By Kevin Werner, News Staff
The Progressive Conservative and Liberal candidates for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale took turns taking shots at each other during the Dundas Chamber of Commerce’s provincial debate May 26 at the former town’s city hall.
Both MPP Ted McMeekin and Tory candidate Donna Skelly were free to battle each other in what turned out to be a quick 55-minute, three-person event as the Green Party candidate Ray Dartsch talked in general terms about his party’s ideas, while NDP candidate Alex Johnstone was noticeably absent from the debate.
Johnson, a public board trustee for Ancaster, was attending a school board meeting and issued a two-page statement to the crowd.
“I apologize for not being present in person at this important community dialogue and thank the Dundas Chamber of Commerce for its understanding,”Johnstonstated.
Also absent was Libertarian candidate Glenn Langton.
While long-term MPP Ted McMeekin defended his government’s record over the last 11 years, pointing out the many projects the Liberals have funded in the Valley Town, the Tories’ Donna Skelly never veered from her talking points to create a million jobs for the province, while getting Ontario back to financial respectability.
“We need to get our fiscal house in order,” said Skelly. “We need to reign in government spending. We are where Greece was. If we don’t we will go broke.”
While she wanted to refrain from talking about all of the Liberal scandals, Skelly said the biggest scandal perpetrated by the Liberals has been that Ontario “has become a have not province.”
She said in answer to a number of questions about the area’s poverty rate, low social assistant rates and the high rate of food bank usage, that the answer is to create jobs for people.
“You can not feed your family when you are taxed to death and that is what the Liberal government has done,” said Skelly, to enthusiastic applause.
But McMeekin continued to highlight his government’s accomplishments, while raising the specter of former Tory leader Mike Harris’s anti-government agenda. He called Tory leader Tim Hudak’s one million jobs plan “déjà voodoo economics. (The Tories’ plan) is to create jobs by firing 100,000 people.”
The one million jobs plan has been panned by nearly all reputable economists, he said.
McMeekin touted the Liberal’s record to the estimated 150 people who turned out on a hot and sticky evening of restoring the jobs the province lost during the recession. And despite what the Tories have been campaigning,Ontarioremains the “economic engine” ofCanada.
“We created more jobs inOntariothan the country combined,” he said.
But Skelly didn’t back away from her party’s jobs proposal. She first questioned where those jobs are the Liberals supposedly created, especially whenOntariostill has an unemployment rate that is above the national average.
“(About) 500,000 people will wake up unemployed without a job,” she said. “Families are struggling. People have been laid off.”
She said jobs remains the top priority for residents and the best way to fight poverty is a good job
Dartsch pointed out that during the Mike Harris government he managed to slash the welfare rates “to a level that made it difficult for people to survive. He also questioned why former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty never restored those cuts when he assumed power in 2003.
“I’m not sure starving people is the way to force them to go out and get a job,” he said.
Skelly remained undaunted, continuing to promoted cutting those 100,000 civil servant positions, and arguing government is bloated. The money saved from those jobs will mean a Tory government will be able to fund necessary programs.
“We need to start trimming the fat, start identifying waste in government,” she said.
Skelly called the proposed Liberal budget, with its promise of an Ontario Pension Plan, and investments in infrastructure and transit, “irresponsible” because of its promises of more spending.
“Ontario is a ticking time bomb,” she said.
And even though she didn’t dwell on the Liberal scandals, she said wondered what Hamilton could have done with $1.1 billion it has cost taxpayers to cancel the gas plants.
McMeekin countered cutting jobs, slashing Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program rates, and refusing to raise the minimum wage, which the Tories did while in power, doesn’t equal a better society.
Skelly did receive a rousing applause that if elected the Tories will help launch a pilot project to allow developmentally challenged individuals to live independently.
“Their story broke my heart,” she said.
Skelly then turned to McMeekin and castigated him for ignoring the need in the community for such a facility.
“Mr. McMeekin, shame on you. This fell on your ministry. You, more than anybody in this room have the opportunity to make a difference and you turned your back,” she said.
McMeekin trumpeted that in the proposed budget his community and social ministry before the NDP withdrew its support for the Liberals, it would have received $810 million to fund various projects for the developmentally challenged across the province.