Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
With just days until Ontario voters head to the polls, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne stopped in Stratford Monday to highlight part of her party's plan for supporting innovation and job growth in rural Ontario.
After a morning campaign stop at a Cambridge school – where she warned Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak's plan to eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs will result in 22,000 fewer teachers and education workers – the Premier was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of local supporters, including Perth-Wellington Liberal candidate Stewart Skinner, for a brief afternoon appearance at Monforte on Wellington.
The downtown restaurant is an extension of Monforte Dairy owner Ruth Klahsen's award-winning artisanal cheese manufacturing facility on Griffith Road. Wynne toured the plant during a stop in the city back in November.
Klahsen was able to finance and grow her dairy operation by implementing a community shared subscription model which Wynne, speaking Monday, said was a perfect example of where the local agricultural community, food processors, and innovation have come together.
"Not only does she have a fantastic business and makes amazing cheese, she's got such an interesting and solid community model for her business," Wynne noted. "If we want to compete globally in our agri-food industry, then we've got to follow the lead of people like Ruth who are showing us how it's done."
Wynne said part of the Liberals' plan is to have a 10-year, $40 million a year agri-food fund specially designated to helping the province's food processing sector create more jobs and compete globally. Though the details about the fund were not expanded upon during her stop in Stratford, the money would also assist farmers wanting to expand their operations. The Liberals suggest the plan will double the annual growth rate of the agri-food sector and create 120,000 new jobs by 2020.
Wynne, who has also served as the Minister of Agriculture and Food since winning the Liberal leadership race and becoming Premier 16 months ago, said her first real introduction to rural Ontario was during the "Agriculture 101" tours of area farms that were held annually by former Perth-Wellington Liberal MPP John Wilkinson as a way to introduce urban MPPs to agricultural issues. On her first trip to the riding she learned about drainage ditches, she recalled with a laugh.
Getting to learn about so many different issues affecting people outside of urban centres "helped to solidify for me how important it is that the premier of this province and that the government of this province understand that we are one Ontario," she added.
The latest projections heading into Thursday's election show Wynne and Hudak neck-and-neck, with NDP leader Andrea Horwath a clear third, though a majority is looking increasingly unlikely for either candidate. The race could also be close locally; a poll conducted on the Stratford Gazette's website shows 38 per cent of respondents say they will vote Progressive Conservative and 33 per cent indicate they will support the Liberals.
Wynne called Skinner, a Listowel-area farmer, the "perfect candidate" for the riding whose voice is needed at Queen's Park to "try to heal some of the riffs caused by others" between rural and urban Ontario.
"He understands, absolutely, how important it is that the urban centres in this province understand that we need to keep our agriculture community healthy and safe and strong," she added.
In introducing Wynne, Skinner said there is no person better suited to run the province, and said he was proud of the Premier's vision, particularly when it comes to agriculture.
"You know that is always going to be near and dear to my heart," he said.
Wynne said she believes strongly the government has to be a force for good, and noted some of the Liberals' key platform ideas, including continuing the 30 per cent tuition rebate for low- and middle-income students in post-secondary schools and introducing an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan.
"The plan that we're putting forward to the people of Ontario, the plan that Stewart has been going door-to-door with his team talking about, is about investing in the province, making sure those things are in place," she added.