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Scandals and schools raised at Flamborough debate

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 As Progressive Conservative candidate Donna Skelly continued to call out incumbent Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin for ignoring people’s needs in his riding, there was NDP candidate Alex Johnstone who had the veteran politician’s back.

Skelly, as she has done in previous debates, skewered McMeekin for ignoring the pleas of parents of their developmentally challenged adult children to solve their housing accommodation problems during the Flamborough Chamber of Commerce debate held at Waterdown District High School June 9.

“You didn’t help them,” said Skelly, as over 230 people watched the proceedings in the cafeteria. “You turned your back on them.”

McMeekin said he championed the people of the Dundas Living Center, demanding and getting from his government a boost in his community services ministry budget from $42 million to the proposed $810 million to help people with developmentally challenged needs.

“I’m fearful of losing that (to the Tories),” he said.

Skelly also blamed McMeekin for failing to protect the people involved in Flamborough’s horse racing industry when the Liberals eliminated the Slots at Racetrack Program last year.

“People have lost their livelihoods, lost their pride, horses have been put down, farms have been sold,” she said. “This man (indicating to McMeekin) was agricultural minister. He should have stood up for them.”

She said the transit panel appointed by McMeekin to investigate the funding issues of the industry didn’t solve the problem. In fact, said Skelly, the $800,000 paid to the three person panelists should have been used to protect horses instead.

“Was it worth the money? Shame,” said Skelly.

But Johnstone took aim at Skelly, saying while she is highlighting the issue, the Tories haven’t proposed any solutions to help those groups in need.

“You’re championing the issues, but you are not talking about what you are offering,” said Johnstone.

Both the Tories and the NDP have indicated they would reinstate the Slots at Racetrack Program if elected.

A little while later in the two-hour debate, the last in this campaign, Johnstone was again at McMeekin’s side. As Skelly condemned the Liberal’s on-going waste of money, she said the largest scandal in the province concerns the Green Energy Act, which has forced hydro rates to skyrocket, and has led to a possible lawsuit from an American company against the province for the way it doled out contracts.

“I hear a lot of criticisms of the Liberal government,” said Johnstone. “I’m not hearing any solution from the (Tim) Hudak government.”

The NDP, she continued, would reduce high hydro rates by cancelling the debt charge, and eliminating the provincial portion from the HST on hydro rates.

McMeekin did return the favour later in the debate when the questions turned to the school board.Johnstonsaid she voted to save Millgrove Elementary School from being closed down. And the NDP, she said, has offered up $60 million to help upgrade schools slated to close in order to keep them open for public use.

“I applaud Alex’s work on the school board,” said McMeekin, adding that he worked cooperatively with the trustees to prevent some schools in Flamborough from being closed.

During the debate, the three main candidates answered about 20 questions from the public, which were asked by Jason Smalls, the lead pastor for the Community Church in Flamborough, and hosted by Arend Kersten, executive director of the Flamborough Chamber of Commerce.

Kersten said only the candidates representing parties with seats in the Ontario Legislature were invited to take part in the debate. Still, Glenn Langston, of the Libertarian Party was allowed to make a statement at the end of the debate. Other candidates in the race are Ray Dartsch of the Green Party, and Barry Spruce of the Freedom Party.

McMeekin did praise the work of residents who managed to fight back against St. Mary’s to prevent a quarry from being constructed nearCarlisle.

He said those people battling the company “went to hell and back with a company that just didn’t get it.” When an offer of settlement was proposed, McMeekin urged his government to settle in order to “restore peace in our valley.

“The PCs wanted to just leave (the issue) to the (Ontario Municipal Board),” he said.

Skelly said the financial arrangements should have been more transparent to the public.

Skelly, who is running for the second time as the Tory candidate to unseat McMeekin, continued to hammer at the Liberals for creating scandals, even during the election.

She bashed the government for the $1.1 billion gas plant scandal, the rising cost of the MaRS bailout in downtownToronto, and the failure of the Green Energy Act.

“Why has nobody lost their jobs (over the gas plant scandal)?” asked Skelly.

McMeekin acknowledged the process wasn’t perfect, but he pointed out that Tory leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath both wanted to cancel the gas plant contracts.

“All three party leaders said if elected they would do the same thing,” he said.

Skelly reiterated her party’s platform not to fund Hamilton’s light-rail transit system, a project, she said that will force suburban residents to “pay through the nose.” She railed against union bosses, and one of the first measures of a Tory government will be to eliminate theCollegeofTrades, which is nothing more than a “pay back to union executives.”

All three candidates supported raising the minimum wage, with the Liberals approving it to $11 per hour and set to rise based on the cost-of-living increases,  while the NDP is looking at a $12 per hour hike. But Skelly warned any increase will impact businesses.

“We can’t take an increase in isolation,” she said. “Our party is committed to creating a million jobs, good paying jobs for all kinds of people.”

McMeekin ridiculed the Tory’s signature campaign promise as the “million jobs scam”, saying it begins by firing 100,000 civil servants. He said 11 Tory candidates have already “distanced” themselves from the proposal.

Skelly defended the idea, saying the Tories won’t fire nurses, doctors, personal support workers or education assistants. She said the jobs will be eliminated first by attrition as 300,000 people are set to retire from the province over the next few years.

“If we don’t get our finances under control, this government will end up laying off nurses and doctors,” she said.

Johnston, though, said the Tories’ plan has not been costed, while the NDP economic plan is.

Johnston and McMeekin both near the end of the debate, defended the public school board’s equity policies that some critics have characterized as “unlearning.”

McMeekin said while churches and parents should be the primary educators when it comes to beliefs for their children, school boards have a responsibility to “make sure we put policies in place that respect every person.”

Skelly remained “outraged” that school boards were imposing sex education material into elementary schools.

“I have spent most of my life trying to protect the innocence of my two kids when they were in elementary school,” said Skelly, whose children are now young adults. “The last thing I want to do is subject them to this outrageous curriculum.”

But Johnston, a public school trustee from Ancaster, pointed out that it was the former Progressive Conservative government under Bill Davis that introduced sex education intoOntario’s schools.

She said the material and equity policies that have been introduced into the school system “instill values that are about caring, inclusiveness, understanding and fairness.”

Johnstone said there are youths who have been bullied, are ostracized, have attempted suicide and are filled with anxiety and need help.

The debate was taped by Cogeco and is scheduled to be repeated on the cable channel prior to the June 1

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