The four candidates vying to be the next MPP for Kenora-Rainy River in the June 7 provincial election squared off Thursday night at a forum hosted by the Rainy River Federation of Agriculture.
Held at Our Lady of the Way School in Stratton, the four answered a wide range of questions regarding debt, transportation, recycling, economic prosperity in rural areas, candidate vetting processes, and gas prices.
To start the debate, a member of the public asked if everybody running for government thinks they can just keep increasing the debt?
PC candidate Greg Rickford was first to answer and did so while criticizing the economic policies of the NDP and Liberals.
He alluded to the fact that every person in Ontario now owes $23,400 through the provincial debt and cited his party's plan for tax cuts.
“We want to make investments that are strategic, affordable, and realistic,” Rickford remarked.
“Not platforms that have $1.4-billion holes in it for which there has never been a subsequent announcement for [how] that $1.4 billion would be shored up.”
Rickford was referring to a $1.4-billion error in the NDP's election platform in which the $700-million annual reserve fund was miscounted as revenue rather than an expense.
NDP candidate Glen Archer didn't try to dodge the criticism and admitted his party's mistake.
“We didn't try to put a spin on it," he noted. ”We didn't try to make anything of it but we admitted it.
“That mistake, when we looked at it and redid the numbers, is going to have very minimal effect on the bottom line and yet we still will have the lowest deficit of all the three major parties,” Archer added.
Archer then lobbed some criticism of his own towards Rickford.
“We don't need $6 billion in cuts that they're promising," he remarked. ”Those are going to be cuts from your services, schools, health care is going to be cut.
“We know that," he warned. "We saw it in the past when 6,000 nurses were laid off.”
The next question was how can the candidates' parties change the “if it's surplus, spend it” mentality?
While Green Party candidate Ember McKillop spoke about funding based on need, Liberal hopeful Karen Kejick made note of how Ontario balanced its budget last year.
Archer used his allotted time to discuss how he would like to trim bureaucracy and have government listen to the taxpayers.
Last to answer was Rickford, who immediately elicited applause when opening his response with, “I'd like to take this opportunity to actually answer the question.”
“And that is that if there is a surplus, you put back and pay down the debt,” he noted.
“That's a very simple accounting proposition.”
Rickford also commented on the Liberal Party's ineffective spending and how it's costing the province.
“The Auditor General has recorded that there are at least $1 billion worth of inefficiencies of operating for the Ontario government right now,” he remarked.
“Clearly we have a problem with wasteful spending.”
A member of the RRFA later asked the candidates if their platform aligns with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture's “Producing Prosperity in Ontario” plan, which relays the concept of distributing economic opportunities across the province.
The first to answer was Rickford, who spoke to how significant the contributions of agriculture are and how he would like to raise the risk management program cap to $50 million for farmers.
He also commented on how rural areas need better broadband and how his party is investing more than $100 million to address the need.
Rickford ended his response by slamming the carbon tax for “raising the cost of everything,” which again drew a big round of applause from the audience.
Next to answer was Kejick, who applauded the contributions of farming, as well, before criticizing Rickford for his lack of proposed investments in broadband.
“Mr. Rickford is only going to invest a fifth of what we are going to invest,” she noted.
“We are committing $500 million over three years to expand broadband access.”
Kejick also attacked Rickford for flip-flopping with his stance on the carbon tax.
“He was going to support a carbon tax three months ago when Patrick Brown was party leader,” she charged.
Archer remained critical of both the PCs and Liberals in his response, where he outlined the PCs' proposed cuts in services and the Auditor General's report from a couple of years ago outlining $8.2 billion in overspending by the current government.
“That $8.2 billion could have twinned our highways, could have built a brand new hospital in Fort Frances or Kenora,” he remarked.
“That's a tremendous amount of waste.”
Archer also took a jab at the PCs' lack of investment in the risk management program,
“The PCs are talking a one-year infusion of $50 million," he noted. "We're going to have $50 million in year one, $100 million in year two, and $175 million in the next two subsequent years.”
During the candidates' closing statements, Rickford harped on the “hydro mess," how the PCs plan to lower gas prices, and how "this is a consequential election.”
McKillop used her closing statement as an opportunity touch on “green” technology and climate change.
She encouraged those on hand to look at what the Green Party's policies are, and reminded the audience that voting Green sends the message that they don't support the “status quo.”
For Kejick's closing statements, she said she will continue listening, increase development opportunities for the district's lands, and push for highway twinning.
Archer's closing statement began with criticism directed at the PCs and Liberals regarding hydro rates, gas prices, and budget cuts.
He then talked about how his party has a plan and a platform for Northwestern Ontario.
The forum closed with organizers thanking everyone for coming out.