1. Kingston has made some modest strides over the past few years to become Canada’s most sustainable city. What are the key environmental areas that you feel the city needs to improve upon? If elected, how would you and your party support continued green development in the Limestone City?
I don’t feel it would be appropriate for me to comment on the City of Kingston’s management of its sustainability agenda, but I’m convinced that municipally, provincially and federally, greenhouse gas emission will be our single most pressing issue over the next two decades. If it’s not, then our children will not inherit the world their parents knew.
Our landmark Green Energy Act will boost investment in renewable energy projects and increase conservation, creating green jobs and economic growth throughout Ontario. But sustainability is about changing our relationship with our environment, and we effect that change in a variety of ways. Investment in top-notch education facilities like St. Lawrence College’s Energy House and Queen’s Green Chemistry Centre not only signal our changing world but prepare our young people for it. We do the same with our investment in re-charging infrastructure for the electric cars of tomorrow.
2. Middle and lower-income families have been under increasing financial pressures over the past few years thanks to high gasoline and utilities costs as well as the new harmonized sales tax. What relief, if any, can you promise to provide those who are experiencing difficulty making ends meet?
There’s no question that middle and lower-income families are under pressure, and there’s no question that the gap between haves and have-nots grows increasingly pronounced and disturbing.
As part of our strategy, Ontario Liberals are delivering programs and services that are making a real difference in the lives of Ontario families. The Ontario Child Benefit is providing up to $1,100 a year to over one million children. This will increase to $1,310 in 2013. Full-day kindergarten is saving families thousands of dollars per year on child care costs. We have increased the minimum wage to $10.25, increased social assistance rates seven times and launched the largest review of social assistance in 20 years.
Through the new Ontario Clean Energy Benefit, we’re providing families with a 10 percent reduction in their electricity bills until 2015 – an amount that’s actually greater than the provincial sales tax portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax. And now, for the first time, we’re supporting middle and lower-income families with a per year grant of 30 percent of post-secondary tuition.
3. Post-secondary tuition fees have been on the rise for years, while they recently hit an all time high, averaging over $5,000 per year. Should changes to OSAP be considered? Otherwise, what do you propose to lessen the burden of tuition fees and daunting student debt loads?
Again, our platform calls for a 30 percent reduction in tuition fees for students whose family income is under $160,000. This means – every year – five out of six students will save $1,600 per student in university and $730 per student in college. Additionally, we have implemented changes in the Ontario Student Loan Program that make the financing of education more accessible and humane.
4. In Kingston we have the Limestone District School Board, and the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, both of which receive public funds via the Ontario Ministry of Education. Do you believe that funding or legislative changes are necessary to address concerns regarding secularism and discriminatory actions in our education system?
In fact, when the French-language system is considered, we have a total of four boards that operate in this community. Separate board funding is rooted in the British North America Act and the earliest days of Canadian Confederation. I don’t expect there will be any action in the near term to pursue changes in the fundamental structure of education. Moreover, I’ve long been of the view that the dual board system promotes a productive competition between the systems that fosters better quality education in both. As for issues raised around secular and discriminatory actions with schools in some Ontario urban centres, we have entrusted local boards to address these issues, always with the best interests of students in mind.
5. Our health care system has various shortcomings, including: lack of bed space, home care services, and rising prescription drug costs. How would you and your party address these issues to improve health care in Ontario?
Even while it consumes a full half of the province’s annual operating budget, our healthcare system faces many challenges. These challenges will only be exacerbated as our senior’s population grows by 43 percent over the next decade – moving more and more of us into that stage of life when our demands on the system grow exponentially.
There’s no question we’ve made progress locally. We’ve eliminated Kingston’s chronic shortage of family physicians, and we’ve reduced treatment wait-times by up to 72 percent. Arbour Heights has added 170 long-term care beds to our roster, and construction will soon begin on the new Providence Care specialized-care hospital. But it’s critical that we look at innovative approaches to healthcare delivery – approaches like the Oasis Project at the Bowling Green apartments here in Kingston.
For a fraction of the cost of our traditional approach, we’ve embedded full-time healthcare support in a noted senior’s apartment building. What’s more, we’ve linked in the Culinary Arts program at St. Lawrence College to provide meals to building residents. Oasis extends the health, quality of life, and independence of the Bowling Green residents. It’s a program I’d like to see replicate across the Kingston community and across the province.
6. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing residents of Kingston and the Islands over the next five years? Further, if you are elected as our next Member of Provincial Parliament, how do you propose to solve it?
The biggest challenge facing Kingston and The Islands and, indeed, the province over the next several terms of office is the balancing of the issues that are touched on in the previous questions. We’re progressing towards again balancing the budget, which will position us to begin addressing our accumulated provincial debt. But doing so – while continuing to provide the type of quality services we all demand – is dependent on our fostering the type of quality employment that allows us to share in our contribution to provincial revenues.
We must remain focused on equipping our young people for their emerging new world through continued investment in education, technology and the environment. At the same time, we must safeguard the well-being of our growing senior’s population through combined investment in healthcare and innovative delivery approaches.