Climate change, McMaster University, social work, Chapters bookstore and public service were all topics of conversation with local MPP Ted McMeekin, who is running for re-election after 14 years of representing the ADFW riding.
McMeekin was born and raised in Hamilton and has a deep connection with his riding. He spent two terms as a Hamilton City Councillor and as the Mayor of Flamborough, and has served in the cabinet as Minister of Government Services, Minister of Consumer Services, Minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, and most recently, Minister of Community and Social Services. He received his Bachelor of Social Work from McMaster University and has also attended Wilfrid Laurier University and Mohawk College.
The upcoming election has introduced debate around a number of issues, but when asked which one is the highest priority for our area, Mr. McMeekin responded with climate change.
“I think one of the most important issues that we face is one we are facing around the world, and that’s climate change,” McMeekin said. “I think we need to be doing everything we can to educate ourselves about what we can do to curb climate change and what kind of investments we can make, be they in public transit, bike paths or with the Cootes to Escarpment Park.”
But climate change is not his only concern. A veteran of the education system, Mr. McMeekin is determined to place emphasis on education. “My first love is McMaster,” he said. “I have a series of advisory committees but the one I enjoy the most is the advisory committee about post-secondary education. There are 16 students and I meet with them four times a year and get advice from them on all kinds of issues. That makes me a better representative for students and generally the McMaster community.”
He also addressed the Progressive Conservative Party’s threat to dispose of the 30% tuition rebate, stating that the Liberal Party will keep the tuition rebate if re-elected.
Mr. McMeekin has represented ADFW as the MPP for almost 14 years, and in that time he has worked with students and the administration to bring in approximately $170 million in capital investment to the university to fund projects such as health sciences expansion, the Nuclear Research Building, the Centre for Spinal Cord Injury and the new L.R. Wilson Hall Humanities building.
A lifetime resident of the area, Mr. McMeekin has held many positions including the Mayor of Flamborough, the owner and operator of the original Chapters bookstore, a professor, a community worker with the United Church of Canada, and has worked in many other positions in government.
With a background in social work, Mr. McMeekin places an emphasis on helping people in the community. “The promise I made when I was first elected was that I would put together the best constituency team in the province. And I did that,” McMeekin said. “As of last week the three women in my office have responded to over 548,000 requests for information and assistance. […] So I think all of that together equals being a pretty good MPP.”
You can see the contribution Alex Johnstone has made to the community through initiatives like the declaration of Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) as a living wage employer and the organization of the Elect More Women conference.
As a current School Board Trustee for HWDSB, member of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction’s working committee on Shifting Attitudes, and board member for the Quest Learning Centre United Church in Westdale, it becomes even more obvious that Alex Johnstone is dedicated to the city and its people.
Education is very important to both Johnstone and the NDP. The party promises a tuition freeze for university students, and is looking to make student loans interest free. For students in medical school, a credit of up to $20,000 for debt reduction will be given for employment in rural communities.
“I’m still paying down my student debt, actually,” Johnstone admitted. “I graduated in 2008 and I still have three more years to go.” NDP policies like tuition freezes and interest free loans will help manage the debts incurred from attending post secondary school.
Johnstone is also an advocate of improving the education system, especially for special needs students. “I was a special needs student myself – I actually failed grade one,” said Johnstone. “But I had really amazing teachers and resource staff that changed my whole trajectory. I was able to go ahead and earn two University degrees. That to me really demonstrated that with the right supports, you can change a child’s path.”
In addition to improving the education system, the NDP is looking to attract businesses to Ontario by lowering hydro rates. Their plan involves merging four of Ontario’s hydro agencies to minimize duplicated management costs.
In the business sector, NDP plans to reward businesses that create jobs by giving a tax credit of up to $5000 per employee hired. They also plan to cut back small business tax to 3% to help small businesses thrive.
“I have a record of working hard on behalf of families, certainly as an elected school board trustee this past term. I’ve worked very hard to get results for families,” said Johnstone. “I always start by saying that I can’t promise you’ll get 100% of what you’re asking for but I will try my hardest and we will look towards a compromise, always. It has worked out really well that way. I think that my track record alone demonstrates that I’m an excellent person to fill this role as MPP.”
