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Simcoe-Grey candidates compare leaders, platforms in debate

Here's a play-by-play from last night's Simcoe-Grey all-candidates meeting

By Jessica Owen, Special to Collingwood Today

Simcoe-Grey voters had a chance to see four of six local candidates go head to head on local issues ahead of the upcoming provincial election.

Four of the six candidates in the Simcoe-Grey riding showed up to discuss the issues: Jim Wilson (PC), Jesseca Perry (Green), Dan Hambly (Liberal) and David Matthews (NDP). The debate was held at the Collingwood Legion and was put on by the Collingwood Chamber of Commerce.

Collingwood Connection reporter John Edwards put forward the first question from the media panel, choosing to start off with the topic of education. As a parent, he relayed his dismay with receiving a list every year of all the items his kids needed in order to succeed. He brought up some of the parents and friends who are teachers he has spoken to spending hundreds and thousands of dollars of their own money on items the kids need.

“What are your plans for education, and do they include a single school board so that that savings can be put back into front-line education?” asked Edwards.

“Our party proposes to invest heavily in the education system,” said Matthews. “We want to build more schools, we want to change the formula for building high schools… right now in Wasaga Beach they can’t build a high school under the present formula so that would have to be changed. We’re going to put a moratorium on any school closures. We want to look at bringing back schools to rural Ontario. We want to put sufficient money back into arts and music programs… all these programs that the Liberals have cut out of education which our children need.”

“My firm belief is that we need to have a joint school board… to save money,” Matthews said.

Jim Wilson took a uniting approach in answering the question.

“I don’t think any of our platforms have cuts to education… I’ve looked at all of them,” he said.

“As Dave said, there’s a real problem with the funding formula, Kathleen Wynne has acknowledged that, it’s just they haven’t fixed it over the past few years.”

“We are top heavy… I remember a time when we just had a handful of superintendents, now we have superintendents, they have assistants, their assistants have assistants… you have to try to find efficiencies and drive the money to the classroom. I’m not sure having one big monopoly school board in this province would be a great idea. Just think when they go on strike all at once,” Wilson said.

Perry was very clear in her views on education.

“To answer your question directly, the Green Party is definitely committed to merging the public and Catholic school boards. We think that that’s going to bring a better quality of education where we can reduce classroom sizes,” she said.

Later on in the debate during audience questions, the question of a singular school board came up again.

“In today’s day and age where there are a number of religions that are in our modern day, why is the government choosing to fund only a Catholic school board? It’s insane,” expanded Perry. “There are people here of a variety of religions… why should the Catholic faith have its own school?” she asked.

“It’s probably because we have a constitution that you would have to change, which might be a little difficult,” retorted Wilson.

“We’ve already done it before,” Perry shot back.

When it was Hambly’s turn to answer, he took issue that the question was being asked in this manner.

“Due to the Ontario Liberal government’s investments… Ontario’s education system...I don’t like when people talk it down. It’s one of the best in the world. I’m not saying that there isn’t room for improvement. This year alone it means an investment of $24 billion (a $3.5 billion increase since 2013), and it’s thanks to these investments that our high school graduation rate has risen to 86.5 per cent – that’s up 18 per cent under our government. Ontario students continue to rank high on international standards tests. But, I think there is more to do… I would certainly advocate for improvement,” he said.

The second media question was asked by Mariane McLeod of 97.7 The Beach.

“For Jim Wilson: So… Doug Ford. He’s an accused drug dealer, he says he didn’t know children would be living in a group home that was planned for his neighbourhood in Etobicoke would actually be leaving the house, he ordered an audit at Toronto City Hall that showed no waste to cut, he supported four years of insanity at Toronto City Hall, he lied for his brother and ordered an audit again that found nothing. He won his party’s leadership with the support of the ultra right-wing Tanya Granic-Allen who he then promptly threw under the bus. How can you support your leader?”

The question elicited cheers and applause from the audience.

“Well uh, thank you for the question, I guess,” chuckled Wilson. “Mariane, I know you don’t like the guy, but Holy Mackerel!”

“I don’t know how much of that is true or not, I mean I can only give my honest assessment. I didn’t know Doug before he ran for leader. I supported Christine [Elliott.] But, I’ve gotten to know him. He’s been on the road a lot so I don’t have a lot of personal contact with him. What I can see is, people love him,” said Wilson.

Laughter trickled over the audience at this point.

“I served with his dad for five years during the Harris government… his dad was an extremely honourable person. From what I’ve seen of Doug he’s honourable and compassionate. He explained to the media that… he had clashes with the media down at city hall, but he said he did that because he was always defending his brother,” said Wilson. “[Ford says,] ‘I didn’t always know what my brother was up to. Where I come from, defending my brother is a virtue.’ And since he said that to our Queen’s Park media, they haven’t opened that issue again,” said Wilson.

While Hambly and Perry used their opportunities to speak to talk up their own party leaders, Matthews took a different tactic.

“This man (Ford) is continually saying things and then backtracking on them. If he’s doing it now leading up to an election, what’s he going to be like after he’s elected?” asked Matthews.

Collingwood Today reporter Erika Engel posed the next media question to Hambly.

“Where do you think residents of Simcoe-Grey encounter the most provincial red tape, and what needs to be done about it?” she asked.

“I believe that in virtually all aspects of government there is red tape that can be cut. Specifically, I don’t have an answer for you. I might need to think about it a bit longer,” said Hambly.

“Towns don’t have the power to get things done. I’m a firm believer that the municipal board needs to be scrapped so towns have the authority to make decisions on their own,” said Matthews.

