Provincial Liberal candidate Rosalyn Stevens answers Millstone questions

Rosalyn StevensOn May 27, 2014 the Millstone sent out these questions  in an e-interview to our provincial election candidates. Provincial Liberal candidate Rosalyn Stevens provided these answers. Questions are in bold. 

The Economy

  • The recent performance of the rural Ontario economy in terms of job growth has been poorer than in urban places. What is your proposed approach to support the development of job opportunities in rural Ontario and small towns?

 The Ontario Liberal Party has brought forward real initiatives to support job growth in rural areas, such as the Rural Economic Development Fund and the Eastern Ontario Development Fund. The agri-food industry is not just an important sector – it is a major player in Ontario’s economy. That’s why Ontario Liberals are partnering with agri-food businesses so they can succeed. The Premier made a personal commitment as Minister of Agriculture and Food to do what she could to help the industry reach their target—that’s a goal I support. If we are given a mandate to implement our 2014 Budget, we will focus our support who contribute to this vision and focus on growth and good jobs.

  • Rural Ontario stakeholders are concerned about youth employment/underemploymentin their communities. How does your party’s platform respond to these concerns?

Our Youth Jobs Strategy is a great example of how our government has been supportive of young people. It will create 30,000 jobs for young people. Since its launch in September, the Youth Jobs Strategy has created 11,000 jobs for young people. This is an investment in our people, an investment in our province, and an investment in the future of our economy. Our Premier’s relentless focus on agriculture and rural Ontario will ensure that the jobs for youth and the continuing growth of our agricultural sector are interconnected and their success intertwined. With highly-skilled, high-paying jobs comes youth retention, following an apprenticeship, training program, college, or university.

  • Fiscal stability at the municipal level concerns many rural citizens. How would your government deal with cost-sharing between levels of government? What transfers/investment programs do you believe require change or continued support in the coming years?

The Province has a strong record of supporting and working with municipalities. In 2014, the Province will provide municipalities with ongoing support of approximately $3.5 billion – an increase of more than 200 per cent over 2003. This will give municipalities room in their budgets to invest in local priorities and control property taxes. When the PCs were in power, they downloaded highways and services onto municipalities. At the federal level, Ontario is not getting its fair share in the federation through transfers. Ontario needs Kathleen Wynne’s leadership to stand up for Ontario because it is not hard to see that Tim Hudak could not stand up for Ontario to Stephen Harper. Working together is important to Ontario’s success.

  • Skills training and access to post-secondary programs affects both the future incomes of young people as well as the ability of employers to find the talent they need. What would your government do to ensure rural youth have appropriate skills and that they can access relevant programs locally and affordably?

 Skills training and access to post-secondary education have both been central thrusts of the work the Ontario Liberal government has done, and plans to do through the Ontario Liberal Plan. Our 30% off tuition grant, which 230,000 students received last year, introduced in the last election is at risk. The NDP and PCs would both scrap it. The NDP would trade it for a 3% cut across the board on post-secondary, which doesn’t prioritize low or medium income families at all. The PCs would not keep the tuition grant, and would furthermore fire 100,000 Ontarians immediately. This will have a devastating impact on young people. We are investing in education, skills and training to help the people of Ontario get good jobs and succeed at work. Ontario Liberals are committed to helping our kids become lifelong learners. We also provide grants to employers when training is successfully completed, particularly for apprenticeships. On the issue of Kemptville College, Ontario Liberals are committed to finding a solution. The issue began when the PCs devolved responsibility to the University of Guelph and as a result gave control to an autonomous university. Our government invested to keep programs offered, the college open, and have the time it takes to seek necessary partners. We want to keep Kemptville College open to train young people to upkeep the family farm and keep the agricultural sector strong. It will take hard work that I am ready to undertake.

  • Property taxes have no relationship to ability to pay.  Income tax is progressive.  Municipalities large and small have funding problems.  Shouldn’t the provincial government play a far larger role in funding municipal services through income and consumption taxes?