Progressive Conservative Party
Donna Skelly describes herself as an extremely hardworking person and a strong supporter of the community. She lives in Ancaster, and is highly involved in the non-profit sector and in local sports. Skelly was a journalist for 22 years at CHCH Television in Hamilton, and has moved on to become involved in politics with the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.
Skelly’s platform focuses largely on job creation and the economy. She has seen a worry in the community about a lack of well paying jobs and avidly promotes PC leader Tim Hudak’s plan to create one million jobs if elected in Ontario.
“I grew up in Northern Ontario, north of Sudbury in a tiny little town,” Skelly said. “I’m a journalist and I knew back then – I knew when I was 14 – what I wanted to do. I also knew that when I graduated that as long as I wanted to work hard I could work anywhere in Ontario. I knew I could get a job in any field anywhere in Ontario and that is simply not the case anymore.”
“If you end up graduating from university with debt and can’t get a job it’s devastating,” Skelly said. “We have to turn the province around by creating high paying, full-time jobs.”
The Progressive Conservative Party’s plan encourages students to look to the trades for apprenticeships that will promise high paying, stable jobs in the future. Other sectors they say will assure high paying jobs are science, technology, engineering and business.
The plan emphasizes strengthening the private sector in order to create more jobs. This includes making the tax rate for business the most competitive in North America, as well as reducing rising hydro bills that may deter businesses from settling in Ontario. This comes at the cost of the lost 30% tuition rebate, and reductions in numbers of teachers and education staff under Tim Hudak’s plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs.
Skelly described the plan as “tough medicine,” but necessary to balance Ontario’s budget.
“It’s a good solid plan and it’s going to give you hope, it’s going to give you an opportunity to grow up in the Ontario that I grew up in – where taxes were low and where jobs were so prosperous and readily available across Ontario,” said Skelly about the PC plan.
“I’m the right choice because I’m extremely motivated,” she said. “This is my second time running, and trust me, if you give me an opportunity to represent you I will work really, really hard. But more so, you have to have the right plan. We have the right plan.”
Green Party of Ontario
Rayond Dartsch is a registered nurse, a political and environmental activist, and a McMaster and Mohawk graduate. He is the MPP candidate for the Green Party of Ontario.
Dartsch identified the most important issue in southwestern Ontario as transportation and gridlock.
“I was wondering: who is going to fix this problem?” Dartsch said. “That’s one of the things that drew me into politics in the first place.”
The Green Party believes expansion of GO service to communities such as Ancaster, Dundas, and Waterdown, as well as light-rail transit in Hamilton, will help solve the gridlock program.
“There’s all this crazy talk of highway 401 having to be expanded to 10 or 16 lanes out to Kitchener,” he said. “But if you have extended GO service…that’s where your solution to gridlock is.”
In terms of education, the Green Party of Ontario’s biggest proposed change is the merging of the Catholic and public school boards. Having two school boards duplicates services such as bussing and wastes an estimate of $1.2 to $1.6 billion each year.
Along with merging the school boards, the party aims to support youth through the creation of a Social Innovation Fund. The fund would give grants, loans and mentorship to young entrepreneurs in order to offset the high youth unemployment rate.
“As someone who is still paying off his own student loans, I am very aware of the affordability issues facing students, and that has to be addressed, not just by making student loans more available and making people go deeper into debt,” Dartsch said.
Another strategy to create jobs is to double the health tax exemption for employers with payrolls of less than $5 million. “Cutting small business pay roll taxes, as far as I’m aware, is very helpful to someone considering hiring because it lowers the cost for that,” Dartsch said.
Many have been skeptical of the Green Party, but Dartsch thinks Canada is ready for Green Party leadership. “We’ve had a century or more of experience with the Liberals and the Conservatives, we’ve even had a NDP government for a few years,” Dartsch said. “I think looking at the Green Party platform, it is a fresh look at a lot of old problems and fresh solutions to problems that exist today that didn’t exist before.”
Make sure to visit the polls on the 12th and decide who is going to represent the riding you live in.