Perth-Wellington candidates discuss pandemic recovery, housing, long-term care, preserving farmland

·15 min read

PERTH-WELLINGTON – Local candidates had two all-candidates meetings in Perth County – Stratford on Sept. 7 and Listowel on Sept. 9 – to let residents know how they plan to represent the riding if they are elected on Sept. 20.

In Stratford, District Chamber of Commerce General Manager Eddie Matthews used his position as moderator several times to ask candidates to qualify their statements with facts. This is something People’s Party of Canada candidate, Wayne Baker, had a tough time doing when speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic. The Listowel Banner has asked Baker for verification of his statements and as of yet, the candidate has not sent any supporting evidence.

Conservative candidate John Nater, New Democrat (NDP) candidate Kevin Kruchkywich and Liberal candidate Brendan Knight all recommended the COVID-19 vaccines, combined with public health recommendations such as masking and social distancing, as a safe way to protect yourself, and others, against the virus.

At both meetings, concerns were raised about housing, protection of agricultural land and small business recovery.

As a small business owner, Baker said the best way for businesses to function is “without government in our face.” So he said the People’s Party of Canada would promote a freer, more open marketplace.

“I was happy to see that one of the first announcements from a new Liberal mandate was to help the arts and culture sector – more specifically to help them bridge through the winter months and to bring in various supports like a ticket matching program,” said Knight. “As we all know tourism is probably going to be the last sector to recover out of the pandemic.”

Kruchkywich was critical of the ticket matching program.

“As an artist myself I find programs like that sometimes challenging,” he said. “That top-down approach that would put the money into the building and not into the people… We have a very large artistic community in this area and they have been struggling and if not for the NDP forcing the Liberals to increase the benefits to get us all through they may not still be in this community.”

Nater said these last 18 months have been devastating for so many small businesses. He described emails he has received that were sent at 3 a.m.

“You can picture the business owner… at their kitchen table… trying to calculate the numbers to see if they make ends meet that month,” he said.

“Going forward we need plans and supports to make sure we can not only see these businesses recover but thrive as well.”

Nater said the Conservatives have the job surge plan to provide from 25 up to 50 per cent of a new hire’s salary to businesses, main street tax credits to encourage investments in local communities and a program that provides a larger amount of funding so that businesses can buy new equipment and innovative technologies.

Kruchkywich said the NDP will look at some of the larger issues affecting businesses in Perth-Wellington.

“We have a lot of jobs in this community,” he said. “What we don’t have is enough housing for those workers. We can’t get them here if we don’t have a place to put them and the NDP has a… comprehensive plan to do just that.”

Nater said the need for housing has been a common refrain during his five years serving as MP.

In terms of housing challenges, he said rural communities apply for the rapid housing initiative, and they’ve been blocked out.

“They haven’t received any funding, whether it’s in Stratford or Listowel who have applied, they haven’t got funding because the criteria are geared towards larger urban centres,” he said.

Kruchkywich said the NDP is putting priority on affordable rental units.

“There is lots of talk about housing prices,” he said. “Many Canadians right now can’t afford a house. The NDP plans to build 500,000 units in the next 10 years, 250,000 of those in the next five… rental properties that young families can step into.”

He also mentioned $5,000 rent subsidies for struggling families.

As far as housing goes, Knight said the Liberal Party has promised several initiatives such as money for rapid housing, affordable housing and a commitment to build.

Baker said the issue is not affordable housing, it’s about affordable homeownership. He suggested starting with “less classy housing” and “getting the gatekeepers out of the way.”

Knight said the Liberals are putting forward tax-free savings accounts for people under 40 to save up to $40,000 for a new home.

“But saving when the price of housing is going way beyond a family’s ability to save, that’s really a useless option,” said Baker.

“And if there’s no supply, Brendan, then there’s no point in saving,” said Kruchkywich. “How does that work if there… isn’t a place for them to rent or buy.”

Knight said there is also a commitment to build new homes and renovate older buildings.

The next question asked the candidates if their parties would work with provincial and municipal governments to address housing affordability.

“I mean that’s a pillar of our platform,” said Kruchkywich. “Our biggest pillar is affordable sustainable housing.”

The NDP also plans to waive the federal HST on construction, reintroduce a 30-year mortgage term which would make payments more affordable and double the homebuyers tax credit to $10,000.

“We also want to introduce a model for mortgages for co-ownership which has been a challenge for people trying to do that,” said Kruchkywich. “We can do multigenerational and even groups of friends … We also want to present some fast-start funds for co-ops and social housings.”

