Perth-Wellington candidates on how they’d advocate for farmers, handle local weather change and housing

The largely rural riding of Perth-Wellington also includes Stratford, St. Mary’s, Arthur and Clifford.

It has been served since October 2011 by Progressive Conservative Randy Pettapiece, who said he would not seek re-election. He said he had just turned 73, and was opting to retire.

“It was a difficult decision because, despite the challenges of political life, I truly enjoy the job. I enjoy representing and promoting the communities in every part of our riding. I appreciate the constituents, colleagues and friends I have met over the years,” Pettapiece said in a media release in November 2021.

“For a full-time MPP, the hours are often long. In retiring, I choose instead to spend those hours as a full-time husband, father, and grandfather.”

There are seven candidates in the riding of Perth-Wellington in this election. They are, alphabetically:

  • Laura Bisutti, Green Party of Ontario.
  • Jo-Dee Burbach, Ontario New Democratic Party.
  • Ashley Fox, Ontario Liberal Party.
  • Bob Hosken, New Blue Party.
  • Sandy William MacGregor, Ontario Party.
  • Matthew Rae, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.
  • Robby Smink, Freedom Party.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo emailed surveys about top issues in this election to the candidates of the four major parties in Perth-Wellington. Bisutti, Burbach and Fox answered the survey questions. Rae sent an emailed statement.

They were asked about: housing, cost of living, how they’d advocate for farmers, what they’d do to address climate change, what other top issue is on their mind and what they wanted voters to know about them.

Housing

Housing is a big issue, not just in urban areas, but also for rural residents. Fox said she would advocate to make sure the province works co-operatively and collaboratively with municipalities “on everything, but especially on affordable housing.”

She said the Liberals would accelerate housing project and provide funding to help municipalities approve housing more quickly.

“More homes need to be built, but we can’t just keep spreading further and further out – encroaching on farmlands, wetlands and other greenspaces,” Fox wrote.

“We need to add more family-friendly housing options to the communities where people already live, which means restoring urban intensification requirements that the Ford Conservatives weakened.”

Rae noted he has sat on the Perth County Committee for Attainable and Affordable Housing for the past two years and he is “passionate about increasing access to housing, as well as creating good jobs in the region and investing in the skilled trades.”

He said the Progressive Conservatives has a housing supply action plan, which will build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years.

Burbach says the NDP has a “concrete, doable plan” for the housing crisis. That includes encouraging “responsible development” within existing urban boundaries, a speculation and vacancy tax on residential property and a portable housing benefit to help tenants who can’t afford their rent and basic necessities.

Bisutti said the Greens would want to partner with non-profit housing providers and build and upgrade buildings for affordable housing. The party would also update the Planning Act to allow more people to build triplexes and fourplexes in communities.

She noted rent control and vacancy controls are also needed, as are “more pathways to ownership” for low and middle income first-time buyers. This includes options like tiny homes, co-op housing and rent to own.

Cost of living

Busitti said housing is the first step for making life more affordable, but it’s also important people are paid a living wage. The minimum wage must be raised, she said, and workers’ rights need to be protected.

She said universal dental care and pharmacare are needed “to help citizens get equal access to these costly necessities.”

She said the Green party would include mental health and addiction care under OHIP, so people don’t have to pay out of pocket for those services. 

Fox said affordability is a major focus of the Liberal platform and includes increasing Old Age Security for low-income seniors, bringing back rent control, increasing the minimum wage and implementing $10 a day before and after school care.

Rae said the Progressive Conservatives would invest $1 billion annually in employment and training programs to help people retrain and upgrade their skills “as the province continues to support better jobs and opportunities for Ontario workers.”

Burbach said she understands it’s getting harder for people to pay the bills and make ends meet.

She said the NDP would lower auto insurance, look at ways to protect consumers, provide dental care for every Ontarian, increase the amount people who receive funding from the Ontario Disability Support Program get and relaunch a basic income pilot.

The riding of Perth-Wellington includes St. Mary’s in the south up to Harrison, Clifford and Mount Forest in the north. The City of Stratford is located in this riding. (Elections Ontario)

Help for farmers

Burbach says previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments have failed farmers when the Liberals put a cap on the risk management program – meant to allow producers to ability to manage risks beyond their control, such as costs and market prices – and the PCs didn’t lift that cap.

The NDP would lift the cap, she said, “to ensure it provides real protection to farm and farmers.”

The NDP would also protect farmland and would work with farmers on an Ontario Food Strategy to get locally grown food to people in the province. They would also offer financial support to young farmers to get them started in the industry.

Busitti says the Greens would “freeze urban boundaries and permanently protect farmland from non-agricultural uses such as urban sprawl, highways and gravel mining.”

She said they would invest in research and development to improve the sustainability of growing and distributing food in the province and would pay farmers for maintaining clean water, wild habitat, climate resiliency and carbon sequestration.

The Green party would also create policies “that support family-owned farms and the succession to a younger generation” and they would provide learning and grants to encourage students to go into an agri-food business.

Fox said Ontario has an abundance of food, but “a few big companies dominate food retailing the processing.” She says that means the companies can control prices and put fees on suppliers.

