Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
The turnout for the first of six town halls being hosted by Perth-Wellington's provincial Liberal candidate over the next eight weeks fell far short of party organizers' expectations, but the meeting wasn't all for nothing.
The two people who did show up at the Rotary Complex Thursday evening participated in a brief but constructive discussion about job creation and local growth led by Listowel pig farmer Stewart Skinner, who back in September secured the party's nomination heading into the next election, in the fall of 2015 or possibly sooner.
While obviously hoping for greater participation (a wrong venue on one of the meeting's public notices is likely partly to blame), Skinner was upbeat nonetheless.
"We'll attempt to make some lemonade," he said smiling.
The group discussed the minimum wage, which the Kathleen Wynne government he hopes to join at Queen's Park recently announced will get a boost to $11 an hour from $10.25. Labour and anti-poverty groups had been pushing for $14 an hour, an increase others suggested might hurt small to medium-sized businesses.
Without offering his own opinion as to what might be an appropriate increase, Skinner noted the number of working poor continues to rise in Ontario, and shared what he learned during a recent visit to the Local Community Food Centre in Stratford, which supports low-income individuals through food education and programs.
"The demand there keeps growing," he said, adding, "you don't need statistics to tell you something isn't entirely right."
In an interview prior to the meeting, Skinner cited the need for greater support for small and medium-sized businesses as a chief concern when it comes to building a stronger economy. He said the Accelerator Centre in Stratford, an incubator program that provides mentoring, programming, and services, along with facilitating potential grant funding, to early-stage technology and digital media companies as a great example of how communities can support, invest in, and foster an environment for growth that, in time, benefits the entire community.
One of the Accelerator Centre's biggest successes to date in Stratford has been Trending.info, a real-time website that curates local social media for any given community. The idea began to take form in early 2013 and today the company has clients globally.
"That type of success is so good for the community because it goes so far beyond (those companies) just giving people a job. Those are the companies that are going to invest when it comes time for community projects."
With his 30th birthday approaching in just a few weeks, Skinner isn't trying to downplay his age; in fact, he said it's one of his greatest strengths. He hopes his participation in the process will motivate other young adults to do the same.
"The millennial generation has shown a level of apathy or disinterest towards politics. If I can play a part in slowing that trend or reversing it, that would be very exciting."
Just how soon voters will return to the polls is still up in the air. Byelection losses this week in Niagara and Thornhill, costing the Liberals one seat of their minority government, continue to fan the flames about Ontario's leadership and strengthen calls for a return to the polls possibly as early as this spring.
Skinner said an early election is not something the general public wants, and praised Premier Wynne for her resolution to making a minority government work in the face of much scrutiny about past Liberal decisions under Dalton McGuinty's leadership.
"She's stood up, she's apologized, and she's taken steps to ensure they don't happen again. To me, that's the type of leader you need. You can't change what has happened, you can only use it to shape your decisions moving forward."
Skinner also praised Wynne for taking steps to try to address the rural-urban divide in Ontario, including appointing herself agriculture minister. Skinner said throughout his life he's tried to connect urban people with agriculture.
"Fostering that kind of understanding is very important to me," he said.
Skinner's next town hall will be held Wednesday, Feb. 26 at the Mitchell Arena, where the topic of focus will be agriculture and food production. He will be in Listowel in March to talk about elder care.
While the meeting in Stratford may not have gone exactly as planned, Skinner is optimistic he will get to engage people about the topics that are important to them.
"It's very important for me to embrace a grassroots style of leadership," he added.