Advance polls are open until Saturday and the votes are already pouring in as the June 2 Ontario provincial election campaign draws to a close.
The Niagara Falls riding, which includes Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie, has one of its busiest ballots in years, with seven different candidates vying for the seat in next Thursday’s vote.
Incumbent Wayne Gates is running again for the New Democratic Party. Gates has been MPP since 2014 and won the 2018 election by a 15-point margin.
Bob Gale is running on behalf of the Progressive Conservatives, who were second four years ago.
Ashley Waters is running as the Liberal candidate and Tommy Ward for the Green Party.
Rounding out the ballot are three newer parties: Devon St. Denis-Richard of the None of the Above Democratic Party, Christine Lewis-Napolitano of the New Blue Party of Ontario and Wesley Kavanaugh of the Ontario Party.
Gates made time for a phone interview, while Gale and Waters responded to questions via email.
What do you deem one of the biggest issues facing Niagara-on-the-Lake and how will you address it?
Incumbent Wayne Gates said he considers health care and affordability to be two of the most pressing issues facing NOTLers and the region.
When it comes to health care, “that will start with reversing the decades of Liberal and Conservative cuts to health care Niagara,” Gates said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
“We need to get our shovels in the ground for the new Niagara Falls hospital.”
Gates said he would also work to repeal Bill 124.
“In 2019, the Ford government introduced and passed Bill 124, wage-suppression legislation negatively impacting registered nurses, nurse practitioners and health care professionals. This bill limits wage increases to a maximum of one per cent total compensation for three years,” the Ontario Nurses’ Association website states.
Gates said he would help bring dental and mental health under OHIP coverage.
He said his second main focus is surrounding affordability and the cost of living.
“We’ll cap the price of gas and ban gouging at the pumps. One that has come up a few times is the cost of auto insurance premiums,” he said.
“We’re looking at reducing that by 40 per cent.”
Gates said the NDP would “deliver hydro at cost instead of for a profit.”
“With the Liberals, they privatized it. We saw our bills go through the roof and then we saw the Conservatives say they were going to reduce our hydro rates by 12 per cent and they actually went up by close to six.”
“Those are just some of the things I think we can do to alleviate some of the crises, particularly the crisis in health care.”
In an email, Gale also said one of the biggest issues facing NOTL is affordability and the cost of living.
“I have had the opportunity to speak with many Niagara-on-the-Lake residents, and it is clear that the cost of living is top of mind,” he said.
“Only Doug Ford and the PCs will get it done by rebuilding the economy, working for workers, building highways and key infrastructure and keeping costs down.”
“We are putting more money in your pocket – including by lowering gas taxes and scrapping licence plate stickers, saving households a combined average of $465 this year.”
“The Andrea Horwath-Wayne Gates NDP are promising to raise the gas tax – which is the last thing a party should be doing as gas prices are skyrocketing.
In an email, Ashley Waters also said the main issue is the cost of living.
“As a cornerstone of this plan, we’re slashing all public transit fares across the province to $1, saving many commuters hundreds every month,” Waters said.
She said the Liberals will remove the HST on prepared meals under $20.
“Ontario Liberals will also help those who need it most, with a 20 per cent increase (over two years) to those on ODSP, $1,000 pension top-up for seniors who need it most and increased minimum wages that transitions into a real livable wage.”
“We’ve thought about how to drive down costs and create an Ontario that people can afford to live in.”
Residents in long-term care homes disproportionately suffered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. How will you work to ensure our residents in long-term care homes are better provided for in the future?
“The Ford government has left long-term care in shambles,” Gates said.
“We can’t forget the number of deaths that happened in long-term care homes during the pandemic. I believe they could have been avoided if the Conservatives made a different set of choices,” he said.
“Right now that number’s around 4,800. That’s 4,800 of our parents, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles who died with COVID in the last two years.”
“Some of the reasons that happened is that Ford was cutting long-term care funding before the pandemic even started.”
Gates said one of the main drivers of the high deaths was the Ford government’s choice to remove paid sick days from Ontario legislation.
“His decision to cut paid sick days from front-line workers only made seniors more vulnerable, wave after wave after wave.”
Without guaranteed paid sick days, employees who were sick had no choice but to go into work and expose people if they felt sick, because they “couldn’t afford to take a day off,” Gates said.
