold.

“They are al­ready in the drug busi­ness, they are al­ready giv­ing medicines. Why would we not look at a com­bi­na­tion of that,” said Walker.

Walker told Gven­ter it was in­ter­est­ing that she talked about pri­vate busi­nesses and say they don’t do as good a job.

“Most of the peo­ple that own busi­nesses in this com­mu­nity are busi­ness lead­ers, they are com­mu­nity lead­ers who give to their com­mu­ni­ties and in­vest in their com­mu­ni­ties and are the peo­ple that phi­lan­throp­i­cally sup­port our com­mu­ni­ties as well ,” said Walker .“To say that they ac­tu­ally aren’t able to do this equally well I think is a dis­credit to all of them.”

On the next ques­tion about se­nior cit­i­zens liv­ing in­de­pen­dently in their own home, Gven­ter took ex­cep­tion to Walker’s com­ments.

“Don’t twist my words. I al­ready said the small busi­nesses are the back­bone of our so­ci­ety ,” said Gven­ter. “The cor­ner store is a great place to buy cho­co­late bars and milk, not your cannabis.”

ROB GOWAN/SUN TIMES

Four Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound can­di­dates field ques­tions from the Owen Sound and District Cham­ber of Com­merce and mem­bers of the pub­lic dur­ing an all-can­di­dates meet­ing Tues­day at the Harry Lum­ley Bayshore Com­mu­nity Cen­tre. From left are can­di­dates Bill Walker of the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, El­iz­a­beth Marshall of the Tril­lium Party, Francesca Dob­byn of the Lib­er­als and Karen Gven­ter of the NDP. The four are can­di­dates in the On­tario elec­tion on June 7.

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