Education, health care, poverty, Hydro.
Those were just some of the topics raised at an all candidates meeting in Wellington at the Essroc Arena on Tuesday night.
Of the seven candidates seeking the nod to represent the Bay of Quinte region at Queen’s Park; incumbent PC candidate Todd Smith, Liberal candidate Robert Quaiff and NDP candidate Joanne Belanger were in attendance.
The evening began with questions in regards to education as the meeting was sponsored by local education sector groups. Close to 150 people were in attendance.
Belanger says Ontario is facing a watershed moment here and the NDP has a fully costed platform to bring change to the province and will narrow the gap between haves and have nots.
Quaiff told the crowd he would bring a strong voice from the Bay of Quinte to Queen’s Park. He wants to move this region forward and this election is about two things: creating care or creating cuts.
Smith said he wants to continue what he said he would do, which is to bring a strong local voice to Toronto and to stand up for his constituents.
When it came to education funding, Belanger said they’ll work together with front line workers in education and parents to redo the funding formula and make education fair for all students in Ontario.
Quaiff told the crowd that quality schooling is needed and for that to happen there have to students in the schools in order to obtain the necessary funding. Closing schools hurts communities and he doesn’t think any party could have reduced school closures, but he worked hard to make sure the Sophiasburgh school remained open.
Smith came out swinging and said the Liberals have promised to look at the funding formula and change it but those changes were not made. He said when you close a school you rip the heart out of that community.
When it came to tackling the growing issue of violence in schools and the classrooms, Belanger believes that families are stressed because of the high cost of living and that is transferring down to the children who are then lashing out at school. She wants to see mindfulness and mediation introduced into local schools as a way to help children improve their focus.
Quaiff said he wants more assistants in the classroom and returned the jab to Smith saying when he hears the word efficiencies to him it means cuts.
Smith told the crowd respect is gone in schools for teachers from students and parents. He said teachers have been put in jeopardy and there is no help in the form of educational assistants in classes anymore.
A major topic of discussion once questions were opened to the floor was pharmacare.
Smith believes the Liberals’ plan to give those under 25 better health coverage isn’t really helping because most people under the age of 25 are still covered under their parents’ benefits and the government needs to help the most vulnerable.
Belanger says the patchwork system currently in place isn’t working as people need to get their prescriptions in a timely manner and not be splitting pills in half to make them last longer. She believes a pharmacare program is needed for all citizens.
Quaiff told the crowd the work that has been done by the Liberals is a great start but there is more that needs to be done. He said the current plan is working and the Liberals will get there.
It was also asked if the new Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital would go ahead if the government in power were to change.
All three candidates agreed there would be a new hospital in Picton citing the importance a hospital and schools have on a community, especially a rural community.
One resident questioned why people who were struggling to pay their bills needed to pay cab fare to get around locally and what is being done to fund transit.
Smith said part of the gas tax is to go to fund transit services and it’s not working locally. Creating regional transit needs to be addressed he stated.
Belanger says they will make a commitment province wide on transit with a focus on rural.
Quaiff says there is work that needs to be done as they struggle with it in Prince Edward County. A new initiative is being undertaken by the municipality to create more transit opportunities to residents.
When it came to hydro bills, the topic got the candidates a bit heated.
Belanger stated the NDPs would bring the utility back into public hands and reduce costs by 30%. She continued to say they would reform the Ontario Energy Board, get rid of the mandatory time of use and also the rural delivery costs. She said hydro is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Quaiff pulled no punches and said the NDPs have no plan and the PCs adopted their plan. He noted both parties voted against the 25% reduction in hydro costs for Ontario residents. Quaiff did state the salaries do need to be addressed and changed.
The candidates were asked by one resident what one burning issued they would take to Queen’s Park.
Quaiff said he’d look at addressing food insecurity as he is shocked to hear this area has prime agricultural land but people are struggling to put food on the table.
Smith continued that thought but stated affordability of life. He said household income in Ontario hasn’t increased at the same rate as other provinces and it has become very unaffordable for people in the last 15 years.
Belanger says people are struggling and she’d look at keeping young people here by making sure there are good paying jobs for them.
Not in attendance at the meeting were Green Party candidate Tracy Barker, Libertarian Cindy Davidson, Trillium James Engelman and Paul Bordonaro, who is running as an independent.