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Niagara West candidates square off

All-candidates meeting hosted at BDSS by joint chambers of commerce

By Joanne McDonald
For NewsNow

Fresh young faces ready to test the political waters and tackle pressing issues from hydro to health care met the business community Monday night during an all candidates debate organized by the Lincoln, Grimsby and West Lincoln Chambers of Commerce.

Five candidates vying for the Niagara West Riding seat in the June 7 provincial election met a crowd of about 70 residents at Beamsville District Secondary School, answering questions from the chambers and the general public.

While candidates firmly defended party policies and a few barbs did hit their mark, it was non-partisan congeniality, just short of a group hug, that carried them through the rigours of the debate.

Liberal candidate Joe Kanee, 27, said youth at the table are setting a different tone than what voters are accustomed to.

“It’s more about values than personal attacks,” Kanee said.

Introduced in alphabetical order during the opening statements, NDP Party candidate Curtis Fric, 20, said that when more than 80 per cent are calling for change, “it’s a clear indication the Liberals are on their way out the door.”

And nine days out from an election, “the PCs have yet to put out a platform.”

Fric said his NDP platform has been out for a month highlighting better schools, hospitals, long term care, hydro and dental care. “The NDP is committed to bringing change for the better.”

Kanee followed with his opening remarks.

“Under the Liberal government you’ve

seen unprecedented growth, more than a million jobs added and the lowest unemployment rate in the country.”

Working in operations for small businesses, Kanee said he knows the struggles and he brings a “pragmatic, risk managed and balanced approach to the table.”

PC candidate and incumbent Sam Oosterhoff, 20, the youngest MPP in the province’s history elected in 2016, said this election is coming down to some very different choices – NDP or PC.

“The NDP is planning for deficits for at least six years,” said Oosterhoff.

“It’s time for change that works for people, that listens to the concerns, priorities and interests, not a government that is owned by the unions, but listening to everyday Ontario, bringing in policies to reduce taxes, hydro, working for the middle class, making life more affordable.”

Libertarian candidate Stefanos Karatopis said his party “advocates through individual liberty and limited government. Governments are monopolies, whenever they get their hands on things it never turns out well.”

Green Party candidate Jessica Tillmanns, 18, vowed change in the political status quo.

“The Green Party will restore your faith in the political system,” she said, highlighting a platform to create jobs in a clean economy, set the province on a path to 100 per cent renewable energy, strengthen democracy, improve transportation infrastructure and decrease hydro costs by standing up to powerful nuclear lobbies.

“The Greens want to do it different.”

All five were given a chance to pose a question of their own to a candidate of their choice.

Fric asked Oosterhoff, “Let’s say the PCs do have a platform out…right now you haven’t indicated how you will pay for anything.”

Oosterhoff found immediate traction with his reference to the over spending and waste aimed at Wynne’s government in the annual report released by auditor general Bonnie Lysyk.

“We’ve already found billions,” Oosterhoff said.

Kanee asked Fric about unions, back to work legislation and government strikes, and what controls would be put in place to ensure access to vital services.

“Strikes happen because there is a problem. If you address the problem you don’t have to deal with the strike and force workers back to work without addressing the issues,” Fric rebutted.

Oosterhoff asked Fric if the NDP planned on running deficits for the next six years and as interest rates rise how they would pay the increase in servicing debt.

Fric said the NDP will run deficits for the first few years before it’s back to balance, pointing to existing issues with the long term cost to public spending to finance the debts incurred through P3 (private-public partnerships) to build projects such as hospitals. “We could’ve saved alot of money.”

Tillmanns asked Oosterhoff his reaction when Doug Ford won the PC leadership. Oosterhoff had endorsed Christine Elliott.

“He called me the day after he won and wanted to talk about what’s going on in Niagara and to me that was really important. We’ve talked six or seven different times and he’s always willing to listen.” Any initial concerns have since been allayed and Oosterhoff “is excited to see him as premier.”

There has been controversy with the privatization of Hydro One but not much said about the takeover from the U.S energy company Avista.

Will your government allow this transaction to process?

“We did raise concerns in the Legislature,” said Oosterhoff. “Avista does own the largest coal-powered plant in the U.S. We questioned that the Liberals would sell off a utility to them.”

“The NDP is strongly opposed to any privatization including selling off Hydro One to a company that owns a large chunk of coal plants in the States,” said Fric. “We would not allow for this sell off to continue.”

“Hydro has become a lightning rod in this election,” said Kanee. “The framework that the Liberals have set up maintains we are the majority shareholder and so we still receive the largest portion.”

Tillmanns said the Greens don’t support any out of country shareholders in any local business and that allowing privatization of Hydro One impacts communities poorly.

Karatopis said his party would agree with the Avista deal and regarding Hydro One, “sell it off, privatize, gain money,” adding, “we should just import our hydro from Quebec.”

All candidates excluding Karatopis said their parties are committed to improving roadway infrastructure and providing funding to take the strain off municipalities and also, committed to bring the GO train to Niagara.

Candidates, excluding Karatopis pledged party commitment through their various policies such as reducing hydro and expanding natural gas services to support rural communities, to protect agriculture and to preserve the Greenbelt.

“The PC are committed to maintain Greenbelt in its entirety,” Oosterhoff said.

Karatopis was alone with his opinion. “We need to get rid of green energy stuff, it’s unreliable, intermittent, that will cut down hydro rates…and get rid of Greenbelt that devalues property. We need to get rid of conservation acts and the Niagara Escarpment committees.”

Niagara Escarpment is a biosphere designated by UNESCO. The escarpment in Niagara West contains prime agricultural land and wetlands. What will you do to ensure preservation?

Tilllmans said the Green Party would introduce legislation to permanently protect farmland, expand the Greenbelt, invest $200 million over four years to pay farmers to protect water and store carbon and ban fracking.

Fric said the biggest problem with the Greenbelt is those who want to develop it. He said the Liberals would protect the Greenbelt, and there is plenty of development space around the Toronto and Hamilton areas.

“We are not going to touch the Greenbelt,” said Oosterhoff.

Providing for low income Ontarians:

Tillmans supports a basic income guarantee to help people afford prescriptions, put food on the table and get the help they need.

Health care is a main priority said Oosterhoff.

“We have to examine the vulnerable, marginalized population, invest in dental care for low income seniors reduce taxes on minimum income earners and build supports for needed mental health and long term care,” said Oosterhoff.

Health care is a number one priority and focus on a system that is there when you need it, said Kanee, recalling the $13,000 bill for medical help when he broke his arm while in the States.

“NDP will expand the medicare system and bring in the first dental and pharmacare system,” said Fric.

Closing remarks :

“The Green Party does politics different. It may not be what you want to hear, but be assured it’s the truth. The Green Party is the democratic party in Canada,” said Tillmanns.

Oosterhoff said while the Liberals want to wave a magic wand to fix everything, the reality is that it costs money.” The PCs are talking about practical government that puts people first.”

Karatopis said, “we have to get rid of taxes, cut hydro (costs), get rid of clean energy.”

“It’s not about change in the party but this is about a new generation of individuals….just make sure you get out and vote,” said Kanee.

“Democracy is only as strong as the number of people who make their voices heard at the ballot box, said Fric. “Get out to vote.”

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