Whether they had an appetite for change, or an appetite for politics, over 400 people flooded the Italian Canadian Club for the first Guelph debate of the 2018 Provincial Election. Standing room only gave way to organizers embiggening the room for more seats, as seven of the eight announced candidates sparred on a bunch of issues in a 150-minute set. Here's what we learned...
Wait, there are eight candidates?
Yes, they are Juanita Burnett (Communist), Sly Castaldi (Liberal), Ray Ferraro (PC), Aggie Mlynarz (NDP), Thomas Mooney (Alliance), Michael Riehl (Libertarian), Mike Schreiner (Green), Paul Taylor (None of the Above). Only Riehl was not present.
Mutual Admiration Society.
For the most part, things were very polite and conciliatory. Taylor, seated next to Schreiner and often answered questions after the Green Party leader, repeatedly praised the political skill of his opponent; "That was really good," he said after Schreiner's answer on healthcare. Schreiner himself later acknowledged Castaldi's work with social housing with her old job as executive director of Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis. Castaldi praised the work of outgoing Liberal MPP Liz Sandals, calling her the "grandmother of education" and saying that she's served Guelph well. Mlynarz, meanwhile, acknowledged Nurse Appreciation Week and thanked all the nurses.
Schreiner and Mlynarz both made a drink game of the word "efficiencies," in reference to PC leader Doug Ford's pledge to find $6 billion in efficiencies in the provincial budget. The Green leader said Ford's definition of finding efficiencies means cutting back on worker protections like inspectors and health and safety needs, while the NDP candidate said she was eager to see how efficiencies will fund $15 billion in school repairs. Taylor, meanwhile, gave actual side eye to Ferraro when he noted that "somebody"* downloaded the demands of social housing on the municipalities. (*Mike Harris) Ferraro, for his part, threw his shade on Wellington County saying that he thought it was a mistake that Guelph's social housing needs were managed through the county, adding that "the last thing you want is another layer of government."
Hydro is Tricky
This is arguably the biggest issue of the election, and a complicated one at that. Burnett and Mlynarz both said that the government should buy back the private shares of Hydro One. Schreiner said he wished it was that simple, but the focus now should be on stopping the refurbishment of Darlington Nuclear plant, which will add millions to the collective hydro bill. Mooney advocating for eliminating smart meters, and wind mills, which is something that got an endorsement from Ferraro, who strangely added that the PCs will also buy back Hydro One. He also repeated Ford's line about firing the "$6 Million Man", the CEO of Guelph Hydro. Castaldi's biggest stumble of the night was on the hydro question, acknowledging that the situation is far from perfect, but that Ontarians will see the benefits of Liberal policies.
Rough Night for Ferraro.
Along with the confused grunts about buying back Hydro One being PC policy, it was not a great night for the PC candidate. Ferraro said that if his party forms government there were going to be no cuts to staff, which got laughs and shouts of "Liar" from the audience. There were more laughs when Ferraro said that he couldn't believe that schools were underfunded, and that they shouldn't be. On climate change, Ferraro pledged to end the carbon tax, and said it was pointless because China and India both pollute more "before we wake up" in the morning. That response forced moderate Tim Mau to declare that this was not a debate with the audience. Last, but not least, on a question about Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, Ferraro took a pass and declared, "I just discovered that there is a full Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, I have no idea what they’re doing." In Ferraro's defense, the PC/Conservative candidate usually takes a pass on showing up to the Social Justice debate, but he should have known what he was walking into.
If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that we need to protect Guelph's water.
No one took a stand for the opposite.
Social Housing too for that matter.
If there was one other thing all candidates could agree on, it's that there's a lot of work to be done on social housing, combating homelessness, and getting prices down for people to who can buy homes to not break the bank while doing so. Proposed policy covered a wide spectrum of ideas. From the right, Mooney talked about loosening restrictions on builders, and allowing more room for developers to make some profit to build housing geared to income, while Ferraro noted that there's a lot of government owned land around Guelph doing nothing. From the centre, Schreiner also called for fewer restrictions to allow for the development of laneway housing and tiny homes, while Castaldi called for a multi-level government strategy to create more affordable, low income, geared to income, and supportive housing. And from the left, Burnett called for 200,000 more units of social housing, Mlynarz called for 65,000 units plus a renters registry for more transparency for tenants, while Taylor said more needed to be done about foreign buyers who artificially inflate market prices.
This was a theme over a couple of questions, one about workers rights, and the other about schools. On the subject of the former, Mlynarz and Schreiner both mentioned the need to do something about violence in schools. On the labour front, this question gave Mooney, who works as a safety inspector, a chance to shine in his professional element saying that there needs to be a change inside companies to prioritize safety more, and that in his job he's seen a lot of "stupid things" that should have never been allowed to happen in the first place. Burnett used the opportunity to expand on the Communist platform on workers rights including four weeks paid vacation, compulsory overtime, and a 32-hour work week, plus a $20 minimum wage. "I know that sounds ridiculous but so did $15 three years ago," she said.
Although it seems like there's always some kind of announcement about the City of Guelph getting provincial funds, many candidates seemed of the opinion that the Royal City is getting the shaft from Queen's Park. Taylor said pointedly that there are many places across the province that have gotten a new hospital in the last 15 years, and Mlynarz proposed that it was time Guelph started looking at getting a second hospital. In his opening statement, Ferraro noted that Guelph had been getting the short stick on many projects, from low cost housing to industry, and that Guelph was getting passed over by the province to work through the county instead.
What Change Can You Believe In?
Many people stated that this is a change election, which puts a lot on the shoulders of Castaldi, who's running for the party that's been in power for 15 years, while never having been in power herself. Instead of change, Castaldi said, "This is an election about values, where your values lie, and where you want to but your faith." Castaldi did an admirable job defending the Liberal legacy while noting, "Nothing is perfect, and it's never enough," and, "I’m not running because I think things are done, I’m running to make a difference." Sandals won by almost 11,000 votes in 2014, and increased her vote share by nearly two per cent over 2011. So the question is, did any of the six other candidates close the deal to take Guelph out of the Liberal column?
The next all-candidates get together will be the Chamber of Commerce hosted debate on May 23 at City Hall. CFRU will be playing the debate in its entirety Wednesday at noon on 93.3 fm and cfru.ca.