“This is something we really have to talk about when it comes to long-term care: Ford focused on protecting for-profit care home operators,” he said.
“He even put out a bill, if you can imagine, when as we saw home after home was having people die he shielded them from lawsuits from having neglected and left residents to die alone without proper care.”
“When the military came in, they talked about how some of the residents had died from dehydration. A simple thing like water, and that was in the military report.”
“What we have to do is we have to fix it by ensuring that every dollar spent goes to more and better care for our seniors and that to me is probably the thing that matters most.”
“Instead of putting profit for private care operators, what we need to do is put every single dollar in a publicly funded system that goes to care.”
“Our seniors, they built this province, they built this country. This is how I feel about it. We need to make sure that our parents, our grandparents are getting the best care.”
Gates said the NDP is planning to create a new legal fund accessible to any resident or family who had their legal case against a long-term care home corporation derailed by the Ford legislation that was put forward to protect private long-term care owners.
“There’s going to be help for people who feel they didn’t get justice when a loved one died.”
“Under the previous Liberal government, propped up by the NDP, only 611 long-term care beds were built across the province, which is shameful,” Gale said in an email.
“The PC government is building over 30,000 new beds in long-term care and rebuilding nearly 30,000 more, which is taking the strain off of our hospitals. Sadly, the NDP said no and voted against our historic investment in long-term care.”
“In the past year, we have seen elders suffer in horrifying conditions, to the point that our military had to be called in. This heartbreaking memory should not be allowed to fade,” said Waters.
“Ontario Liberals are proposing a transformation that will guarantee that any senior who needs care in their own home gets it,” she said, noting a $2 billion annual investment by 2026.
“We will end for-profit long-term care with a target of 2028. For those who need more support, we will fund 15,000 new assisted living homes – including small, accessible and community-based residential services – as well as ‘hub and spoke’ care that provides a comprehensive continuum of care.”
Waters said the Liberals would implement audits and zero-tolerance sanctions on long-term care homes that endanger their residents.
Do you think a municipality should have mobility to approach and even restrict planning and development based on local characteristics or is that too heavy-handed?
“We live in one of the prettiest little towns in Ontario — maybe in all of Canada — and we have to do what we can to preserve it,” Gates said.
“We have to make sure that we’re going to protect our planning and our heritage and that we do it smartly.”
Gates criticized the PC government for a plan to build Hwy. 413 through the Greenbelt.
“I’m going to continue to challenge Doug Fords’ development at all costs, quite frankly, and champion smart development that protects the unique character of the town.”
Gates said spending $10 billion to save five or even 20 minutes during a commute makes no sense.
“We could be spending that money a lot more wisely on affordability, long-term care, any of the things we’ve just talked about,” he said.
Gates said he is proud of the fact that he has aligned himself in the past with heritage advocates and successfully fought against the Ford government’s attempts to “carve up the Greenbelt.”
“While the Liberals and NDP are more interested in currying favour from downtown activists, we are going to build more homes,” was part of Gale’s response to the question.
“At the end of the day, the biggest issue fuelling the housing crisis is not enough homes. It’s shocking that the NDP disagrees that the solution to making homes more affordable is building more homes,” he said.
“That’s why the Doug Ford PCs introduced legislative, regulatory and policy changes to help build new homes in Ontario.”
“We know that residents and their municipal governments have the best firsthand knowledge on how to tackle the housing crisis, so we will empower them,” Waters said.
She said this would include a $300 million investment over five years.
“We’ll work quickly in close collaboration with municipal partners to end exclusionary zoning and allow homes with up to three units and two storeys to be built as-of-right in residential areas across the province.”
“We’ll work with municipalities to unlock more land for homes by expanding the Brownfields Tax Incentive Program to provide up to 10 years of property tax relief on all underutilized commercial space, like strip malls, converted into homes,” she said.
“We’ll also allow interested municipalities to permit Street Voting – which lets single streets of residents, both renters and owners, vote to increase minimum housing allowances.”
She said the Liberals would push to recognize housing as a human right and make a $100 million investment to fight chronic homelessness, as well as fund community and shelter beds.
“Finally, we’ll relaunch the homelessness census that the Ford Conservatives scrapped to better understand people’s comprehensive housing needs and issues.”