Knight mentioned a homebuyers bill of rights that would not permit blind bidding so that prices aren’t bid up out of control.

“There’s also a growing homelessness problem that needs also to be addressed as well, not just through the affordable home program but a real focus on the contributing factors to people and homelessness,” he said.

“I do want to agree with something that Mr. Kruchkywich said about supply issues,” said Nater. “That is one of the major concerns.”

He said there need to be incentives to have purpose-built homes and rental units so the Conservative platform incentivises purpose-built rental units.

“In rural communities… you need those rental units for some of the jobs,” he said. “We also need to fix the stress test for mortgages and… look at where we can use federal land that’s already existing for housing, for housing that is affordable and affordable housing.”

Baker said when he was younger he found an older widow that had a home that was more than she could handle. She brought in boarders.

“We need to bring that back to our culture, that kind of mentality where there’s a lot of older people rattling around in their home by themselves,” he said.

Kruchkywich confronted Nater on his mention of federal lands.

“The Conservatives said 15 per cent of Crown Land will be used but it will be presented to private developers,” he said. “I don’t know where the checks and balances are to encourage affordability… (if) we’re giving away Crown Land to private developers.”

Nater said he doesn’t think very many people want to see the government in the real estate business.

“So we want to give the land away to private developers then?” Kruchkywich asked Nater.

“It will be given at market value within the marketplace,” said Nater.

“With any sort of checks and balances on affordability?” asked Kruchkywich.

“Absolutely,” replied Nater.

“When we’re looking at farmland, we’re not making any more of it,” said Nater. “What we’ve got is all we’ve got.”

He said when he sees projects being proposed on farmland, he raises concerns publicly.

Nater mentioned the need for densification and infilling in communities to avoid taking more farmland.

Knight said it is a problem and Ministry Zoning Order issues are mostly a provincial issue but he believes the riding can benefit from a strong advocate at the federal level.

Baker said, “(We) absolutely have to protect our farmland.”

He suggested developing the Canadian Shield instead.

“That’s not helping Perth-Wellington per se but we do have a housing issue and we do need to address it,” said Baker.

“The NDP is committed to saving the farmland, in no way shape or form would we want to be annexing or appropriating any farmland because it’s valuable, it’s economically viable, it’s too important,” said Kruchkywich.

He said they plan to use Crown Land for affordable housing.

“That plan of action doesn’t go anywhere near anyone’s farmland,” he said.

“We’re seeing a lack of leadership at the federal level,” said Kruchkywich. “Stepping back, putting hands in the air and saying it’s up to the provinces and then we see the provinces doing the same and then it’s passed on down to the businesses and then eventually on a Sunday afternoon it’s going to be passed on down to a 17 year old who is working the counter in your local coffee shop. It’s unfair. It’s unkind.”

He said there needs to be a federal passport instead of 13 apps for travelling across Canada.

“We need one app, one vaccine passport so we can travel internationally, domestically and we need to mandate it,” said Kruchkywich.

Knight said the federal government put forward a federal app, “but Jason Kenney in Alberta wouldn’t share the data and Doug Ford came out against it.”

Knight also pointed out the Liberal initiative to protect businesses from litigation and mandatory vaccinations for all federally-regulated industries.

Baker then stated several theories on immunity, claiming that COVID-19 is similar to the flu and that following initial contraction of the virus, immunity would potentially follow.

“It’s just insane,” he said.

Nater said people who are concerned about the vaccine, have questions or are hesitant about it should talk to their family doctor or another qualified healthcare professional.

“I’m very proud to have got my vaccine,” he said. “With rights, there come responsibilities and so in a society we need to take care of each other.”

He lifted his mask.

“These, they can be a nuisance but if this saves a life of a person in a long-term care home, if this saves the life of a child who might be immuno-compromised, it’s a small price to pay to save that child’s life and to protect them from getting sick,” he said.

Baker started the discussion by broadly stating, “We are all Canadians.”

“We’re all under one flag,” he said. “We have functioned very well up until recently… We’re a Judeo Christian nation. We need to go back to our Judeo Christian roots.”

He then made some statements that suggested he distrusts his neighbours.

“We need to start to learn to trust our neighbours and work with our neighbours,” he said.

“How does your party propose to make communities more safe, inclusive and welcoming to the LGBTQ demographic?” asked Matthews.

“We’re all Canadians,” said Baker. “We’re Canadians under one flag and that’s where it needs to end. We’re strictly Canadians under one flag. End.”

Kruchkywich said there needs to be a ban on conversion therapy.

“The fact that a large number of Conservatives voted against that… was very disappointing,” he said.

