“If you’ve been watching the polls, you know that one thing is very clear: no one has any clue what’s going to happen on the night of June 12.”
Pointing out the lack of a clear leader in the provincial election is how moderator Rob Granatstein introduced a Beaches-East York candidates’ debate on June 2.
The Ontario PC Party’s Nicolas Johnson, Liberal Arthur Potts, incumbent Michael Prue from the NDP and the Green Party’s Debra Scott debated topics brought up by audience members and those following along on Twitter.
Canada.com’s Granatstein sits on the board of Beach Metro News, which organized the debate with the help of Community Centre 55.
Beaches-East York seems to lack a single defining issue. While health care and education are recurring issues, as in most ridings, there were also questions about development, transit, the sale or privatization of government assets and questions from a strong contingent concerned about Line 9 (an oil pipeline in the north end of the city which is the subject of a proposal for flow reversal to carry tar sands bitumen).
Prue showed the most confidence and polish, as would be expected of the incumbent. Johnson kept returning to the bottom line, asking others how their party would pay for programs. Potts repeatedly highlighted the NDP’s rejection of the Liberal budget, which prompted the election. Scott’s lack of experience showed – the event was her first public debate – but she also demonstrated a sincere optimism and performed respectably.
Prue, Potts and Johnson all confirmed their parties’ support for the redevelopment project underway at Toronto East General Hospital.
Likewise, all four candidates said they would ensure all rules are followed regarding Line 9. Though it doesn’t pass through the riding, the pipeline does cross every major waterway in Toronto, most of which feed into Lake Ontario.
Transit a hot topic
Discussion heated up when the topic moved to transit.
Potts said Main and Danforth is the ideal spot to build the downtown relief line. Part of the funding would come from the sale of some provincial assets, he said, such as the General Motors shares the province received as part of the auto bailout package a few years ago.
Scott said the Green Party would pay for transit improvements with congestion charges, increases in gas taxes, and road tolls.
Johnson said the PCs would like to see the TTC’s rail lines, GO transit, and other highways such as the Don Valley Parkway and the Allen Expressway operate under a single provincial body.
He also said more subway lines wouldn’t be on the immediate to-do list of a PC government. “We build that when we have the money. We don’t rack up more debt to build projects that we can’t afford.”
Prue said the NDP would pay for subways with increased corporate taxes. Ontario’s are some of the lowest in North America, he said.
When public-private partnerships involving the TTC came up, Prue jumped on the Liberals’ track record.
“Just look at how successful they’ve been with this government. Think of names like ORNGE: public-private partnership. Think about the gas plants: public-private partnership. Think about eHealth: public-private partnership. Think about the $500 million the auditor general said we wasted at the Brampton hospital: public-private partnership. We don’t need that on the TTC,” he said.
Daycare regulation and job creation
While other candidates promised regulations for daycares in the wake of recent child deaths, Johnson returned to his theme of fiscal responsibility.
“I hope we’re going to be getting some questions about how you pay for all these programs, for all these assessments and these new bureaucracies that monitor and regulate everything, because these plans – they might sound fantastic, but when someone shows you the invoice you need to pay up.”
PC leader Tim Hudak’s million jobs plan also came up. Johnson said many of the proposed 100,000 job cuts would come through attrition, as well as transferring some services from the public to the private sector, such as IT and food services.
“We believe that government has gotten too big,” he said.
Potts said the math behind Hudak’s job creation numbers is flawed.
“You don’t make up some arbitrary number of 100,000 people are going to disappear and lose their job, and then say that’s going to generate 56,421 new jobs. That doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Prue said the proposed cuts worked out to 964 jobs in every community.
Moving on to electricity rates, Potts said rates were set to match inflation for the foreseeable future, but Prue said the Liberal plan would increase rates 42 per cent over the next decade.
Johnson proposed losing some of the top-heavy bureaucracy, including the Ontario Power Authority.
Scott said the Greens would import cheaper hydro from Quebec rather than retrofit nuclear plants, adding that it’s better to retrofit homes to reduce demand than increase generating capacity.
Fate of the OMB
The fate of the Ontario Municipal Board also resulted in a variety of responses from candidates.
Prue would like to see Toronto with its own oversight body and do away with the OMB for all but small municipalities. “If ever there was a board that shouldn’t be there, this is the one.”
Scott agreed with Prue, emphasizing that Beachers have no problem with development in general.
“What we don’t want is variances, and variances, and variances,” she said.
Potts said the OMB serves a valuable role, and should definitely remain an unelected body, to keep politics out of the process. He would like to see limits on what it can approve, so that it can’t approve projects that exceed city plans.
Johnson said OMB appeals could be improved, particularly when local groups feel they’re being railroaded. However, he had doubts that the body itself was the cause of many of the problems experienced by citizens’ groups.
“How much of it has to go back to what’s in the official plan, and the secondary plan and the design guidelines and so forth? Are we putting blame in the right place, or is it a red herring?,” he asked.
Public assets for sale?
The potential sale of public assets was also up for debate.
Potts said all assets would be under review with a Liberal government, to determine whether they could offer a better return, though any sales would be subject to full public consultation. Assets such as the province’s GM shares could be put to better use, he said. “Who wouldn’t sell those to fund transit?”
Johnson said the PC party would look at options on a case by case basis, while Prue warned of the dangers of the lost revenue of some assets, such as the LCBO and OLGC.
Scott said while she doesn’t have an economics degree, the evidence seemed to point to the sale of money-making government agencies as short-sighted.
“We don’t sell the cow when we can milk it for another 20 years,” she said.