Again, our government is committed to supporting our municipalities in their priority projects. The best way to fund this is by fostering growth in our economy. We are doing this by partnering with businesses in joint programs that work and investing in education, skills and training. We have been clear that the government’s funding plan would not increase the tax on gasoline, HST, or personal income taxes on low-and middle-income earners. The PC’s plan to lower the corporate tax rates will not help our municipalities. Our Ontario Liberal Plan will raise taxes slightly for high-income earners to help contribute more towards balancing our budget in 2017-18. The needed investments in infrastructure, $130 billion over ten years, will directly benefit our municipalities fix and build roads, bridges and priority projects. This is the right plan to move Ontario Forward.

  • How will you reduce Ontario’s debt, and enable our province to live within its means?  What is your time frame?

The Ontario Liberal Plan will balance the budget by 2017-18, without slashing jobs for nurses, doctors, teachers, firefighters and other frontline workers that Ontarians and Ontario businesses rely on. The Liberal way to balance the budget continues to seek efficiencies, delays unneeded nuclear projects we don’t need yet, and invests in our greatest asset – our people. The PC’s plan purports to balance the budget one year earlier than 2017-18, but their math has been disproven by economist-after-economist. In fact, the PCs could not find one economist in Ontario to endorse their plan. The NDP’s plan has similarly been said to be based on fuzzy math that will not bring us to balance on-time or on-track. The Ontario Liberal Plan is online, fully costed, and can be viewed at ontarioliberalplan.ca.

  • What is your position on ensuring that all employees receive, at the very least, a decent  wage (i.e. a wage that covers basic living expenses)  for a regular day’s work?

We increased the minimum wage to $11 starting on June 1st, which will put full time workers above the poverty line after taxes. We have indexed that rate to inflation to ensure that hard working Ontarians don’t fall behind. After years of pushing this issue, the NDP voted against this plan in the legislature. An Ontario Liberal government will continue to push for a better quality of life for all our workers.

Health Care and an Aging Population

  • What is your party’s platform with respect to the accessibility of health care and quality medical services near to rural and small town residents? Is the current situation satisfactory? What would you improve? What is your plan to reduce waiting lists and limits to the health care that is available in the home?

Ontario Liberals are ensuring families get the right care, in the right place, at the right time. We are delivering high quality health care while keeping costs down to ensure a sustainable system for generations to come. Our Plan committed to:

  • Investing $260 million in home and community care in 2013/14, will invest an additional $270 million this year
  • Increasing the hourly wage of publicly-funded Personal Support Workers
  • Providing better mental health supports
  • Investing over $11.4 billion in major hospital expansions or redevelopment projects over the next 10 years

Unfortunately, the NDP rejected all of these measures when they forced this election. Our health care system is an economic advantage. It saves companies from having expensive private plans like in the United States. The PC’s cuts would have a devastating effect on our health care services. Tim Hudak promised to fire 4,800 health care workers while cutting billions and that’s on top of firing 100,000 front-line workers that experts say will have to pull from health care and education workers in order to meet his targets. Andrea Horwath put her own political interests ahead of Ontarians, giving Tim Hudak the chance to impose his cuts on the healthcare system. Ontario Liberals have a strong record on health care, including renovations and updates to the Almonte hospital. We have reduced wait times for the last eight years. 2.1 million more Ontarians now have a family doctor. We have put Family Health Teams in place in 200 communities across Ontario, including in rural areas that provide services closer to home. Ontario Liberals doubled the health funding in the province to increase health promotion, illness prevention, and screening. Tim Hudak, as Junior Health Minister to Mike Harris, fired 6,000 nurses, closed hospitals, and had the worst surgical wait times in Canada. ERs had to shut their doors to ambulances, forcing pregnant women to sometimes deliver their babies in Buffalo or elsewhere. Those who needed home care had their services capped, or worse, cut off. We cannot go back to such standards. We will continue to reduce wait times, continue investing in building or improving hospitals, and increasing access closer to home through home care and Family Health Teams. The Ontario Liberal Plan is focused on ensuring high-quality health care while keeping costs down. We will continue to reduce wait times, and deliver quality service.

