This past week, Kingstonist proudly presented interviews with Mark Bain (PC) and Robert Kiley (Green), two of the local candidates who hope to represent Kingston and the Islands after next week’s provincial election results are announced. Today, our exploration of the local candidates continues with a feature interview with Mary Rita Holland, the New Democratic Party (NDP) representative. With the help of our thoughtful readers, we asked Mary Rita Holland what her priorities were for Kingston and the Islands, her stance regarding the relocation of a gaming facility to city, as well as her position on the recommended closure of KCVI and QECVI. Read on, compare her responses with other candidates and stay tuned for our final pair of interviews with Sophie Kiwala and Jonathan Reid.
1. For the first time in 19 years, Kingston and the Islands will have a new voice representing them at Queen’s Park. Why do you think you are the best candidate for job? What unique experience and insight sets you apart from other candidates and makes you the best choice for voters?
I am a firm believer that political leaders need to be engaged and committed to the community they hope to work for. Kingstonians want an MPP that is a champion for Kingston, and I am excited for the opportunity to bring Kingston to Queen’s Park – and to ensure that local businesses, community organizations and those who feel disenfranchised have a voice and are heard.
Since moving to Kingston, I have committed my time to supporting a healthy community by working to establish a local farmers’ market to promote sustainable, healthful eating; campaigning against a privately-operated hospital which puts profits over patient care and fighting against a proposed casino in Kingston that would put a negative strain on the health of our community.
Since moving here to pursue post-secondary education, I have fallen in love with Kingston. I have active with the Sir John A. MacDonald Bicentennial Commission, honouring the life of our first Prime Minister and promoting tourism in Kingston, and support local businesses in our Downtown. I love raising my daughter here, and I love the many opportunities there are to support and engage with community based businesses and services.
I understand the difficulty in trying find child care, in trying to support local ideas and I hear from people everyday on the doorstep on how difficult life is with increasing Hydro costs, job losses, and threats of local school closures.
I hear everyday how Kingstonians feel that despite working hard, despite being involved in their community and despite trusting in government – they have been let down. It is unfair, and I am running to try and make life a little more fair.
As a community champion I want to ensure that Kingston’s voice gets brought to Queen’s Park, not bring Queen’s Park to Kingston. A vote for me on June 12 is a vote for community based schools, public health care, accountable government, investment in Kingston based innovations and most of all – a vote for a strong voice for Kingston in Queen’s Park.
2. Middle and lower-income families throughout Ontario have been under increasing financial pressures due to the high cost of living, including utilities and basic food costs. What relief, if any, can you promise to provide those who are experiencing difficulty making ends meet?
These last few years I have heard how difficult it is for Kingstonians to make ends meet, and how unaffordable life is here. This shouldn’t be the case. We live in a city with an average income of over $80 000.00, and many people are working quality public sector jobs. Yet with the increasing costs of Hydro and a lack of investment from the Liberal government into public services like health care and community schools families are feeling increasing pressure and difficulty making ends meet.
I understand financial difficulties. I have been there myself, wondering why and knowing that it wasn’t fair. That’s why I’m running – to make it fair again.
When I talk with people on the door steps about our Platform, Kingstonians agree with a sensible plan taking immediate action to help where it is most needed, and then investing over time to ensure public money goes into public services where it belongs.
Liberals are squeezing people out of the middle class by making everything more expensive. We will give families a break for a change by taking the HST off hydro and repealing the debt retirement charge – worth $70 per family per year; and reduce auto insurance by 15% effective immediately upon renewing policies.
We also have a plan to prevent unfair price increases for natural gas consumers: We would give the Ontario Energy Board enhanced powers to take exceptional impacts on consumers into consideration when evaluating proposed rate increases.
New Democrats will continue to encourage energy efficiency and environmentalism in the home by helping families install solar panels and make energy efficient retrofits. This revolving fund would provide homeowners with loans for energy efficient retrofits and the installation of solar panels, which are paid back through energy savings – helping families consume less energy, save money, and help the environment.
As a parent myself, I know first hand how difficult it is to find safe and affordable childcare spaces in Kingston. New Democrats have long spoken out about the need to invest in childcare, so that all parents are supported and are not forced to choose between paying for childcare or paying for living expenses. I am committed to implementing critical relief funding to help childcare providers and parents in the first year in government. Our plan will also provide ongoing funding to prevent the closure of childcare centres in 18 communities.
The city of Kingston boasts two incredible post-secondary institutions – but many of our students are feeling increasingly under-supported and overwhelmed with the cost of attending post-secondary. The sensible New Democratic plan freezes post-secondary tuition and make student loans interest-free. Undergraduate tuition fees will be frozen at 2014 levels and provincial student loans will be made interest-free. This will go a long way to making it less difficult for students, and their families, to afford a quality post-secondary education.
3. What is your position and rationale for/against the recommended closure of KCVI and QECVI respectively. If elected, how do plan to support local students and respect the educational needs of Kingston’s neighbourhoods?
I have been committed to supporting local, community based schools since the “Save Our Schools” campaign began. The winter that Kathleen Wynne and John Gerretsen were voting in favour of Bill 115, I was on the lines in solidarity with teachers and educators who were fighting to uphold their rights. The Liberal government has demonstrated that time and time again they will say one thing when it comes to supporting schools, and then act in a completely detrimental manner.
