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NWG candidates have their say

Peculiarities which have been sprinkled throughout the Niagara West Glanbrook byelection process continued Monday night as Lincoln Chamber of Commerce hosted an all-candidates night.

Seven of the nine candidates running for the Queen’s Park seat vacated when Tim Hudak resigned after 21 years in office were on hand.

It’s not often one candidate in an election actively campaigns for one of their opponents, but that was exactly what happened in front of a standing room only crowd.

Queenie Yu, leader of the Stop the New Sex Ed Agenda party, said she was running in the byelection not necessarily to become an MPP but to bring attention to the sex ed curriculum issue as well as Bill 28, which is designed to change the “Children’s Law Reform Act, the Vital Statistics Act and various other acts by removing the terms “mother” and “father”.

Yu answered almost every question – on issues from hydro rates to affordable housing – by referencing the two issues her party is focused on, and often praised Ontario PC candidate Sam Oosterhoff’s responses.

“I hope Sam is elected,” said Yu in her closing remarks before speaking directly to Oosterhoff urging him to oppose Bill 28 which she says is an attack on families and then urging voters to support him at the polls on Nov. 17.

Oosterhoof, a social conservative who said he was clear on his views during his campaign to become the PC candidate, told the crowd he is “100 per cent” pro-life when the candidates were asked their views on abortion and the sex education curriculum.

“I’ve done my best to be clear” on the sex education issue, said Oosterhoof, explaining children need clear and comprehensive education that is relevant to the world they live in that also includes parents in the discussion on what that curriculum should be.

NDP candidate Mike Thomas said he supported the updated curriculum adding one of the problems with the new curriculum is that it was “shoved down the throats” of parents, who should have been consulted.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts,” said Liberal candidate Vickey Ringuette, in response to repeated criticism of her party on every issue.

She noted the Kathleen Wynne government did consult parents and health organizations in creating the updated curriculum.

Ringuette’s comment that Ontario’s education system is “fantastic” drew chuckles from the crowd, while her opponents criticized the Wynne government for cuts to education.

Thomas said education in Ontario is not funded properly while Oosterhoff referenced recent EQAO results that show half of Grade 6 students in the province are below the provincial benchmark for math.

Both noted that children are the future of the province and their education is too important to cut.

None of the candidates, however, answered the specific question on education – whether they supported a two-board system – one English school board and one French school board.

Funding cuts and broken promises were also the responses from the candidates in health care, with Thomas noting that the Liberal government promised a new West Lincoln Hospital but – with a stroke of the pen – that promise was broken and the community’s fundraising effort ignored.

Oosterhoff noted all candidates agree that a new West Lincoln Memorial Hospital building is a priority and pointed out that he has already met with Hamilton Health Sciences board members to discuss plans for the hospital rebuild, adding he’s committed to pushing the issue forward.

Ringuette hinted if the riding had voted Liberal in any of the recent elections the hospital may have been built already, and said, if elected, she would be “at the table” with the governing Liberals and in a better position to get the hospital rebuild back into the Liberal’s budget.

“It has to be built now,” said independent candidate Martin Poos who repeatedly assured voters that if elected he would make major changes in the 19 months left before the next general election with an “aggressive plan” that would bring the interests of Niagara to Queen’s Park.

Addressing the biggest issue in this byelection, candidates were asked what specifically they would do to bring down hydro rates, and were also asked how they would address Ontario’s deficit.

Greg Vezina, leader of the None of the Above Party, suggested he’d put the Liberals in jail for giving contracts to their contributors, and later quipped he’d create jobs by hiring 5,000 prison guards to watch the jailed Liberals.

He also said he’d eliminate paying to get rid of surplus hydro and paying contractors not to produce hydro.

Libertarian Stefanos Karatopis said his party would repeal the Green Energy Act.

“There’s nothing green” in the Green Energy Act, said Karatopis. “It’s greed energy.”

Thomas noted it’s the top issue he heard about while door-knocking and said the NDP would stop the sale of Hydro One adding it was the Ontario PC Party which got the ball rolling on privatization.

“We’ve seen hydro rates more than double under the Liberals,” said Oosterhoff, adding the recent removal of the eight per cent provincial sales tax from hydro bills is “insulting”.

Oosterhoff also said he’d stop the sale of Hydro One and stop the signing of new green energy contracts at fixed rates over market value.

“I do pay a hydro bill,” said Ringuette, to further chuckles from the crowd, before going on to explain the Liberal government has closed coal plants and that it costs money to close coal plants and create cleaner air for our children.

While Yu supported Oosterhoff, the other candidates not associated with a major party all campaigned against those parties, suggesting voting for the PC, Liberal or NDP party won’t change anything.

“I’ll be like the late Peter Kormos,” said Vezina. “I’ll be the biggest pain in the ass Queen’s Park has seen in 50 years.”

“We need a clean house,” said Poos.

“All parties are pushing socialism,” said Karatopis, noting there is now no distinction between the three.

Thomas finished up suggesting the Liberals have let Ontarians down and the Ontario PCs are not the answer.

Ringuette, eluding to Oosterhoff being 19 years old, said voters need to choose someone who is experienced and who goes to work every day and once again suggested voting for the Liberals, who have a majority government, is the only way to get things done in Niagara.

Oosterhoff, who referenced his political experience, as a policy analyst in Ottawa and a legislative assistant, and promised to work hard for the riding.

Green Party candidate Donna Cridland and Canadian Constituents’ Party candidate Arthur Smitherman were not in attendance.

**********

(L to R) Candidates Mike Thomas, Martin Poos, Stephanos Karatopis, Queenie Yu, Vicky Ringuette, Sam Oosterhoff and Greg Vezina settle in for Monday’a debate, while John Armstrong provides an outline for the evening to the capacity crowd.

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