SUNDRIDGE - Only three of the seven candidates running in Parry Sound-Muskoka riding in the June 2 provincial election showed up for an all candidates forum in Sundridge Wednesday. About 40 residents from several Almaguin communities took in the event, which was organized by the Retired Teachers of Ontario District 6. One of the no-shows was Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith of the Progressive Conservative Party, who hopes to replace retiring Tory MPP Norm Miller. Smith cited a scheduling conflict for his absence. Barry Stanley of Bracebridge was representing the Liberals until the party removed him as a candidate Wednesday, one day after the retired teacher was chosen as the candidate. The Liberal Party learned Stanley had self-published book where he claims homosexuality is caused by infants rebreathing their own air shortly after they are born. With Stanley removed as candidate, the Liberals had no representation at the forum. The other two candidates who did not take part were Brad Waddell, a technical instructor and bison farmer from Burk's Falls representing the Populist Party Ontario and Ontario Party candidate Andrew John Cocks, a Muskoka real estate broker. Matt Richter, a teacher and small business owner in Port Sydney, can be considered the veteran candidate. This is Richter's fifth attempt at trying to win Parry Sound-Muskoka for the Green Party, starting with the 2007 election when he lost to Miller. Erin Horvath of Huntsville is trying for a second time to win the riding for the New Democrats. Horvath is a social entrepreneur and community development innovator. Novar resident Doug Maynard is a project coordinator and is running on behalf of the New Blue Party. The Retired Teachers of Ontario had two questions for the candidates before opening the floor to questions from the audience. One question was how the candidates would deal with the housing shortage in East Parry Sound. They were also asked how they would resolve issues facing public and private long-term care facilities in the area. Richter said the current long-term care system is designed to fail. He said personal support workers and nurses are underpaid and under-staffed and the sector needs more workers who are paid more money. As for where the money would come from, Richter noted that Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford eliminated the fee for license plate stickers. The money from the stickers could have been one way to fund the shortcomings, he said. Maynard agreed with much of what Richter said and added employers needed to hire back the nurses and personal support workers fired during the COVID pandemic. Horvath was critical of Ford's ongoing aim to grant more private sector long-term care licenses, saying this incentivizes the industry to cut corners. The NDP would create more non-profit long-term care facilities with the goal of adding 50,000 new spaces within eight years for people needing care, she said. Horvath said workers in this sector need to earn at least $5 above pre-COVID levels, the residents need a minimum of four hours of care a day and steps need to be taken to ensure they feel like they are in a home-like setting and not an institution. On the housing question, Maynard said the price of homes has increased 180 per cent in just 10 years while incomes have increased by 38 per cent. That huge gap has made it difficult for people to afford a home and, making matters worse, Ontario continues to see luxury homes built that most people just can't afford. Maynard says the New Blue Party's solution is to reduce red tape that gets in the way of building more affordable homes and eliminate developer fees because contractors just pass those costs on to the homebuyer, making homes more expensive. Richter blamed speculators for making housing unaffordable and the Green Party would put an end to this. He adds the Ford government could have easily helped build affordable homes if it had redirected the $8 billion to $10 billion it wants to spend on new highway construction. Horvath noted that plenty of homes are still being built, but they aren't for regular people. She said one thing an NDP government would do is improve on municipal zoning bylaws that pave the way for more types of homes in more neighbourhoods, such as more triplexes and duplexes. Horvath also said the housing crisis has become a business crisis because employers can't get the workers they need to work at their shops because people can’t find an affordable place to live. A man who looks after a mentally disabled woman in his home because he can’t get her into a group home said he gets the runaround when trying to resolve the matter. In response, Maynard said current red tape prevents expansion to help people in need. Richter called for more mental health services, adding OHIP should expand to cover mental health. Horvath said more supportive housing was needed and called the current state that Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program are in as “pitiful.” All three candidates favoured a system where employees received a certain number of sick days a year. The Green and NDP representatives each supported 10 paid days annually, while the NDP would add a further 14 days if there is a pandemic. New Blue Party candidate Maynard didn't specify a number of paid sick days but said it was important for employers to recognize that sick employees should not come into work. A woman who identified herself as Susan from the Emsdale area asked the candidates about the health of the planet and noted that the present Tory government rarely talks about climate change and won't call the situation the world is in a climate crisis. Although each candidate had different responses, the New Blue and NDP candidates agreed society should look to Indigenous people for the lead on this. Richter said the environment needs to be at the heart of building construction and with that in mind we need to look at building homes that are more energy efficient. The high price of gasoline was raised and Maynard said one way to bring down fuel costs was to reduce gas taxes both at the provincial and federal levels. Richter said the Green Party would provide a $10,000 rebate on electric vehicles but said we are missing an opportunity by not further exploring other avenues to power cars and trucks, such as hydrogen fuel. Horvath said the NDP would also provide consumers with a $10,000 rebate toward an electric vehicle but admitted these vehicles are still unaffordable for most people. She added that the electricity grid would need a massive upgrade before there's a major switch to electric vehicles so the system can handle all the vehicle charging. To bring prices down, Horvath said the NDP would look at a gas equalization program and bring back cap and trade. The Ontario election is June 2.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget