CollingwoodToday caught up with Simcoe-Grey Liberal candidate Dan Hambly for a question and answer. This is Hambly’s first election.
CollingwoodToday: What is the main factor setting this election apart from previous ones?
Dan Hambly: I would have to say the starkness in contrast between the parties. I would say party platforms, but for the first time in as long as I can remember we have a party – a major party – the PC party who doesn’t really have a fully costed platform. And we have people already voting. So I think that’s a problem. I think it’s actually an egregiously cynical thing, because it’s predicated on the idea that Ontarians aren’t going to pay attention, and you can get elected without a platform. I think that’s one thing that separates this election from the past.
The only thing we really know about Doug Ford is that he’s proposing to cut billions of dollars. He’s calling them efficiencies, but cuts is what it’s actually going to be, and they’re going to be felt really deeply in healthcare and education because those are the two biggest budget items. That’s not what we need here in Collingwood, we don’t want cuts to healthcare and education because we’re looking to build a new hospital in Collingwood. In Wasaga Beach we want a new high school and I propose that we need a long-term care facility in Wasaga Beach. I don’t think that people really have an appetite for cuts.
Anyone who thinks that Doug Ford is going to build hospitals and schools needs to give their head a shake. Perhaps he’s hoping the $1 beer will help us feel better about cuts to healthcare and education.
The NDP has some wild, pie-in-the-sky ideas, and I think we need to break into Fort Knox to pay for them. It’s irresponsible. And now they’re saying that public-sector unions, they’re just going to let them strike for months at a time because the NDP have this very rigid, ideological position on back-to-work legislation.
We need a government to be much more flexible when you approach that type of issue.
Whereas I think the Liberals are very committed to growing the economy. We have the fastest growing economy among G7 countries – 2.7 per cent growth on average over the past four years. A lot of that is in part due to infrastructure spending that we made a commitment for at the beginning of the Liberals’ term in 2014.
We have the lowest unemployment rate at 5.5 per cent. The lowest in the last 20 years. We are the top three destination in North America for foreign investment.
Companies like Sysco, Google and Toyota want to invest in and grow their business in Ontario because we have the lowest tax rate in Canada - apart from British Columbia. And we have a healthcare system, which, when it comes to the costs associated with benefits, that’s a factor.
So I think there is a starkness in contrast in the parties and what they stand for that perhaps makes this election more unique than others in my recent memory. The only thing I would say is there are some similarities with the election in 1995 with respect to Mike Harris and his cuts and those that Doug Ford is proposing.
CT: Polls are showing the issues Ontarians are most concerned about this election are health care and lower costs/ balanced budgets. Why do you think those have risen to the top as the main issues?
DH: I don’t know that that is true. I’ve knocked on thousands of doors. Yes healthcare is certainly top of mind for a lot of people. In terms of budget, I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and what people are telling me isn’t that they’re deeply interested in or concerned with cutting just to balance the budget. People have high expectations of government in Ontario. So that’s not what we’re hearing. Healthcare is of course top of mind. One of the issues that has come to light recently, certainly, is this hallway healthcare phenomenon. Which I think is an issue and we’ve addressed it. One of the key aspects of overcrowding in hospitals is that one of every six beds in Ontario hospitals are currently occupied by people who no longer need acute care. So they are taking up beds without needing acute care because they are waiting on a long-term care bed. So I think, actually, long-term care is one of the big issues. I think it’s important to also understand that if you look at it province-wide, the vast majority of hospitals are below, and often substantially below, capacity. So it’s not all hospitals. It’s only a few hospitals where this overcrowding is taking place. I think one of the key ways that we can help cure that is by committing to opening long-term care facilities. And we’ve done that. It’s in our platform to open 30,000 beds over the next ten years.
CT: Health care: What is the biggest challenge facing the Ontario health care system and what needs to be done about it, particularly in Simcoe-Grey?
DH: Long-term care to me is the most important aspect. The timing is unique because we have an incredibly fast-growing aging population. Which is why the Ontario Liberal platform is proposing 30,000 beds. We should be focussing on our local riding and where we can benefit from that. So I’m proposing that Wasaga Beach get a long-term care facility because they don’t have one.
CT: Education: What is the biggest problem with the Ontario education system right now and what needs to be done with it?
DH: Due to our Liberal government’s investments – and we have increased investments year over year towards education. As a result of that increase in funding we’ve seen some really good results. This year I think the investment is $24.5 billion overall, which is a marked increase since 2003 when we took office. Thanks to these investments we have results like the high school graduation rate which has gone up to 87 per cent, which is really, really good when you compare it to other places around the world. But I think we can do better, so maybe that’s one area that I would like to focus on. Getting that number even higher.
But when you compare Ontario students internationally they continue to rank really high on international standards tests. The EQAO, which I have mixed feelings about, when you look at the results, they are positive.
The other aspect, I guess, is just infrastructure. We need to continue building more schools.
I think it’s important to note that if Doug Ford is going to cut 4.5 per cent across the board, that means about $1 billion in education. If you look at what that means in terms of teachers, it’s about 17,000 teachers that could stand to lose their jobs with those types of cuts. And as far as the NDP is concerned, I think the NDP embraces a lot of our ideas, but if you take a closer look their platform doesn’t really include any new funding to education.
So I think there is obviously work that we can do continuing on our trajectory in maintaining current levels or maybe even increasing current funding to education and trying to improve those results.