“Again, I’m going to agree with my NDP friend as well,” said Nater. “We do need to ban conversion therapy. It is a cruel and inhumane practice and I voted in favour of that bill because it was the right thing to do and I did get push back from some people in the community but I would say I got far more emails, phone calls and support from across this riding for voting in favour of that bill because it was the right thing to do. Forcing a child to undergo a discredited and inhumane practice is wrong and it should be banned. Period.”

“I just need to know how you can reconcile yourself, voting the way you did, with your party that did not vote that way?” Kruchkywich asked Nater. “So you are a bannerman for your party and so I just do need to know, even just personally how you can reconcile yourself to that.”

“Absolutely, we had a free vote on that issue,” said Nater. “Each member of parliament… was able to vote their conscience. There were some concerns within parliament, within members about how the definition was worded. My point is that definition if it is problematic, it can be fixed down the road… The medical community has long discredited this practice and it’s the right thing to do to ban it.”

Baker said he is concerned a ban on conversion therapy undermines parental authority.

“I think that’s something a parent knows better than Big Brother or the state,” he said. “It’s a good sound bite that it’s a cruel and inhumane thing to do but I’m not aware of any parents, any sane parents or any parents that have any semblance of care for their children… That’s terribly wrong.”

Knight mentioned he worked for an MPP in Scarborough and long-term care was an extremely difficult issue throughout the pandemic.

“Very tragic and very sad and hard to deal with the homes and the people that just felt powerless and angry over what we allowed happen in these homes,” he said. “Understand that going forward, even in this fourth wave that we need to invest more, including increasing the wage of PSWs, hiring more PSWs and continuing to be there and to push the provincial government who continually drag their feet.”

Kruchkywich said this is a foundational issue.

“That sort of patchwork approach of solving a few symptoms isn’t going to do it,” he said. “We plan on taking the profit out of long-term care for transparency and developing a national standard… that will line up with the same principles as the Canada Health Act.”

He said the NDP will spend $5 billion on long-term care systems to get them up to a standard that can be regulated and transparent.

Baker asked the audience asking how many people work in long-term care. No hands were raised.

“I mean, it is a vital part of our society,” he said. “Yet, out of the hundred people here, no one works in long-term care. It’s a tough job. It’s an awfully tough job and yet we seem to think that we want to blame the poor people that are doing the best they can.”

He then stated “profit is a good word, not a dirty word.”

Knight said he agrees with the NDP that long-term care shouldn’t be a profit-driven industry but right now there aren’t enough spots.

“If you want to get into a home now there’s a waiting list and maybe you would be lucky to still be in the same town as your family or you may have to drive an hour away to see them,” he said.

Knight called long-term care workers heroes and said they need to be paid a living wage.

“There is probably no long-term care workers here because they’ve just finished a 12-hour shift and are tired on their feet and will be up again at 6:30 to do another 12-hour shift,” said Nater. “I don’t know anyone who is blaming long-term care or healthcare workers. They have truly been the heroes of the last 18 months. We need to invest in long-term care – $3 billion in the Conservative platform to upgrade long-term care homes… and finally, there needs to be criminal accountability for any provider, any operator of a long-term care home who neglects the residents. We need to amend the Criminal Code to make it clear that the operator is responsible criminally and liable for the actions that lead to neglect of the people in those long-term care homes.”

“I just want to make it very clear or don’t misinterpret me,” said Baker. “I’m not criticizing the caregivers.”

“Then what I’m confused about when I’m hearing from you because earlier on you were talking about no need for vaccine passports,” said Matthews. “Here we are talking about those people that we need to protect – that’s the part I don’t understand from the People’s Party.”

Baker replied with more theories on COVID-19 immunity he has yet to substantiate with evidence to the Banner.

“I’d just like to speak to that,” said Kruchkywich. “I didn’t really want to get personal but I think some of this talk is a bit dangerous. I contracted it last spring. I was in and out of the hospital twice. I developed pneumonia. It was probably the worst health issue I’ve ever gone through in my life. I’m a healthy guy. I do not wish it on anyone. I will wear a mask as long as it takes. I will take the vaccine to make sure that my grandparents, that your grandparents, that anyone never comes in contact with it.

“It’s not the flu. It’s a dangerous virus. I think we need to be very careful how we are speaking about it. I think we need to take care of each other. It’s not hard. It’s just the right thing to do.”

“I agree with Kevin,” said Knight. “I don’t think that line of thinking is any comfort to anyone who has a loved one in a home right now and sees the numbers rising and the projections of what they can be in the coming months… We need to… not trivialize people’s suffering as Kevin has just described one case of many in this country.”

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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