October 05, 2011

Not much new on Erin at All Candidates Meeting

As published in The Erin Advocate

About 50 people came out to the All Candidates Meeting hosted by the Optimist Club of Erin on Tuesday last week, instead of watching the provincial leaders slug it out that night in the TV debate. It was a friendly affair, with a few good ideas tossed about, but not much to influence voters who care about local issues.

Participating were Progressive Conservative MPP Ted Arnott of Fergus, who has held the seat for 21 years, Liberal Moya Johnson of Georgetown, a nurse and Halton Hills town councillor, and New Democrat Dale Hamilton, a playwright, community worker and former Eramosa councillor. Green Party candidate Raymond Dartsch, a community nurse from Eden Mills, was not present.

Actually, it would have been better to hold the meeting on an earlier date, so people could read a report in the newspaper in advance of the vote. Many won't get this issue by mail until tomorrow, election day. The proceedings were broadcast on FM 88.1 CHES, Erin Radio.

"This is a chance to change to a government you can trust," said Arnott. "Ambulance response times have been a huge interest for me, and I have gone to bat for you on that issue in the legislature."

Hamilton, who came a close second to Arnott in the 1990 election that produced an NDP government, made an appeal for support to backers of the Green Party, based on "compatible" environment policies. "The NDP offers real change to the status quo," she said.

Hamilton agreed that Erin needs better ambulance response times. She said her party would cut ambulance fees and free up more dollars by continuing the Liberal plan to upload costs from municipalities.

"We are proposing to give the provincial ombudsman oversight over hospital and health spending, to be sure patients are respected, and certainly a case of that would be reasonable response times for rural areas," she said.

Johnson was eager to remind people of the Mike Harris PC government.

"I've lived through times when health care encouraged and supported, and times when it was cut to the bone," she said. "After all the progress we've made, rebuilding the health care system, we can't go back there, to those days."

She was not familiar with "exactly how many ambulances" Erin has, but said that in general, as the province continues to upload costs from the municipalities, "more funds will be available to improve ambulance service".

Arnott said he has spoken with the Minister of Health about the problem, in which the City of Guelph has only been willing to station an ambulance in Erin for part of each day. "The provincial government needs to get involved to ensure the response times are adequate," he said, and urged Guelph to be a "good neighbour".

Candidates were asked about support for the Town if it is obliged to install sewers. Johnson was unaware of Erin's situation and mistakenly said that all municipalities are obliged to provide sewage treatment. She said Erin would have to apply for any available funding, while Arnott said he would actively promote such a bid. Hamilton identified it as a development issue, saying Rockwood had succeeded in restricting new housing to within existing urban boundaries.

There were questions on whether the province should subsidize Erin residents if they are forced to hook up to the Town water system, and whether the system should undergo more scrutiny.
None of candidates made any commitment or showed any understanding of this local dispute, although Hamilton said she would look into it. They talked instead about water safety, uploading, infrastructure funding and eagerness to collaborate with municipalities.

The issue of Hydro Smart Meters arose, and Arnott promised to continue pushing for solutions to the technical problems that have led to erratic electricity bills for Stanley Park residents.
Regarding farms that need power 24 hours a day, Arnott said his party would make time-of-use meters optional, allowing some customers to benefit from a flat rate. Hamilton also supported flexible billing systems, as part of a broader plan to reduce risk for farmers. Johnson spoke of the expensive investments required to improve the Hydro system, and said the government already supports farmers in other ways.