She says the Liberals would “take on these mega-companies and their abusive behaviour toward farmers by legislating fair and open negotiations between retails and suppliers” which would lower food prices in the long-term.

She said the Liberals would also protect farmland and promote sustainable farming techniques.

Fox said helping rural residents also means ensuring they have access to health care, infrastructure like libraries, schools and community centres, and getting high-speed internet to everyone by 2025.

Rae noted in his statement that he grew up on his family’s dairy farm just north of Harriston and he understands “the value of hard work and the importance of agriculture to our riding.”

Climate change

Fox said the Liberals would create a “made-for-rural climate action plan” and would work with the federal government to “strengthen carbon tax rebates to farmers.”

More land would be protected under the Greenbelt “in close collaboration with local and Indigenous communities and farmers” and conservation authorities would be given more resources to prevent flooding and protect natural resources.

The Liberals also would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, Fox said, and reach net zero emissions by 2050. They would create green jobs, more electric vehicles more affordable and offer rebates for people who want to upgrade their homes or businesses.

Burbach pointed to the “Green New Democratic Deal” and said there’s a need to address the “urgency of the climate crisis while at the same time revitalizing our economy.”

The NDP would aim for net-zero emissions by 2050, create a new cap-and-trade system to make large corporate polluters pay for emissions, ensure a quarter of the money raised from cap-and-trade goes to rural, Northern and low-income families and the party would create jobs.

The NDP would also create a retrofit program for provincial buildings, expand the Greenbelt, plant a billion, increase access to parks and green spaces and create a provincial water strategy to address water advisories and permits to take water.

Busitti says the Green party sees natural ecosystems as providing the ” best low cost solutions to a clean water supply and flood protection. Our goal is 25 per cent of natural ecosystems by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.”

The Greens would create a fair share carbon budget for the province, take over administration of the federal carbon fee system and increase the price by $25 until it reaches $300 per tonne in 2032.

Buildings must be made energy efficient and the Greens would invest in transit, she said.

Rae’s emailed statement did not address climate change.

Health care

Fox, Busitti and Burbach were asked what issue not asked about is also among their top concerns and all three said health care.

Fox, a nurse who has worked with seniors, said the COVID-19 pandemic taught the province lessons.

“It was a wake-up call that cannot be ignored,” Fox said.

“We must recognize that institutionalizing seniors through long-term care has been one of the great mistakes of the 20th century.”

Fox said the Liberals would guarantee home care for anyone who needs it and end for-profit long-term care.

Burbach said the pandemic showed how “broken” the health care system is and has “made all Ontarians concerned about getting the health care they need at a price they can afford. This is especially true for our seniors.”

She said workers are “run off their feet” and unable to provide proper care. It’s why the NDP would increase access to home care and medications. The NDP would hire more personal support workers and raise their wage, Burnach said. They would also hire more nurses and work to clear the surgical backlog created during the pandemic.

“Universal pharmacare, dental care and mental health care will improve quality of life for many people living in Perth-Wellington,” Burbach said.

“We’ll also declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency, and invest in addiction rehabilitation, detox centres, and harm reduction strategies.”

Busitti said there needs to be a focus on “preventing problems by helping people access healthy food and supporting healthy behaviour.”

She says the Greens would invest nurse practitioner-led health clinics, pay nurses and personal support workers more and work to expose medical students to rural areas to encourage them to work in smaller communities.

About the candidates

Each candidate was asked what they would like voters to know about them.

In his statement, Rae said, “I will ensure our rural voice is heard at Queen’s Park, while continuing to work with our municipalities to find solutions that meet the needs of our rural community.”

Fox, who grew up in Harrison and now lives in Palmerson with her husband, is expecting her first child. She works in home care as a nurse case manager, she’s a community outreach co-ordinator with Promyse Home Care in Kitchener-Waterloo and she facilitates a course that’s part of the leadership in senior living program with Conestoga College.

She said she knows she’s made a difference in the lives of her patients- she helped at vaccination clinics in long-term care and retirement homes – so “why not make a difference for my community as a whole?”

“I want everyone in Perth-Wellington to feel like they’re being respected,” she said.

“We need a representation in government that acknowledges our rural riding is unique.”

Burbach says she’s a parent to growing children, and the child of aging parents.

“I am personally invested in securing a just and equitable society that cares for all of its members, regardless of their age, faith, finances, colour, profession, or gender identity,” she said.

She said she’s heard from people who are concerned the system is failing someone they know and love.

“People are concerned about the kind of life their children can expect to have as they grow,” she said.

“We need real change in order to grow our province into a more equitable and compassionate place to live while preserving our important farmland and beautiful natural spaces.”

Busitti, a school board trustee, said education is also among her top priorities in this election. She supports in-person learning and would oppose any move toward mandatory e-learning or hybrid learning models. 

“I feel that the funding formula should take into account the unique needs of remote and rural schools and their importance as a backbone to the community,” she said.

Busitti said it’s important to look at all the issues facing the province though “the lens of the environment.”

“We can create a caring society, connected communities and a new climate economy without sacrificing the environment,” she said.

Voting day is Thursday.

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