On May 27, 2014 the Millstone sent out these questions in an e-interview to our provincial election candidates. Provincial Green Party candidate Andrew West provided these answers. Questions are in bold.
- 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 Green Party will create loan guarantees to provide affordable capital for Ontario entrepreneurs to establish local food processing businesses or take over food processing plants. We will invest in rural infrastructure, research and innovation, plant based manufacturing products, local food hubs, farmer co-ops, organic and specialty crops to support farm incomes. We will also increase the Employer Health Care Tax exception for small businesses from $450,000 to $900,000. Reducing taxes on small business, as well as our plan for home energy retrofits, would help create more local jobs.
- Rural Ontario stakeholders are concerned about youth employment/underemployment in their communities. How does your party’s platform respond to these concerns?
The Green Party intends to lay the foundation for a Social Innovation Foundation. This will provide grants, loans, and mentorship to help young entrepreneurs to invent and implement business ideas. We want to help young people live out their dreams. Furthermore, programs like home energy retrofits will create local jobs for a range of skills and trades.
- 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 Ontario government has a history of downloading costs to municipalities but not giving them the funding to do so. Public transit is a major need in both urban and rural areas. People in smaller communities should be able to access stores, hospitals and even other communities without needing to own a car. The Green Party would put $3 billion a year to help municipalities in Ontario build and operate public transit. We will work towards ensuring long-term funding from the province to municipalities.
- 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?
The Green Party wants to open up opportunities for young people. Currently the rules for apprenticeships in Ontario require three journeymen for every one apprentice. Some small companies do not have enough journeymen, so they cannot take on apprentices. We will reform the apprenticeship program to require only one journeyman for one apprentice. This will allow for more apprenticeships. We will create tax credits for apprenticeships, training, and mentoring. As a local MPP I will push for more government funding to keep the doors of Kemptville College open indefinitely, and to make tuition rates affordable.
- 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?
The Green Party believes in local decision making, in both how taxes are collected and spent. We will work with municipalities on setting rates for taxes and charges, rather than having them dependent on handouts from Queen’s Park. We will implement fair property taxation for farmers, eliminate tax penalties and reduce zoning restrictions to facilitate local, on farm food enterprises and post harvest handling facilities.
- How will you reduce Ontario’s debt, and enable our province to live within its means? What is your time frame?
The Green platform identifies the source of funding for each program we propose. We will cut inefficient, misdirected and outdated programs to free up funding for programs to help you reduce your energy costs, get you home faster, and improve education. The Government of Ontario is planning to spend about $6 to $10 billion to refurbish the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station alone. Nuclear projects in Ontario don’t come in on time or on budget. The Green Party will cancel these refurbishments and let the nuclear stations live out their expected life spans. The money saved will be put towards the deficit as well as into local projects such as clean-tech industries in Kanata and local clean energy projects in rural areas.
Greens are not wedded to a specific date on when the budget shall be balanced. Other parties make promises during an election and then do not live up to them. The Green Party believes that better spending and better jobs will allow us to balance the budget and start paying down debt.
- 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?
The Green Party will advocate for a living wage that allows all Ontarians to live with dignity. We will increase minimum wage to $12 per hour and index to inflation. We will address child poverty and help our poorest families.
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?
All residents of the province deserve access to first-class health care including local front-line services. The Green Party will refund tuition for graduating family doctors who work in underserviced areas. We believe in utilizing our existing hospitals more efficiently before building new hospitals. This will include the Carleton Place Hospital Redevelopment. The Green Party sees the need to shift from acute care to preventative care. We want more investments in community care, nurse-practitioner led clinics and multidisciplinary clinics in rural areas. We will increase home care, rehab services and nursing home spots to relieve the congestion in hospitals.
- 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?
Yes. The Green Party will promote a continuum of care for seniors, including home care, assisted housing, transitional care, and long-term care. We will create additional tax credits for family members staying home to care for seniors and the disabled. These tax credits will encourage in-home care and assisted living where possible. We will also generally reform the funding model for long-term care homes to increase quality of care and efficiency, while removing excessive administrative burdens, especially from front-line staff. We’ll amend the Assessment Act to exempt all not-for-profit homes from property taxes, whether they began as nursing homes or charitable homes.
- 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?