  • Rural and small town Ontario has an older demographic than urban places, making services for aging population a priority for many rural stakeholders. Does your party have an aging strategy or set of programs or policies that it would implement specific to a rural/small town context?

Over the next two decades, Ontario is going to experience a huge demographic shift. The numbers of seniors in Ontario will more than double by 2036. The oldest age groups in Ontario are increasing in number faster than any others. The 75+ group is projected to increase by approximately 144 per cent by 2036. The 90+ group will triple in size. Our party has many programs in place for seniors, including the Ontario Drug Benefit Program, the Aging at Home strategy, continued action through the Retirement Homes Act, the Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit, the Ontario Trillium Benefit, the Ontario Senior’s Homeowners’ Property Tax Grant, Personal Income Splitting, an Elder Abuse Strategy, and the Ontario Liberal Plan commits to higher wages for Personal Support Workers. Our oldest citizens shaped the province we live in today. The province our children and grandchildren live in will have been shaped by this generation. We must make it a province that values the contributions that seniors have made and values the contributions they have yet to make. Ontario’s Action Plan for Seniors looks to the future while respecting the past. It is a plan rooted in respect – one that encourages the active participation of seniors in the life of this province. It is a plan that recognizes that supporting seniors means supporting their families and caregivers. It is a plan that focuses on helping them be healthier, provides them with friendly, supportive communities, and keeps them protected and safe. Our Plan expands home care to free up hospital beds and reforms physiotherapy to double the number of clinics and provide care to 20,000 more seniors. Our party is the only one proposing a plan for pensions this election. The Ontario Retirement Pension Plan is based on the CPP and will help our future generations retire with security as the federal government has not acted as a partner in fixing the CPP. Tim Hudak refuses to join us in enhancing the CPP or in creating a new retirement pension plan for Ontarians. What is worse, his attack on the public sector would take away or reduce the pensions for hundreds of thousands of workers. The NDP says it supports stronger public pensions – it is supposedly a founding creed of that party. But, by refusing to support the 2014 Ontario Budget, the NDP opposed the biggest pension plan expansion since the CPP was created – proof they lack the leadership we need to fight for stronger retirement security for Ontarians. As your MPP, I will ensure that this benefits all communities in our riding.

Electricity

  • If you were to win the election how would your government’s strategy affect the cost of electric power? What steps would your government take to deal with the generation and distribution of energy in the province? What is the plan to bring Ontario One under control?

Ontario Liberals modernized an electricity system that needed to be fixed. We did this to ensure Ontarians have the power they need, when they need it. I am proud that our government made Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to be coal-free. This makes us all breathe a little easier. It also saves us billions in health and environmental costs per year, and 665 fewer premature deaths per year. Our strategy on electricity has ensured we have not gone back into the dark, like under the PCs, when brownouts and blackouts were routine. Tim Hudak wants to build $15 billion worth of new nuclear we don’t need and cancel contracts putting ratepayers on the hook for up to $20 billion. The PCs would have us return to burning dirty coal. In terms of saving Ontario families money, we’re taking off the debt-retirement charge off hydro bills two years ahead of schedule. The NDP’s rebate gimmick plan will not benefit Ontario families or businesses. Our record has created 2,700 clean-tech firms and employs 65,000 people in the clean-technology sector, generating annual revenues of more than $8 billion. Over $10 billion has been invested since 2003 in improvements in Hydro One’s systems, including upgrades to over 7,500 km of power lines – more than twice the distance from Sault Ste. Marie to Vancouver. To mitigate costs associated with rebuilding our electricity system after years of neglect, our government introduced the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit – a 10% reduction amount to $150 per year for the average family. We need reliable electricity, and we will work to keep costs down for Ontario families.

