Perth-Wellington candidates discuss pandemic recovery, housing, long-term care, preserving farmland

PERTH-WELLINGTON – Local candidates had two all-candidates meetings in Perth County – Stratford on Sept. 7 and Listowel on Sept. 9 – to let residents know how they plan to represent the riding if they are elected on Sept. 20.

In Stratford, District Chamber of Commerce General Manager Eddie Matthews used his position as moderator several times to ask candidates to qualify their statements with facts. This is something People’s Party of Canada candidate, Wayne Baker, had a tough time doing when speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic. The Listowel Banner has asked Baker for verification of his statements and as of yet, the candidate has not sent any supporting evidence.

Conservative candidate John Nater, New Democrat (NDP) candidate Kevin Kruchkywich and Liberal candidate Brendan Knight all recommended the COVID-19 vaccines, combined with public health recommendations such as masking and social distancing, as a safe way to protect yourself, and others, against the virus.

At both meetings, concerns were raised about housing, protection of agricultural land and small business recovery.

As a small business owner, Baker said the best way for businesses to function is “without government in our face.” So he said the People’s Party of Canada would promote a freer, more open marketplace.

“I was happy to see that one of the first announcements from a new Liberal mandate was to help the arts and culture sector – more specifically to help them bridge through the winter months and to bring in various supports like a ticket matching program,” said Knight. “As we all know tourism is probably going to be the last sector to recover out of the pandemic.”

Kruchkywich was critical of the ticket matching program.

“As an artist myself I find programs like that sometimes challenging,” he said. “That top-down approach that would put the money into the building and not into the people… We have a very large artistic community in this area and they have been struggling and if not for the NDP forcing the Liberals to increase the benefits to get us all through they may not still be in this community.”

Nater said these last 18 months have been devastating for so many small businesses. He described emails he has received that were sent at 3 a.m.

“You can picture the business owner… at their kitchen table… trying to calculate the numbers to see if they make ends meet that month,” he said.

“Going forward we need plans and supports to make sure we can not only see these businesses recover but thrive as well.”

Nater said the Conservatives have the job surge plan to provide from 25 up to 50 per cent of a new hire’s salary to businesses, main street tax credits to encourage investments in local communities and a program that provides a larger amount of funding so that businesses can buy new equipment and innovative technologies.

Kruchkywich said the NDP will look at some of the larger issues affecting businesses in Perth-Wellington.

“We have a lot of jobs in this community,” he said. “What we don’t have is enough housing for those workers. We can’t get them here if we don’t have a place to put them and the NDP has a… comprehensive plan to do just that.”

Nater said the need for housing has been a common refrain during his five years serving as MP.

In terms of housing challenges, he said rural communities apply for the rapid housing initiative, and they’ve been blocked out.

“They haven’t received any funding, whether it’s in Stratford or Listowel who have applied, they haven’t got funding because the criteria are geared towards larger urban centres,” he said.

Kruchkywich said the NDP is putting priority on affordable rental units.

“There is lots of talk about housing prices,” he said. “Many Canadians right now can’t afford a house. The NDP plans to build 500,000 units in the next 10 years, 250,000 of those in the next five… rental properties that young families can step into.”

He also mentioned $5,000 rent subsidies for struggling families.

As far as housing goes, Knight said the Liberal Party has promised several initiatives such as money for rapid housing, affordable housing and a commitment to build.

Baker said the issue is not affordable housing, it’s about affordable homeownership. He suggested starting with “less classy housing” and “getting the gatekeepers out of the way.”

Knight said the Liberals are putting forward tax-free savings accounts for people under 40 to save up to $40,000 for a new home.

“But saving when the price of housing is going way beyond a family’s ability to save, that’s really a useless option,” said Baker.

“And if there’s no supply, Brendan, then there’s no point in saving,” said Kruchkywich. “How does that work if there… isn’t a place for them to rent or buy.”

Knight said there is also a commitment to build new homes and renovate older buildings.

The next question asked the candidates if their parties would work with provincial and municipal governments to address housing affordability.

“I mean that’s a pillar of our platform,” said Kruchkywich. “Our biggest pillar is affordable sustainable housing.”

The NDP also plans to waive the federal HST on construction, reintroduce a 30-year mortgage term which would make payments more affordable and double the homebuyers tax credit to $10,000.

“We also want to introduce a model for mortgages for co-ownership which has been a challenge for people trying to do that,” said Kruchkywich. “We can do multigenerational and even groups of friends … We also want to present some fast-start funds for co-ops and social housings.”

Knight mentioned a homebuyers bill of rights that would not permit blind bidding so that prices aren’t bid up out of control.

“There’s also a growing homelessness problem that needs also to be addressed as well, not just through the affordable home program but a real focus on the contributing factors to people and homelessness,” he said.

“I do want to agree with something that Mr. Kruchkywich said about supply issues,” said Nater. “That is one of the major concerns.”

He said there need to be incentives to have purpose-built homes and rental units so the Conservative platform incentivises purpose-built rental units.

“In rural communities… you need those rental units for some of the jobs,” he said. “We also need to fix the stress test for mortgages and… look at where we can use federal land that’s already existing for housing, for housing that is affordable and affordable housing.”

Baker said when he was younger he found an older widow that had a home that was more than she could handle. She brought in boarders.

“We need to bring that back to our culture, that kind of mentality where there’s a lot of older people rattling around in their home by themselves,” he said.

Kruchkywich confronted Nater on his mention of federal lands.

“The Conservatives said 15 per cent of Crown Land will be used but it will be presented to private developers,” he said. “I don’t know where the checks and balances are to encourage affordability… (if) we’re giving away Crown Land to private developers.”

Nater said he doesn’t think very many people want to see the government in the real estate business.
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