May 20, 2022
BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF — On May 18, the Grey Highlands Chamber of Commerce hosted an All Candidates Debate at the Kinplex in Flesherton. Over 100 people showed up to listen to all nine provincial candidates introduce themselves and discuss issues concerning Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound residents. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer the same questions — some were previously prepared by the Chamber of Commerce, while others came from the audience. The meeting was moderated by Grey Highlands Chamber of Commerce President Karen Cox.
The regional labour shortage was contended in the first question posed to the group. Ontario Party candidate Suzanne Coles noted many health care jobs lost due to vaccine mandates imposed by the Ford government and vowed to restore those workers to their previous employment. Independent candidate Reima Kaikkonen expressed the need to stop people from leaving the area for better/cheaper housing in other parts of the country.
More training for the trades was the focus of New Democratic Party candidate Karen Gventer. Progressive Conservative candidate Rick Byers was in agreement, while New Blue Party candidate Vince Grimaldi advocated for enlisting local businesses to create more co-op programming. Populist Party of Ontario candidate Joseph Westover said that social assistance was a detriment to putting able-bodied people to work and wanted to repeal all laws that contradict the Canadian Charter.
Health Care was the next issue to debate and almost all candidates found areas for improvement in our current system. Scrapping Bill 124, which caps wage increases for health care workers at 1 percent per year, was promised by Green Party candidate Danielle Valiquette, as well as New Democratic Party candidate Karen Gventer and Liberal candidate Selwyn Hicks. None of the Above Party candidate Joel Loughead expressed the need to incentivize family doctors to take up practice in small town Ontario and New Blue Party candidate Vince Grimaldi called for more transparency and more private clinics to be created.
Progressive Conservative candidate Rick Byers credited the current PC government with the largest increase in health care spending in Ontario's history and a significant focus on health care infrastructure. Green Party candidate Danielle Valiquette emphasized the need for more/better mental health care considerations overall.
On the topic of housing shortages, a variety of ideas were mentioned, including a crackdown on wealthy speculators who unnecessarily drive up prices, as suggested by Joel Loughead of the None of the Above Party. Green Party candidate Danielle Valiquette concurred, with a desire to also remove the blind-bidding process from real estate transactions. Ontario Party candidate Suzanne Coles called for sweeping urban planning reform and a ban on foreign purchasing. PC candidate Rick Byers repeated his Party's promise to build 150,000 new homes per year for the next 10 years. Liberal candidate Selwyn Hicks touted similar math with his Party's commitment to build 1.5 million homes over 10 years (1.5 million = 10 x 150,000) and get rid of Ministerial Zoning Orders which help developers bypass public consultation during the rezoning process.
The fourth question forced each candidate to take a position on public versus private health care for seniors. Independent candidate Reima Kaikkonen said that public and private health care can successfully exist together, citing the system in Finland as an example. New Blue Party candidate Vince Grimaldi also favoured private housing for seniors. Populist Party of Ontario candidate Joseph Westover said that funding for public health care would depend on whether it was affordable but claimed that curbing the problem of high inflation would be the biggest issue facing a new provincial government.
Others who strongly advocated for publicly-funded health care for seniors were Green Party candidate Danielle Valiquette, None of the Above Party candidate Joel Loughead, Liberal Party candidate Selwyn Hicks and New Democratic Party candidate Karen Gventer who promised an end to for-profit long term care homes under an NDP government. Progressive Conservative candidate Rick Byers lauded recent PC investments in new long term care beds for Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound.
Schools and the inequality of rural versus urban funding was the next topic to debate. Most candidates were in agreement that the formula was broken and pledged to fight for a review of current funding and more rural school construction. Populist Party of Ontario candidate Joseph Westover expressed his desire to fund the public school system if the provincial budget allowed for it. Liberal Party candidate Selwyn Hicks said that funds would be re-allocated by canceling the Ford government's proposed highway 413. Independent candidate Raima Kaikkonen wanted to return the Lord's Prayer to schools.
In he last question of the evening, discussions returned to skilled labour retention and whether or not skilled trades should be incentivized for the region. General support for the concept was expressed by all candidates. Ontario Party candidate Suzanne Coles wanted to ease restrictions on smaller local businesses previously exempt from bidding on government contracts. Training was repeatedly stressed by Liberal candidate Selwyn Hicks, New Democratic candidate Karen Gventer, Progressive Conservative candidate Rick Byers and Populist Party of Ontario candidate Joseph Westover.
None of the Above Party candidate Joel Loughead said that affordable housing was the key to attracting workers to the area but also applauded many of the ideas expressed during the evening, stating his Party's goal of listening to everyone's voice at the table and implementing the best ideas, regardless of whose Party came up with it. Both Independent candidate Raima Kaikkonen and Green Party candidate Danielle Valiquette mentioned the need for immigration and welcoming skilled people to our region.
As the evening wound down, all candidates thanked the Grey Highlands Chamber of Commerce for the event and everyone in attendance for their interest. Candidates remained for a half-hour following the debate to meet attendees and further discuss the issues.
For profiles of each candidate and their Party platform and ideas, visit Meet your Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound candidates for the June 2 provincial election.
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