Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
The next provincial election may not be scheduled until October 2015, but Romayne Smith Fullerton isn’t wasting any time starting the political discourse, hoping to reverse what she describes as a growing disinterest and disengagement in the political system in Ontario.
Speaking in Stratford Sunday as part of her “listen and learn” tour, the provincial NDP candidate for Perth-Wellington noted about 30,000 eligible voters in the riding did not participate in the last provincial election. About one-third were in Stratford. She said many of the people she’s spoken with since earning the local NDP nomination in May have told her they skipped voting because none of the candidates were interested in what they had to say or represented their concerns.
Smith Fullerton is hoping to change that. She’s met with labour and agriculture representatives, politicians, public servants, and the general public. She’s also hosting town hall meetings and organizing a citizens’ advisory committee to explore industrial wind turbines and other forms of renewable energy.
“I hope I can listen to their concerns and I can learn more about those issues – because I’m not an expert on everything from agriculture to pensions – and I’d like to have a bit of lead time before a campaign to familiarize myself with what the constituents care about,” she said.
Sunday’s town hall at the Kiwanis Centre attracted a small crowd of about 20 people, most if not all NDP supporters.
Speaking with the Gazette prior to the meeting, Smith Fullerton said she keeps hearing from people across the riding they want a change at Queen’s Park, and she expects the NDP will make up even more ground with voters in the next election compared to in 2010, when the party gained an additional seven seats in the legislature.
A professor at the University of Western Ontario, Smith Fullerton said she has supported the Liberals in the past, but soured after the seeing how the government handled the labour dispute with teachers’ unions last year.
“I could not accept how the Liberals treated teachers,” she added, noting the decision to impose two-year contracts with a wage freeze is one that people who care about unions did not take lightly, and won’t soon forget.
Smith Fullerton also criticized Premier Kathleen Wynne for her attempts to distance herself from the Liberals’ $1 billion cancelled gas plant scandal, noting Wynne served as co-chair of the Liberals’ re-election campaign in 2011.
“I don’t think people are duped. She wasn’t some backbencher who had no say. I think people are prepared to put the blame for that $1 billion fiasco where it’s due.”
Smith Fullerton also threw some barbs at Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak for his rant against union bosses, and compared his attack on unions to “the type of divisive rhetoric used by the Tea Party in the United States.”
Hudak’s proposed “Right to Work” legislation – which would allow workers at unionized shops to opt out of joining unions and paying dues – is straight from the Tea Party playbook, she added.
Hudak has stated Ontario is losing manufacturing jobs to US states where such laws are in place, like Michigan, while critics of the law believe it would lead to lower wages and weaken the economy.
Strengthening the local economy remains one of the key talking points for Smith Fullerton, who during her address noted the rising number of low paying jobs, the prevalence of temp agencies, and the need to address the living wage issue.
She said there has to be more opportunities for young people to work locally using their specific skill set, while at the same time ensuring there are individuals trained to fill the jobs that already exist.
Due to the high cost of post-secondary education, new graduates are being saddled with enormous amounts of debt and no job prospects, she noted.
At the other end of the spectrum is the need to better address the aging demographic, including improved access to health care, Smith Fullerton said.
She noted part of the provincial NDP platform is improving wait times for home care.
“We’d like to keep people in their homes for as long as we can,” she added. “It’s better for them, emotionally and physically, and certainly for their pocket books. But it’s also better for our pocket books.”
Smith Fullerton said people who do choose to enter a longterm care home must also be assured a safe and comfortable environment that is regulated and well maintained.
More town halls will be scheduled in the months ahead, said Smith Fullerton. In the meantime, she is looking for people to join the advisory committee on turbines. When it comes to the green energy debate in Ontario, she said she feels people are disenfranchised with the process.
And while she agrees municipalities should have more say about what projects are established in their backyards, she also sees the need to find other reliable energy sources to curb the province’s reliance on unsustainable and unclean sources.
“I’m hoping (the committee) will make some recommendations that we can bring forward as part of my campaign and make it a part of the election debate,” she said.