Ontario Liberals will name a new leader in just two weeks and for some of the leadership hopefuls, the London area was the focus of their attentions over the last few days.
Gerard Kennedy made a stop at the Ramada Inn on Exeter Road, Charles Sousa was in Talbotville and Kathleen Wynne held a conference call to talk about portions of her platform before Sandra Puppatello staged her event at the Labatt brewery.
London Community News had the opportunity to ask each of them about a number of issues that affect the Forest City directly.
Wynne’s campaign co-chair is London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews. The two worked closely together while serving as ministers of Education and Children and Youth Services respectively.
“It’s a huge compliment and a boost to have her,” Wynne said. “She’s a friend.”
Asked about her perceived support in London, Wynne said she has support “all over the province,” particularly in smaller rural towns, and not from any one particular region.
Ironically speaking while city crews were repairing a watermain break at the corner of Egerton and Florence streets, Wynne said her focus on continued investment in crumbling infrastructure across the province and improving mass transit in cities would be popular in London.
“Going forward we have to be honest about how we’re going to pay for future transit and that’s one of the reasons we need to look at our relationship with the federal government (concerning provincial equalization payments),” she said.
Kennedy actually kicked off his leadership bid in London on Nov. 12.
“I’ve always had strong support in London,” he said Thursday. “The people here are always generous in terms of donations and the people who have supported me.”
Kennedy said the job growth and youth employment planks of his leadership platform would resonate in London.
“The unemployment rate has been a challenge in London over time,” he said. “I think an economic platform that focuses on keeping jobs in Canada would resonate in London.”
He added his plan for a program that guarantees young people a first job with an Ontario business would be a popular idea here as well.
“There are jobs without workers and workers without jobs,” he said. “I want to maximize the potential of the people in Ontario.”
Pupatello served as industry minister during the deepest part of the recession. The Windsor native said her approach to job creation has traction in London.
“It’s easy to do that job when times are good but when they are tough you really get your mettle tested,” she said before a meet-and-greet Friday evening (Jan. 4). “And in the toughest of times, we landed more jobs in Ontario because of foreign direct investment than any other jurisdiction in North America – more than California, more than New York. That’s really saying something.”
Sitting just outside a room full of over 100 people waiting to meet her, Pupatello said she was “impressed” with the turnout.
“A lot of what’s happening in the London area is what I experienced in my hometown,” she said. "People here will know when they hear she’s from Windsor that we’ve lived the same life, we’ve been through tough times together, in the recession, coming out of the recession. A lot of the people here are people who have watched me for a long time and if they’re saying ‘It’s time for Sandra,’ I’m really grateful.”
Sousa spent over 25 years working in finance in the private sector and has served as minister of labour and on the treasury board. He said he would work towards improving London’s economic outlook.
“London is a central part of Ontario’s dynamic,” Sousa said. “But we have a sensitive (economic) recovery taking place. I want to build an immigration strategy that focuses on investment and educated newcomers.”
Speaking on the future of the horseracing industry in Ontario, Sousa said the industry is important to small communities and the province as a whole.
“Horseracing and breeding, frankly, are essential to so many communities,” he said. “It’s important to Ontario to have a vibrant industry. We have a huge potential in rural Ontario … we need to safeguard and prioritize what is essential.”
Kennedy suggested he would have allowed for more time for public input than did the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG).
“The focus has to be on how to get a viable industry that isn’t dependent on slots,” he said. “I’m not a huge fan of the expansion of gambling. I’m keen on destination sites.”
He said he needed “full knowledge” of a subject or proposal before he can get onside with it, and that the OLG is moving faster than he would like, effectively ignoring community input along the way.
“I want to know the ins and outs, from a business perspective and also from an agricultural perspective,” he said. “There is incredible potential in rural Ontario in the owners and breeders of these animals and there may well be things we have to reconsider.”
Wynne said as premier, she would work to ensure the sustainability of the horseracing industry.
She said pulling the slots out of Ontario tracks “wasn’t as well thought through as it should have been,” adding what the industry will look like is still up in the air.
The kerfuffle is one of the reasons Wynne sees agriculture as a key ministry. She claims that if she became premier she would serve as minister of agriculture for up to a year.
With the Windsor Raceway in her backyard, Pupatello has been watching the controversy closely. She has endorsed the first report published by the three-person panel examining the decision to pull slots from racetracks which recommended a fund be established to bridge the racetracks into their new way of doing business.
“I was grateful to see they put a commission together very quickly when they saw the kind of fallout … that was happening,” she said. “We’ve really got to ease people’s transition here.”