Lambton-Kent-Middlesex candidates debate carbon tax, farm issues in Alvinston

Alvinston's Kathryn Shailer speaks at the All-Candidates night hosted by the federations of agriculture from Lambton, Kent and Middlesex Thursday as Ontario PC candidate Steve Pinsonneault listens.

Six of the seven people in the running to replace Monte McNaughton as Lambton-Kent-Middlesex representative squared off in Alvinston to talk to the agriculture community about everything from the carbon tax, helping young people get a start in farming and education.

About 200 members of the Lambton, Kent and Middlesex Federations of Agriculture filled the Brooke-Alvinston-Inwood Community Centre Thursday to hear Keith Benn of the New Blue Party, the Liberals Cathy Burghardt-Jesson, Stephen Campbell who represents None of the Above Direct Democracy Party, The Ontario PC’s Steve Pinsonneault, Kathryn Shailer of the NDP and Cynthia Workman, who is part of the Ontario Party, but is registered as an independent.

Andraena Tilgner – a registered respiratory therapist – is running for the Green Party of Ontario in the May 2 byelection, but wasn’t able to be at the debate.

Climate change and carbon taxes were hot topics of discussion. Moderator George Dickenson asked how the parties are planning to include agriculture in the solution for climate change.

The NDP’s Shailer said “We’ve all experienced some of the ravages of climate change over the last couple of years. And it’s getting more intense, and farmers are going to bear the brunt of climate change…we need to work with farmers.”

The PC’s Pinsonneault promoted the Ford government’s record saying “We are investing $56 million into a resilient agriculture landscape program. That program was to plant more trees and establish more wetlands.” He added the province wants to ensure battery storage projects aren’t on prime agricultural land and added the province has invested in the electric vehicle market, including at the St. Thomas battery plant which is expected to create 3,000 direct jobs while having a positive impact on the environment.

But NOTA candidate Stephem Campbell questioned whether the EV investment was helpful. “We’re putting it into the billion dollar contracts and they don’t even have workers that are in our country. They’re bringing outside workers. We didn’t even get a single solitary worker in the Windsor plant. How is that investing in Ontario or future or Canada?

Workman, representing the Ontario Party, said is against more climate change regulations. “We don’t want to run our farmers out of business with climate regulations.”

Keith Benn of the New Blue Party agreed. “There is no climate crisis, we’re told ad nauseam that C02 contributions from human activity to the atmosphere are driving climate change. I have a PhD in science and neuroscience, there’s I can tell you, the climate has been changing ever since there’s been a climate that the only thing that doesn’t change with the climate is that it never stops changing.”

The Liberals Cathy Burghart-Jesson said agriculture has already been doing what it can to fight climate change but it “is often ignored. You’re making great strides with technology and innovation, and we need to celebrate that.”

Among the talk of climate change was the issue of carbon pricing. Not one of the candidates at the table agreed with the the current price on carbon. It recently was increased 23 per cent, sending gas prices up about three cents a litre.

But Shailer was quick to point out; “Ontarians have a carbon tax today only because Ford cancelled the cap and trade program that was in place.”

She added “The NDP has never ever supported a carbon tax on farms, food production and individual consumers…a built a built in Ontario carbon carbon pricing system would be more like a cap and trade.”

Burghart-Jesson says the Ontario Liberals don’t like the federal Liberal carbon tax either. She says the party will create its own system. “There will be no carbon pricing on eating, heating and driving… and will not affect farmers day-to-day businesses.”

Pinsonneault also spoke out against the Carbon Tax saying “there will be no Carbon Tax in Ontario without a vote of the people.”

He said the Ford government is “actively fighting the federal carbon tax. We know the affect the tax is having on farmers and the agriculture industry.”

NOTA’s Campbell, the New Blue’s Benn and the Ontario Party’s Workman all said the tax was not necessary. “You have to vote for parties other than the legacy parties who have all been cramming this fairy tale of C02 driving catastrophic climate change down our throats. It is a fairy tale…And the whole climate scam is the sort of thing that used to read things through that otherwise nobody would put up with,” said Benn.