  • A company called Enerdu proposes to significantly expand a hydro power generating plant on the river in central Almonte. Local citizens oppose this plan as it will change the aesthetics of the Mississippi River and falls, a central element in the beauty of the town and a tourist attraction. There is also concern that the hydro plant as now operated and as proposed is contributing to the death of a wetland forest at Appleton. The project will offer jobs during construction of the power plant, but at most, one permanent job thereafter. Enerdu will sell the power generated to the Ontario grid.  No financial benefit will accrue to the town. What is your position on this project? What action will you take as our MPP if you are elected.

I am from Almonte. I have followed this project closely as a journalist and as a resident. In all the meetings, our MPP has not been present. It was his responsibility to bring this file forward, express citizen’s concerns, and be present. My campaign has been centered on representation, conversation, and dedication. These are values I would bring to everything I do as MPP. As the Millstone’s piece by Shaun McLaughlin pointed out – it may be too late to stop the Enerdu expansion, but we must work together to mitigate features identified in the heritage impact study. To ensure the conditions placed in the environmental assessment criteria are met – we need an MPP willing to be present. I have criticized Jack publicly at debates about only meeting with the proponent and privately with a few concerned citizens on this issue. If I am elected MPP, I will take this file right to the Environment Minister to discuss and be your voice at Queen’s Park.

Nature and the environment

  • What would your party do to protect the quality of water in Ontario lakes, streams and rivers?

Our Party and its Plan has committed to the Ottawa River Action Plan that will stop the flow of raw sewage into our national treasure. Our Ottawa team of Liberal MPPs has worked hard to protect this and work with municipal partners. We must preserve our waterfront for future generations. We passed the Clean Water Act to protect drinking water from source to tap. This measure was opposed by the NDP and PCs. We introduced environmental legislation that the opposition blocked, including The Great Lakes Protection Act, The Waste Reduction Act, and the Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act. Investments by Ontario Liberals in this riding are making a difference though. As an example, $20,000 was provided to the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority to enhance fish habitat by creating a spawning, nursery, rearing and feeding habitat for the fish community of the Jock River. $9,800 was given to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy that will plant 3000 native tree seedlings in High Lonesome Nature Reserve. We have invested over $58,000 in the Town of Mississippi Mills for Source Water Protection that has helped protect local drinking water sources. These are only some examples. Our Plan is committed to our streams, lakes, and rivers and unfortunately these measures are being opposed by the PCs who would put this all at risk with reckless job cuts. We simply cannot risk another Walkerton where Mike Harris’ PCs with Tim Hudak as a Minister cut water inspectors and testing that left 2300 sick and 7 dead.

  • What actions will you take to protect our natural habitat and promote a sustainable economy?

We created the 2-million-acre Greenbelt to stop urban sprawl and preserve top-quality farmland. Ontario’s new greener diesel rules are stepping up the fight against climate change and improving air quality. Local MPP Jack MacLaren argues that climate change is not “human-caused” and carbon emissions rise and fall naturally. This is a shame when we want to count that our MPP is standing up for the environment in Ontario that does not respect borders between ridings. As aforementioned, we have introduced a number of measures to protect our natural environment on land and in our lakes, rivers, and streams. I am proud of Ontario Liberals for making us a coal-free jurisdiction. I am proud of measures passed such as the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act, the Toxics Reduction Act, and the Lake Simcoe Protection Act that the Ontario government brought in over the past 10 years. We have invested $124 million towards large clean-up projects and will continue such measures if re-elected on June 12th.

  • Does your party think the current policy regime surrounding farmland loss and farmland protection is adequate? What policy changes or initiatives would your government take to respond to this concern?

