Candidates in the race for MPP of Hastings-Lennox & Addington faced off Wednesday evening at the Napanee Lions Hall.
The debate was the second of two in Napanee. On Tuesday, May 17, 2022, a previous candidates’ meeting was held by education workers with only New Democrat Eric DePoe, Liberal Ted Darby, and Ontario Party leader Derek Sloan attending. Noticeably absent from both debates was Green Party of Ontario candidate Christina Wilson.
Joining them Wednesday, May 18, 2022 at the debate hosted by the Chamber of Commerce were Ric Bresee (Progressive Conservative) and Joyce Reid (New Blue Party). The questions were submitted by the public and drawn at random by the moderator.
One question was broad enough to encapsulate the opinions of each candidate: what are the two most pressing issues faced by Ontarians today, and how will your party’s platform solve them?
Joyce Reid of the New Blues indicated, “I truly believe that the economy is the number one issue for this riding and for Ontario. Now, that’s kind of all-encompassing, but if we don’t start to improve our economy, everything else waffles in the wind.” New Blue’s plan is to drop the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) by three per cent, Reid said. “Now that doesn’t sound like much, but three per cent off of absolutely everything you buy will allow people to have a bit more money in their pockets.”
Freedoms and rights were a topic of great concern to Reid, who stated, “Whether you want to wear a mask or not … it should be freedom of choice. We shouldn’t be pulled back, pushed forward, by any government… [With] the Reopen (sic) Ontario act right now… They could say tomorrow ‘You’re all locked down’… We need to have the freedom to do what we need to do. And we need to improve the economy so we can do those things.”
Next up was the Ontario Party’s Derek Sloan, who also focused first on the cost of living: “It’s risen dramatically, and when our cost of living rises, our standard of living suffers.” He indicated that his party would “stop wasteful government spending that is increasing inflation in this province, and we will bring manufacturing home, so we don’t have to rely on precarious global supply chains. We will not lock down our businesses again. We will clamp down on foreign purchasing of real estate… and we will cut taxes and fees to mean more [money] in the pockets of Ontarians.”
Sloan also chose freedom as an important issue, stating, “We also have the possibility of a digital ID which could allow governments to track citizens… to turn off the bank accounts quickly of citizens that are doing things that the government doesn’t like. We’re seeing China doing this; they’re far ahead of us in the surveillance state… Ford’s government had proposed a digital ID. Our party put forward a proposal with 25,000 signatures saying that Ontarians did not want the digital ID.”
Progressive Conservative candidate Ric Bresee answered that “the highest priority issues for the people that live here [in H-L&A are] the rising cost of living [and] health care. The cost of living is going up, there’s no question about that, but this government is working towards lowering fees and lowering taxes so that we can have a little bit more money in our pocket… It’s also investing in infrastructure and training people, so that we can build up the economy so that people can… afford to pay their bills and buy their food… We need to keep on investing so people can be working.”
Due to the state of Ontario’s health care sector after the previous Liberal government, Breesee said, “We weren’t able to handle the pandemic as it came in. So we have made some very tough decisions… but now we are past that. And while we’re at it, we’re building hospitals and training nurses and training [personal support workers] so that we don’t ever end up in that position again, so we don’t put our people at risk because of a lack of capacity. We will continue to build so that we can protect all of our residents with health care, and build so that they have jobs and… can pay their bills. This is the way forward to keep us healthy, to keep us safe, and to keep us prosperous.”
Liberal candidate Ted Darby spoke next, answering, “I think there are some things we can agree on, and one of them is certainly affordability. So, that is critical… In our Liberal platform, we have 19 initiatives to deal with affordability, including increasing the old age security by $1,000 for low-income seniors, and taking off HST for prepared foods under $20.”
The second topic he called “public versus private,” saying he saw both hospitals and education under “threat” of privatization: “I believe that the investment should be squarely in the public sector, in our public institutions… We have had an extraordinary effort by our public system from our hospitals and primary care, community health centres, and the entire team across this province has risen to the challenge [of COVID]… Same in the education sector with our teachers, in what they’ve had to do to deal with, the stress of trying to carry on. We need to strengthen our public sector. We need to invest in our public sector. We cannot allow privatization to creep in; it simply means paying twice.”
Eric DePoe of the New Democratic Party expressed bewilderment that none of the other parties had seen climate change as one of their biggest concerns, calling it “one of the biggest issues we face today.” He said, “I think the NDP has a great plan to deal with climate change and to solve the other problems, as well, because all of this goes hand in hand… We pledge to build a million new [net-zero] housing units… We will get the whole economy to be net-zero by 2050… We also propose the first net zero-emissions vehicle strategy… We want to get 100 per cent of the sales to be electric by 2035 and provide families with an incentive and a subsidy to install charging stations in their homes. We need a new cap and trade program. We need to electrify all transit by 2040.”
“And of course, there’s the affordability… people are being gouged at the pumps by the oil companies, who are profiteering when they were already making record profits… The NDP will regulate gasoline prices to prevent [American] oil companies from gouging.”
The evening was a respectful one, and candidates refrained from personal attacks. Unsurprisingly, the current Progressive Conservative government’s record came under fire from the opposing candidates, as did that of the previous Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne. At one point, Reid even harkened back three decades to the record of Bob Rae’s NDP.
Additionally, both of the newly formed alternative conservative parties tried to present themselves as an antidote to the current PCs, with Joyce Reid saying, “Promises during the previous election campaign were not fulfilled… It is important to remember that those who shut down your business and those who forced you into layoffs or out of work completely are the very ones now asking you to vote for them, so they can keep their job .. It’s time for change to move the right way forward with stability, liberty, and good government.”