CT: What is fairness and what role do you think the provincial government should play in establishing and enforcing fairness?
DH: Fairness is, to me, the world is sometimes not fair. And so, it’s a very good question. And I think that certainly all levels of government have a role to play in fairness. I think you start with pay. So many of the problems that we see in Ontario and certainly the rest of Canada are improved when people are paid a fair wage. The standard living wage in Simcoe County is $17.85 an hour. And so, one of the things the government did was intervene and bump the minimum wage up to $14 an hour and we’re proposing if re-elected to bump it up to $15 by January 2019.
This is significant. If you look at the census data, there are 30,000 people in Simcoe County who make less than $30,000 a year, which is about what you’d get if you work a full-time job at $15 an hour.
When you put money in their hands, that money goes directly back into the local economy. Minimum wage earners typically aren’t the type of people to stash their money in offshore tax savings accounts.
I think fair wage are one of the best ways to improve families in society. The other thing of course is childcare, which we are proposing to implement if re-elected starting at 2.5 years of age until Kindergarten. Free prescription medication is a fair policy. It helps level the playing field. I grew up in a household that was very aware of the gap in our healthcare system because my mom worked in a pharmacy for 27 years in Alliston. She would be frustrated by the amount of people who couldn’t afford their prescription medication.
We’re the first to introduce pharmacare in North America. It’s a good idea. I’ve been an advocate of it for 20 years. It actually makes good economic sense, because people who can’t afford their prescriptions end up getting sicker and end up in emergency.
CT: So far that’s just for 25 and under?
DH: I think you do need a federal partner, in order to implement full universal. It’s simply a matter of buying power, because we can reduce the cost of drugs when there’s a critical mass when it comes to purchasing medication. I think we’ve introduced it, and we’re showing people it can be done, and I think that’s important. We started it here in Ontario, and I’m really proud of that.
CT: Affordable housing is a huge issue in Simcoe-Grey and especially Collingwood. Local municipalities have spent thousands on studies to come up with ideas. It’s impacting the availability of the workforce for every type of industry in Collingwood. What can be done?
DH: There’s lots of great ideas. And it is an issue here. Homelessness is an issue that isn’t as visible in Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, and Alliston. But it usually manifests itself in couch-surfing.
I think we need to be creative in how we approach it, but it needs to be a priority for elected officials and it would be for me.
There’s lots of public lands that are up for sale. Maybe we use for-sale schools and public lands, instead of selling them privately. Or, if we do sell them privately, maybe we make creation of affordable housing part of the conditions of the sale.
We could prompt developers to build using different types of zoning – inclusionary zoning or density bonuses. We could build affordable housing into big projects like these places getting light rail transits. We could build on the tops of rec centres, we could build over laneways. We can give grants instead of just giving loans to developers for building affordable housing projects. We could allow the borrowing of down payments.
There’s a whole variety of issues, but I think the crucial point is it needs to be a priority and I don’t think it’s been a priority for the incumbent.
CT: Outside of affordable housing: How will you make everyday life more affordable for Ontarians?
DH: Increasing the minimum wage. If companies don’t voluntarily pay a living wage then it’s up to the government to enforce it. And that’s what we’ve done and I think it’s the right thing to do.
And these other ventures. Childcare will be one of the most important factors in making life more affordable for people in Simcoe-Grey. It comes in 2020 if we are re-elected, and I’m excited about it.
Pharmacare is another one.
CT: How long before your party plans a balanced budget?
DH: Six years.
CT: Where do you find common ground with the other party platforms?
DH: I mean, once we introduced pharmacare, they all liked pharmacare. When we introduced childcare, the PCs like childcare. So if there’s common ground it’s because they’ve honed in on our good ideas. I don’t think there is a monopoly on good ideas.
Obviously the various different parties have their own idea of what Ontario should be. I happen to be of the opinion that the Liberals have the best vision in that regard. So there isn’t much common ground.
CT: Colours and parties aside, what are the three things Ontario needs most in a government right now?
DH: We need a competent leader. The debate two nights ago, I think, proved there is only one option and it’s Kathleen Wynne. We need someone who is going to advance the interest of Ontarians and not cut away at government programming, especially some of these brilliant ideas that we’ve brought in. I think they need to stay and they need to be a permanent fixture in Ontario. We don’t want to go back in time.
CT: What first motivated you toward politics?
DH: Grade 9 history class. Mr. Englehart, Banting Memorial High School. He made me think about government and politics in a way that I hadn’t before. In 1992, I attended my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary and my MPP came and gave a speech, his name was Jim Wilson. And for a working-class kid that was quite an extraordinary thing. Perhaps that also initiated some interest at a young age.
CT: You were saying at the debate it was family who encouraged you to run locally?
DH: I think it was always at the back of my mind as something I wanted to do. Because I had such a great community growing up, I felt this was a way I could contribute back to that community. I have always been interested in the issues that are more directly linked to provincial politics rather than federal, so it seemed like an obvious decision.
CT: You’re married to Kathleen Wynne’s daughter, how has that impacted your decision?
DH: I’ve been very fortunate to see – sort of behind the scenes – how government works. The constant lively exchange of ideas perhaps happens more in my family now than in other families because of who Maggie’s mom is. I think what she has done for this province has served as inspiration for me to be part of this team. I think she has done some brilliant things and has changed Ontario for the good. It’s a privilege to run under this banner.