Stewart Skinner, Liberal candidate for Perth-Wellington in the upcoming provincial election, says he was "ready to go" when the NDP announced they would not support the Kathleen Wynne government's budget last Friday.
"We had two campaign offices set up, one in Stratford, another in Palmerston," says Skinner, who believes, in the political realm, it pays to be prepared for anything.
"We were out canvassing on Friday," he adds.
Skinner says he was proud of the budget tabled by his party, particularly of the funds allocated to infrastructure and transit, which included a dedicated $29 billion over 10 years, $13-14 billion of which was specifically earmarked for regions located outside of the GTA.
"You can't have a well-functioning economy if you can't move your product from point A to point B," he said.
The budget also included additional infrastructure and transit funding, including $100 million for rural roads and bridges.
Skinner notes there's a number of bridges in this riding needing immediate attention, including the Water Street Bridge in St. Marys. He admits that perhaps governments haven't been reinvesting in infrastructure as well as they should've been, and now the province is approaching a crossroads in terms of funding.
Skinner says the Wynne government has opted for a long-term plan rather than one-time payments.
"I have yet to find anyone willing to build a bridge for free," he says.
Locally, Skinner identifies three priorities he'd like to focus on for the riding of Perth-Wellington. Besides his party's mandate to invest in infrastructure, transit, and bridges, Skinner says he'd specifically like to see a larger focus on improved access to natural gas. He credits the Ontario Federation of Agriculture with conducting extensive studies on the issue, and quotes their research stating agriculture-rich areas like Perth-Wellington could expect to see a five-to-one return on public sector investments made towards natural gas access.
"And this isn't just agriculture," he says, adding manufacturers and rural property-owners still heating their buildings with propane and electricity stand to benefit as well.
"It's a triple win for agriculture, business, and rural households," he says.
His second priority looks to Stratford and the rehabilitation of the Cooper Site. Skinner says he's heard from constituents across the city that they feel it's important to move forward on the issue while still maintaining the historical aspects of the site.
"It's going to take a partnership across governments, from municipal to provincial to federal," he said, adding he expects to have more to say on the issue in the coming weeks.
Lastly, Skinner says he has a personal passion to see the region's access to mental health and addiction services improved.
"I've been very open about my own struggles with depression," he says.
He notes the Liberal government introduced a comprehensive mental health addiction strategy in 2011, and that the first three years saw a big focus on children and youth, helping 35,000 more children access services.
Skinner says the province is now ready for the next step: continuing to focus on children while improving access for adults as well.
"A teenager might be able to access care through their parents' plans or through school," he said. "But a young family on its own might not have access to support systems."
He notes that the Wynne government included $65 million in the budget towards mental health and addiction services, to be increased to $80 million annually.
"I want to make sure this riding receives our share of that funding so we can have access to those services," he said, adding that funding could go towards new care centres or improved transit strategies to ensure those who need to travel for care to areas both within and outside the riding are able to do so.
Whatever the solution, it's sure to help raise awareness for mental health issues.
"If we can champion the cause behind these services, we'll raise awareness and help those suffering in silence," he said.