“We need to take back the autonomy and sovereignty of this province and don’t be wishy-washy to the to the ideology – radical ideology – of this climate change stuff,” says Workman.

In another exchange, Shailer questioned the sustainability of the EV projects; “The battery plant to be located prime farmland is not a great choice.” But she said it would still take resources to build the plants near the minerals they need and that might not be a better environmental choice.

Pinsonneault says the plants have to be located in southern Ontario, because that’s where the workers are. “They have to be near a labour force; it requires a lot of employees.”

Burghart-Jesson agreed it’s not clear whether far north communities could “sustain” a EV battery plant adding “there has to be investment into infrastructure to make sure that we aren’t constantly going to agricultural lands and taking them out of production for other industry.”

The talk also turned to land use, particularly the land which will be used in the Longwood to Lakeshore Hydro One corridor. The utility is building two new power lines from Strathroy to Windsor by 2030 to serve the power needs into the future. The three proposed routes cut through some prime farmland in the riding, raising concerns in the agriculture committee.

“Rest assured that primary agriculture isn’t always will be a priority for our government,” said Pinsonneault while adding “We have a need for hydro going forward…We do take everything into consideration. Sometimes you’re going across farms, sometimes you’re going to go through neighborhoods. But if we’re going to keep our grid up, the world is going more electric. We do have to run the lines and we have to find the most feasible path to take them down.” Pinsonneault said.

Instead of building new lines, NOTA’s Campbell favours “put up the bigger tower, but in the existing locations that were there before so we’re not wasting more land… we’re losing 319 acres per day in Ontario, of agricultural land, it’s been going on for the last 20 years.” Campbell”

Workman of the Ontario Party said the community should be able to veto the project. “Governments can’t come in and dictate to us, we are taxpaying citizens. And you know what, I have faith that they’ve got lots of ways to reroute these things.”

Benn says questions whether the province should be building new power lines. “The future is going to be modular nuclear reactors…we’re not going to need to have a great big, huge regional grid to transmit our electricity because it’s going to be generated locally.”

Burghart-Jesson disagreed. “The reality is we do need to build the capacity and the lines need to go somewhere. And it’s got to be built in a way that is most efficient and least disruptive. And what really needs to be considered (is), how can existing lines built upon.”

Many of the questions for the evening touched on agriculture issues, including how to encourage young farmers to get into the business. The average age of the Ontario farmer is 56 and with land prices rising – now about $23,500 per acre in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex according to the Farm Credit Canada – it’s more difficult for young farmers to get into the business.

Workman says her Ontario Party wants to give young farmers hope. “We’re not going to regulate the hell out of (the ag industry),” she says. “We’re going to make it so that farmers can make a living again, and then governments are going to get out of the farming industries face.”

Benn agrees saying government has to “get out of the way” of the industry. “That’s going to involve reducing regulations, reducing taxes, making it less expensive to farm, letting people just do their job and make a living.”

Pinsonneault says the current government “is promoting careers in the agriculture and food industry to attract and retain workers to adopt younger farmers.”

Burghart-Jesson suggested the Liberals would look at providing succession planning for families to allow younger farmers to get into the business.

But the NDP says there needs to be more investment in rural Ontario to “introduce a young farmers loan guarantee program that helps them break into the farming business, establish good strategy that supports agricultural jobs in food processing, transportation, biofuels, retail, in other words, investing in rural communities that keeps them attractive, and allows young people who want to stay here and break into farming to do so.

The issue of food security was also raised, with most of the candidate supported making it easier for smaller livestock processors to set up shop.

“Every single town in this community used to have a butcher shop. And they should be going back to the small ones, because these big ones are getting contaminated,” contended NOTA’s Campbell.