Our Premier, as Minister of Agriculture, has made a personal commitment to the agricultural community and staple of our economy in Ontario. We are committed to protecting farmland through our Farms Forever Program The Premier said at the announcement, “We recognize that preserving farmland is a very important part of our responsibility and that’s what the Farms Forever Program would be about.” Under the program, a landowner could request an easement to prevent non-agricultural development from taking place on the land even if it is sold. The Hudak PCs say they will not work with us towards getting the federal government to match support for farmers through the Risk Management Program. This makes Ontarians less safe. In the 1990s, they fired meat inspectors and now they’re promising to fire 100,000 frontline workers immediately. The NDP has no plan for farmers and has offered no support for farmers. Rural Ontario is home to 2.6 million people, representing approximately 20% of Ontario’s population. The strength of our provincial economy depends on the continued success of our rural and small communities. We also committed $40 million annually to strategic investments in the food processing sector through a dedicated food processing stream under the Jobs and Prosperity Fund to promote investments, innovation and sector growth. Agriculture and a sustainable environment are connected, and mutual benefits can be achieved.

  • Does your party think the current policy regime surrounding farmland loss and farmland protection is adequate? What policy changes or initiatives would your government take to respond to this concern
  • What actions would your government take to support the development of local food systems?

I am a farmer and grew up on a sheep farm in Bennies Corners. I signed on to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s “I Believe in Growing Ontario” campaign because I know it is important. From farm to fork, Ontario’s agri-food industry is a shining star of our economy – generating $34 billion annually in GDP and supporting more than 740,000 jobs. The Premier took on the additional role as Minister of Agriculture and Food because she wanted to bring greater profile to one of Ontario’s leading contributors to GDP. Ontario Liberals also recognize the growing interest by consumers in connecting with local farmers and the foods they produce. The Liberal government is the first in Canada to adopt a Local Food Act. This legislation, along with $30 million over three years committed to a Local Food Fund, has added significant profile to the rich diversity of foods produced in Ontario. In the first year of the Fund, we received more than 200 applications and awarded $11 million to support 70 local food projects. Through the national Growing Forward 2 program, the Liberal government provided an additional $75 million in sector support towards initiatives that promote innovation and market development, including ongoing innovation in bioproducts and biotechnology. Ontario Liberals understand the significant opportunities that the bio-economy represent to Ontario’s agri-food sector. Ontario Liberals place a high priority on building on the province’s strengths. That is why the 2014-25 Liberal Budget commits $40 million per year for 10 yrs to an agri-food fund to promote investments, innovation and sector job growth. Ontario Liberals are prepared to invest in a value chain approach to support jobs and growth in the agriculture, agri-food and bio-products sectors.

Education

  •  Where do you stand on amalgamating Public and Catholic School Boards?

Together, whether English, French, Public, or Catholic, our school partners have built an education system that is among the best in the world. Catholic education is an integral part of Ontario society. It has deep roots throughout the province’s history and culture. Ontario Catholic schools continue to build on a strong foundation supported by students, teachers, parents, administrators, and the broader Catholic community. It is a proven success. That is why we remain committed to providing an excellent education system that has proven to deliver results for students and continuing to meet our constitutional obligations with respect to Catholic schools. Ontario Catholic teachers been strong partners in our collective efforts to raise the bar for all students, narrow the gap in student achievement, and increase public confidence in publicly funded education. We look forward to continuing to work with all of our partners in education to further improve student achievement and increasing public confidence in our schools.

Liquor control

  • Where do you stand on alcohol being available in convenience stores?

I am proud that our government has maintained LCBO as a profitable crown corporation. We are increasingly opening up access of alcohol into grocery store premises, beginning with pilot projects across the province. We have also adjusted hours of operation and will continue to find ways to make shopping more convenient for consumers. While I believe that increasing convenience and providing greater access for independent brewers is the smart approach, I do not believe it is the defining issue of this campaign. What I believe is the most important issue for the people of our community is whether or not the services they count on – our hospitals, strong schools, and support for our seniors – will be there when they need them. Ensuring that we keep moving our community forward is what I am most focused on.