The Ontario NDP platform has a critical plank dedicated to supporting local schools – and a New Democratic government will create an “Open Schools” fund to prevent school closures and extend after-hour programs. Schools boards will be able to apply for funding to help keep schools threatened with closure open, make necessary renovations, and to repurpose under-utilized space for other community uses. Schools can also apply to the fund to increase free and low-fee access for non-profit groups to use school space during evenings and weekends.
As the Kingston and the Islands MPP I will ensure that Kingstonians see direct investment in schools. An NDP government will invest in student achievement by hiring up to 1,000 more Educational Assistants so that all kids can get the help they need to succeed in the classroom.
I hear on the door steps daily that families are concerned about the health of their children. That is why I support the New Democrats pledge to invest in health and physical education initiatives, including hiring up to 1,000 new health and physical education teachers by the end of our mandate, and investing in student nutrition programs so children begin with a healthy start.
We all know how difficult it is to learn on an empty stomach, and I have heard that families are working as hard as they can to make ends meet but sometimes it isn’t enough. A New Democratic government will invest an additional $15 million per year in student nutrition and local food initiatives, to promote healthy eating and provide nutritious breakfasts and lunches.
Keeping schools in the community is my top priority. We should be investing public money into public schools and that is what I will continue to advocate for.
4. Many local constituents are concerned about the possible relocation of a gaming facility from Gananoque to Kingston? While it is acknowledged that this issue is the subject of a referendum during the next municipal election, what is your position regarding this transformative issue? (Do you believe the benefits outweigh the concerns or vice versa?)
No, I do not believe the benefits outweigh the concerns being raised by the majority of Kingstonians. As such I have been actively campaigning against the proposed Casino. I have done this as a founding member of the No Casino Coalition and have spoken before committee meetings of council, and council meetings themselves, to discuss the detrimental effects of having a casino in our community.
There have been a lot of studies that point to the negative social impact on communities and with the fragile state of our downtown local businesses we need to be extremely mindful of these concerns.
The liberal government continually seeks ways to dismiss the legitimacy of the majority of Kingston residents – people who work, raise their children, and pay taxes in this city – because they believe consultants and private casino operators should have their voices heard.
Consistently the Liberal government has thumbed their collective noses at the people who have spent countless hours in crowded Council chambers and doing research to present their opposition to the casino.
I was very pleased to see that Councillor Hutchison’s motion to have the question of a casino on the ballot this fall. It is unfortunate that the city is continuing to change the language and the official plan to accommodate casino’s democracy is being restored in the casino decision making process. We need to encourage a high voter turnout in the municipal election, so that this referendum remains binding and we can close this debate, once and for all.
5. Do you (and your party) support improving democracy by allowing Citizens to use the preferential voting system that provincial political parties use to democratically choose a winner? Is this sort of electoral reform something you would consider addressing before the next election?
In the last election, much to the dismay of the North End of Kingston we did not have an Advanced Poll there. As a result, the voter turnout in the North End was among the lowest in the riding. After that election, alongside the Kingston and the Islands Riding Association, I went door-to-door with a petition to advocate for an Advance Polling location in the North End. In this election, the region was awarded with an Advanced Poll at the Wally Elmer Community Centre.
The NDP and I have long-held beliefs of including some form of Proportional Representation into our voting system. In 2007 Ontario New Democrats were in full support of the Mixed Member Proportional system that was put to referendum. It was unfortunate that there was not ample time for constituents across our riding and across the province to educate themselves and each other on this important and fundamental issue. On the policy books, the Federal NDP and Provincial NDP have been quite vocal about including some changes and have even mused about potentially having a referendum in-between elections to allow for more community information and education to take place.
As your MPP, I will continue to push for a more accountable and responsive electoral process to ensure that all voices are heard at the table.
6. If you are elected the next Member of Provincial Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, what immediate challenges will you focus your attention on? Further, what do you assess as being your top local priority, and how you propose to ensure it is successfully realized/managed?
My top priority is to support Kingston’s community initiatives, and to bring Kingston to Queen’s Park. I want to work with Andrea Horwath to bring financial accountability to Queen’s Park, to make life more affordable for Ontarians and to directly target immediate needs while investing in Ontario’s future. I stand for public health care, community schools and supporting small businesses.
I have listened to Kingstonians and I have heard them when they say they need a government they can trust. They want public tax dollars to be invested in public services. They want to keep community schools open and thriving. They do not want a P3 hospital – a hospital with a ballooning budget and it isn’t even finished being built.
I have listened, and I hear that Kingstonians want 24 hour Family Clinics, more hospital beds, increased numbers of nurse practitioners, and elimination of wait times for seniors with a Five Day Home Care guarantee. On the door steps I hear the concerns about school closures, and when I explain our plan to keep schools open and relevant parts of the community I see the excitement and support.
I hear from the downtown businesses how this government has done little to support them, while giving corporations significant tax cuts and bailouts. Our plan to reduce the Small Business Tax Rate from 4.5% to 3% by 2016 is met with relief – because business owners want to succeed on their own, but they also need the government to make it fair again.
I am Kingston’s NDP Candidate. I am a community champion, and I will bring that to Queen’s Park. I love Kingston. I love Kingston’s downtown and waterfront. I love the active arts and music culture. I have great respect for the reputation of Queen’s and St. Lawrence College. I am proud to live here, and my top priority is to be Kingston’s Community Champion in Queen’s Park. This is an amazing city, and I want to tell it’s story.
That is why I hope I have earned your support on June 12th.
Can we count on your support of as little as $5/month to keep us going?