“We’re concentrating too much on international reliance on processing and food supplies. And so we need to bring it back Ontario, back to Canada and start investing in our own farmers and our own areas,” said Workman.

Benn advocated for local food hubs “bringing this manufacturing this processing of food back into the local communities…smaller footprints for these plants create less of an environmental impacts.”

Shailer also supported “growing the agri food industry locally.”

Both the Liberal and PC candidate talked about growing the market for local farmers. “We’ll do that by increasing the exportation of crops and agri food and identifying new markets that we haven’t been able to tap into,” says Burghart-Jesson. Pinsonneault said the province is already helping farmers find new markets internationally. “Ontario is a net exporter of food and we are going to do everything we can to increase production,” said Pinsonneault.

The candidates also weighed in on an issue which politicians in Warwick and Plympton-Wyoming have been dealing with – railway companies failing to pay their share of drainage work in Ontario even though its required by law.

Pinsonneault “would be in favour of” the Ontario government “holding the federal Liberals feet to the fire to address this issue.”

The Liberal candidate suggested a government member would not put pressure on Ford to do that. “The province has to hold the federal government to account to make sure that these drainage issues that so many municipalities in rural Ontario are facing these are lost dollars, there is work and maintenance that is not being done by CN and CP, and nobody is holding their feet to the fire,” said Burghart-Jesson of the current government.

Both Benn and Shailer said they’d be in favour of enforcing current laws, even though the companies are now embroiled in a legal action claiming they’re not subject to the rules.

The All Candidates Meeting also turned to deficits and how it affects the government’s ability to fund other programs.

“I don’t think it should go unmentioned that under this leadership that we are experiencing, the deficit has ballooned to $91.7 billion and that is the largest in any Ontario under any Ontario government leadership,” said the Liberals Burghart-Jesson.

“We don’t have a problem with our governments not collecting enough taxes from us. We have a problem with our governments not being fiscally responsible for intelligent in the way that they manage our money,” added Benn.

Shailer contends studies show “NDP government’s are the most financially responsible.”

“I think MPP should be responsible for actually budgeting and budgeting the Ontario budget every single solitary year…we need to balance budgets in every single, every single avenue that we have, and is working together with our communities that we can get through this,” said NOTA’s Campbell adding its not something the legacy political parties would do.

Workman said government’s shouldn’t spend what they don’t have. “If the bank account says the money’s not there, then If I can’t spend it. So it would be nice if our governments…would learn that. I learned that at Dawn Central School.”

The candidates were also asked what their three most important issues Ontarians, all mentioned education and most mentioned health care.

“We need to bring back reading, writing and arithmetic into our classrooms instead of the crazy ideology being taught in the classrooms… teachers need to know their place and go back to teaching, reading, writing and arithmetic.,” said Workman.

Benn agreed; “We need to get our public schools teaching the basics again, so that when students graduate, they actually have the skills and the knowledge necessary to be able to continue learning throughout their life, and also to get a good job.” Benn added he supports “the largest number of families possible to seek education for their children outside of the public school system.”

Shailer agreed the education system needs reform, but in a different way. “In K to 12 and post secondary, we are rock bottom in the country in terms of funding these. We need more funding more investment there.”

Pinsonneault said “the Ford government is making record investments in education $15 billion in rural areas.”

Burghart-Jesson also spoke about the need to improve health care. “We have to continue to defend our universally publicly funded health care. We can not be putting dollars into private health care, we have to invest to ensure that we can see doctors in our own community, that we do not have to go to larger urban centres. We have to make sure that doctors want to practice their health care in our communities,” she said.

Shailer echoed her comments saying “We need also to to get family doctors to practice family medicine. We need to have integrated health teams that include administrators so that 40 per cent of their time is not spent on paperwork.”

NOTA candidate Campbell is concerned about the pay of hospital executives has risen too high. “We’ve created this huge gap between the top of the people getting paid in the bottom and the people getting paid.”