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Perth-Wellington candidates speak at last local meeting before election; focus on agriculture

by Olivia Rutt

KENILWORTH - Perth-Wellington candidates had one last chance to appeal to voters in Wellington County at an all-candidates meeting on May 29.

The meeting, hosted by the Wellington Federation of Agriculture at Kenilworth Public School, had an agriculture focus.

About 50 people came out to listen to five of the eight riding candidates, including PC incumbent Randy Pettapiece, Green Party candidate Lisa Olsen, the NDP’s Michael O’Brien, Consensus Party candidate Paul McKendrick and Liberal Brendan Knight.

WFA president Janet Harrop said Libertarian candidate Scott Marshall sent a late regret, citing a family emergency. Freedom Party candidate Rob Smeenk and Alliance Party candidate Andrew Stanton also did not attend.

Harrop introduced the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s producing prosperity pledge, which asked those running in the election to pledge that they “recognize the possibilities that Ontario’s agri-food sector and rural communities have to boost economic growth, create new jobs, increase affordable housing options, ensure food security and contribute to environmental stewardship for all Ontarians.”

The OFA says agriculture contributes $13.7 billion to Ontario’s annual GDP and generates 158,000 jobs. It is asking for investment in natural gas, transportation infrastructure, broadband internet and schools.

More than a dozen questions were posed to the candidates, who had one minute to respond.

How will your party support rural Ontario more fairly?

McKendrick said people in the riding should come together to get what they need for their area.

“The money goes down to Toronto, the money’s got to stop and stay where it’s supposed to be … it’s up to the people of Perth-Wellington to fix this,” he said.

O’Brien said as a representative he would work with the people of Perth-Wellington.

“The NDP will work with rural municipalities and listen to the people in the area to improve and follow what they want. Too much of the time, things have been happening and dictated from Toronto,” he said.

Olsen said she wants to stand up for the people of Perth-Wellington.

“We need someone strong to stand up for this area, I see it, and that’s one of the reasons I stepped up for this. I don’t want Perth-Wellington to be left behind,” she said.

She added that with the climate changing, investment in “new ways of doing things” will attract younger generations to stay in the area.

Pettapiece agreed more people are needed in the area to fill labour vacancies.

“Perth-Wellington is maybe unique in Ontario ... we are in a labour shortage right now; our factories are crying for people,” he said.

Knight said the Liberal Party would continue to invest in rural communities.

“The Liberal government recognizes the need for greater transportation in our rural communities, and that’s why recently we announced the $1.5-million investment in greater transportation in Perth County between the smaller communities and the bigger communities,” he said.

“As your MPP, I would advocate for that kind of program to be expanded to Wellington and other larger communities.”

Do you support the plan for high-speed rail?

In May 2017, the government announced plans to bring a high-speed rail line in the Toronto-Windsor corridor, with connections in Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo.

The OFA has criticized the plan saying it is a “disadvantage” to rural communities.

O’Brien said the NDP would carry out the study.

“But there’s no plan at the moment to implement it because talking to farmers, I understand that it would be very difficult for them to cross that line,” he said.

Olsen said while high-speed rail lines are not in the Green Party plan, it supports mass transit.

“Obviously we support ... transit that doesn’t use fossil fuels; however, we also support increasing the greenbelt and helping farmers and saving their land,” she said.

Pettapiece said the PC party would also study the corridor.

“Farmers are quite against this, and it’s understandable, but we want to do a study (of) all ways of transportation in that corridor,” he said. “There’s different ways of doing it, but we need to find the most cost-efficient ways of doing it and the best way of doing it.”

Knight said he is in favour of the transit investment.

“We need strong representation in order to help with the farmers, the people involved and the Ministry of Transportation to relay their concerns,” he said.

McKendrick said he would need more information on the plans, but he said there should be “investment in some sort of transportation.”

Name one plus, one minus of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe?

Olsen said the Green party wants to protect farmland.

“I think saving prime farmland is always a plus,” she said, adding the Green Party would like to expand the greenbelt and add a “blue belt” to protect waterways. She said Perth-Wellington does have room to grow, but it needs to have a plan.

“We don’t want to change too much, too quickly; we need to have a plan in place, and we need to grow responsibility,” she said.

Pettapiece raised the issue of the multi-million dollar expansion of Drayton’s wastewater facility as an example of growth stress.

“There are a number of communities in the riding that are facing the issue of being able to grow; they have land available for development, but they don’t have the infrastructure to do that,” he said. “Small communities don’t have that money ... we have to have a careful balance of infrastructure money into rural Ontario to address these situations.”

Knight said development does put a strain on infrastructure.

“I think it’s important to have a provincial government that works with the various different communities’ growth plan and have that stable long-term funding they can rely on and plan on to make their growth more sustainable and effective for their community,” he said.

McKendrick asked where the infrastructure investment money from the province to the municipalities was going.

“What are the lower municipalities doing for development in the rural town? What guidelines are they going by? Are they doing anything or just collecting the nice cheque?” he asked. “I would rather invest it in the farmers.”

O’Brien said there needs to be more input from the farmers and municipalities.

“If we need water infrastructure so we can get clean drinking water, together with the municipalities, that is what we should have,” he said.

“We need more people to come into the towns ... it will create business, it raises more tax money, but we want to make sure that the development doesn’t encroach on farmland, which is already being lost.”

What are your views on the greenbelt expansion and increased regulatory burden on agricultural land/business owners?

Olsen said the Green Party is not looking to add more red tape.

“What I’m proposing is that we actually maintain our way of life. We’re not actually asking for more red tape; we’re not actually asking to turn your land into conservation areas, that’s not what we’re looking for,” she said.  

“We’re actually looking to protect your land so that you can actually continue doing what you’re doing on it. Climate change is actually costing us billions of dollars.”

Pettapiece said the PCs want to reduce red tape.

“Certainly climate change has to be addressed; I think all parties agree on that,” he said.  

“Farmers are the best stewards of their land; they do not need any more red tape. In fact, it’s our goal to reduce the red tape on businesses and farmers, because it just drives up the cost of doing business.”

Knight said the Liberal Party was committed to the greenbelt.

“We’re committed to the greenbelt, and we’re also committed to farmers; I don’t think we have to choose one or the other,” he said.

“As your MPP, we have to work with all parties involved in order to help with these roadblocks with what the government is proposing and what landowners and farmers come up against.”

McKendrick said farmers are good stewards and questioned the authority of the government labelling which properties are included/excluded in the greenbelt.

“Even where I live, (they say) ‘oh you live in the greenbelt.’ Who says I live in the greenbelt? Because I have a green lawn? Does that give somebody else the right? I have the right to my property,” he said.

O’Brien said regulations can be useful.

“The NDP believes in protecting the greenbelt and also areas adjacent to the greenbelt if it means it protects wetlands,” he said.

“When it comes to regulations, that is always a difficult question, because I worked in the aerospace industry in all my life.

“The aerospace industry doesn’t like all the rules and regulations either, but sometimes they’re needed because if somebody makes a mistake, it can cause a lot of people to lose their lives ...

“If something happens (in agriculture), it can damage the land for quite a long time.”

June 8, 2018

 
 

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