Whether you are new to the riding or have lived here your whole life, you should be able to afford to live comfortably. The Green Party and I want to save you money by updating your homes. We would put $4 billion over four years into home energy retrofit credits to cover the costs of upgraded windows and doors, better insulation, and more efficient furnaces and appliances. We’ll call for legislation providing grants up to $4,000 for you and one million other homeowners to invest in energy conservation. Your energy bills will go down because you will be using less energy, and using less energy helps the environment. It’s a win-win. Home retrofits should also create over 50,000 new jobs over four years, including jobs in this riding. We can also save around $1 billion a year importing cleaner, water power from Quebec.
- 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 oppose the Enerdu expansion. It will not be a true run-of-river power plant, unlike the Gallagher station just downstream. Instead, it will use the upper reach to Appleton as a giant holding pond in order to exploit the flawed Feed-In-Tariff program. This will come at the expense of Almonte’s cultural landscape and natural heritage. By damaging upstream shores, land and vegetation, it violates upstream landowners’ rights.
Jack MacLaren has said he supports the Enerdu expansion. Rosalyn Stevens says she’s personally against it, but the Liberal government is allowing it to happen. So the PC’s are for it and the Liberals won’t stop it. That’s two sides of the same coin. I want to stop the Enerdu project and protect the Appleton Wetland along Reach 18. I need your votes to help make this happen.
Nature and the environment
- What would your party do to protect the quality of water in Ontario lakes, streams and rivers?
Everyone needs food and water to live. There’s no getting around that. We will work with private landowners, conservation authorities and municipalities to conserve waters in Ontario. We will also provide the necessary funding for the Ottawa River Action Plan to help prevent untreated sewage from being dumped directly into the Ottawa River.
- What actions will you take to protect our natural habitat and promote a sustainable economy?
Every aspect of the Green Party’s platform protects our natural habitat. We believe everyone has the right to live in a healthy environment with their natural habitat protected. Yet Ontario has some of the lowest royalty rates for water, gravel and timber in Canada. Our plan is to close loopholes and exemptions in legislation that threaten your community and our natural heritage from being exploited by corporations. For example, Bottled Water companies buy water from Ontario for only $3.71 per million litres, bottle it and then sell it back to us for almost 100,000 times as much. The Green Party will increase the water-taking levy for phase one industrial and commercial purposes from $3.71 per million litres to $13.71 per million litres. We will raise the royalty rates for taking gravel and timber, while keeping the rate competitive, so that our communities received a fair share of the revenue from our natural resources. This will immediately increase government revenue by approximately $830 million dollars per year and by $1.4 billion when fully implemented.
- 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?
No, not at all. Ontario is losing 265 acres of farmland a day! The Green Party takes this very seriously and we will do everything we can to protect our farmland. We would permanently protect Ontario’s class 1 farmland and source water regions. The Green Party worked hard against the Mega-quarry in southern Ontario (near where I grew up). But there is still no legislation to protect farmland and source water regions. We will work hard to create it. Mike Schreiner is the only political leader in this election to sign the Food and Water First pledge. I personally would work towards protecting our valuable resources so we can all live healthy lives.
- What actions would your government take to support the development of local food systems?
We would expand the Alternative Land Use Services program to reward farmers for stewardship practices that provide environmental and community benefits such as clean water, habitat preservation and carbon storage. We’ll establish measurable local food purchasing targets for all public institutions including hospitals and schools. And of course, we will continue to support local farmers’ markets and local food hubs.
- Where do you stand on amalgamating Public and Catholic School Boards?
Currently some schools are overcrowded while others sit half empty. Many schools are slated to be closed. Students are often being bussed to school because they are not allowed to go to the neighbourhood school they could walk to. Our policy would help this issue. We are the only party that have said that we are for the amalgamation of the Public and Catholic School Boards. This will save $1.2 to $1.6 billion in duplicate services like busing, school board trustees and administration. This saving will be used to provide a better education for our children including additional programs for children with special needs.
The other parties say that our constitution prevents this amalgamation. They’re wrong. Section 43 of the Constitution Act 1982 allows Ontario to amend the section of the constitution that says we must have a separate school system (section 93 of the Constitution Act 1867). Both Quebec and Newfoundland have done this. The federal government will have to approve the amendment, which they did for Quebec and Newfoundland.
- Where do you stand on alcohol being available in convenience stores?
The Green Party has no plans to allow convenience stores to sell alcohol. However, we will push the government to change legislation allowing craft breweries to cooperate on distribution of beer sales with the Beer Store, and to open smaller craft beer stores for local brewers to sell their beers.
The Green Party platform is designed to be inclusive. It’s meant to help everyone.