“I don’t blame Dan for not coming up with something because people have their own definitions of ‘red tape,’” said Wilson. “A good example brought to me recently was a co-op dealing with farmers, in order to sell pesticides, he doesn’t have one permit, he’s got nine permits, he deals with five ministries. He can remember the day when he got one permit to sell pesticides and one day of training for his staff, not days after days. It drives the cost up of food. You want to have food safety, but it’s the farmers themselves that are telling us it’s gone crazy.”

“I see a lot of red tape in Simcoe-Grey when it comes to a lot of community issues. For starters, we have residents in Tottenham who deal with water quality levels that are close to that of a third-world country. They have to bathe their children in water that comes out brown,” said Perry. “We have to force an expansion on the Greenbelt because the amount of urban sprawl in this area is just atrocious… there is tons of red tape when it comes to this riding, and this riding is huge.”

Penny Skelton of Rogers TV asked the candidates about supporting farmers when they experience loss of crops or livestock and asked what three things they would change at Queen’s Park if elected.  

Ontario’s sex education curriculum was also brought up with a challenge put forward by McLeod in her second question of the evening.

“I looked up the Ontario sex-ed curriculum. I assume that since it’s a campaign topic, you have all looked it up as well. Tell me one thing your kid will learn about their sexuality in Grade 6,” said McLeod.

While all the candidates answered, only Hambly was able to name one of the items actually on the curriculum unprompted, which include development of understanding of self, understanding puberty changes and healthy relationships, decision making in relationships and stereotyping and assumptions.

“Maybe introducing such an intense curriculum at such an early age may not be the best route to go… In Grade 6, personal relationships, boundaries -- I’m on board with that,” said Perry.

“No one’s talking about getting rid of the sex education curriculum, and I agree with both previous speakers,” said Wilson.

Many of the audience questions touched on issues already brought forward and discussed earlier in the debate, except the final one, read out by moderator John Eaton of 95.1 the Peak FM.

“Where do you personally believe the new Collingwood hospital should be built?”

Dan Hambly got straight to the point.

“Poplar Sideroad,” he said, definitively.

“I believe it should be built where the most need is, and where the residents of the community most believe it should be built,” said Perry.

“From the beginning, which was 10 years ago, we planned that new $33 million highway to go to the new hospital and to the Georgian College campus,” said Wilson. “The vision is to have a health care campus there, ladies and gentlemen, so we need the 56 acres, not the 14 acres that’s available downtown. The Georgian College (campus) will transfer more to nursing and paramedic teaching in that building, and they’ll be able to practise in that hospital. We want to build the first modern, mid-sized hospital in Canada, a fully teaching hospital. It’s what’s lacking in our healthcare system.”

“I don’t really care where it’s built, as long as it’s built,” said Matthews. “Let’s just get on with it and build the damn thing.”

While Libertarian candidate John Wright sent his regards and his regrets he could not attend due to a death in the family, the None of the Above party candidate William Gordon did not appear and did not indicate his reasons.

The debate in its entirety will be broadcast on Rogers TV on May 17 at 7 p.m.

All-Candidates Fact Check

We checked the facts on four statements made at the all-candidates meeting.

Jim Wilson (On Doug Ford)

“He was elected on a Saturday and we had a Unity Rally on one day’s notice on the Monday night two months ago and there were 2,200 people there. In my 27 years, I’ve never been to a political rally with 2,200 people there. They were from all walks of life, religions… he went up to Thunder Bay, he got 700 people in Thunder Bay.”

THE FACTS: While these numbers are approximately correct, multiple reports have come out in The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, CBC and CTV News that some supporters at PC rallies since Ford’s election as party leader have been paid actors. On May 8, Ford told the media he was looking into it.


David Matthews (On the Ontario sex education curriculum)

“I don’t know what’s on the sex ed curriculum, OK? The one thing that concerns me about it, and Jim touched on it, is that parents weren’t really consulted.”

THE FACTS: About 4,000 parents and the leaders of various parents’ councils at schools were consulted by the Ontario Liberals when revamping the sex education curriculum. The Liberals also consulted with psychologists, psychiatrists and police.

“The way the curriculum was developed was not by politicians,” said Kathleen Wynne in March.


Jesseca Perry (On the Greenbelt expansion)

“I know there’s some proposal right now to expand Highway 26 across the Greenbelt to connect it with the 404. That is a mistake. We would not allow that proposal to move forward.”

THE FACTS: Collingwood Today could not find this proposal. When asked about this proposal on Tuesday after the debate, Perry said that just prior to the debate, David Matthews advised her he had information that the PCs were making a proposal to expand Highway 26 across the Greenbelt and connect it to Highway 404. When contacted for comment Tuesday, Jim Wilson indicated he had not heard of this proposal and it isn’t something being put forward by the PCs. “I don’t even know how you would get from Highway 26 (directly) to the 404,” he said.

"I read this in an article I saw on Facebook. Unfortunately I can't remember where I saw it. I felt people should keep an eye out for this possibility," said Matthews on Tuesday.


Dan Hambly (On the plight of local farmers)

“We’ve committed $230 million annually to help farmers cover loss and damage due to risks that are absolutely beyond their control. That’s a Liberal initiative and I think it’s an important one to maintain.”

THE FACTS: The only mention of farmers in the 2018 Ontario Liberal Budget is the Food and Beverage Growth Fund (it has pledged $120 million over three years), and in regards to the fair energy plan. Hambly did not return a request for clarification by publishing time.