The campaign has kicked off for the 2022 provincial elections in Ontario, and Woodstein Media is speaking with candidates in its home riding of Perth-Wellington. This time, Progressive Conservative Matthew Rae answers the questions. The other five registered candidates will also get their opportunity to answer these questions in upcoming articles.
WM: How will you advocate locally, and what actions can we expect to see at the party level to address the housing affordability and availability problems that are now happening province-wide?
Rae: That is a big question but a very important question. So locally, I will rely on some of my current experience. I sit on the Perth County Committee for Affordable and Attainable Housing. It’s a subcommittee of county council, and over the past couple of years during COVID, we have been looking at ways to increase the availability of affordable housing, what the county can do, and the role the province can play in that so my experience and knowledge in that would be an asset to Queen’s Park. I’m also a first-time home buyer in Mitchell, and I understand it’s a crazy market. Honestly, some of the values put on homes in Mitchell, Listowel or Stratford don’t make sense.
Many of my friends are still trying to get into the market, and they don’t know if they ever will be. These are people with very good jobs, and they still can’t afford to get in. The provincial government has tabled a few pieces of legislation, the Housing Strategy action plan. I don’t have any specific local numbers, but … it’s good to see that some of those needed housing units are coming online, but it does take time. So at the provincial government and I would advocate for and work with our municipalities locally to speed up that process. Whether that’s reforming Local Planning Appeal Tribunals (LPATs) and working with the land tribunal board – working to reform that so housing units get built quicker. I know locally, the government did invest $3.9 million in the community housing project in Stratford, so that’s just one end of the continuum. Still, we need housing across rental, affordable, attainable housing.
WM: Housing leads to the subject of jobs because we have them available in this area, but it’s tough for workers to move here to fill those positions. How will you work to address this specifically?
Rae: Another good question. I know Listowel Technology Inc. (LTI) has been busing people to work at their factory over the past four years. Many other factories do the same thing, so they pay for transportation for people to come from Kitchener or, further afield, Mississauga. To address that, I know some municipalities have been working with our local employers to see if the employers could help facilitate the construction of new housing units. Wellington North specifically is looking at this with some of their employers to help create some rental units or help facilitate getting that moved forward because that’s a major issue. I think this region has probably one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and it’s been that way for a while. Even before COVID and the pandemic, addressing that issue will ensure that the jobs stay local, people can have good jobs locally, and our communities continue to grow and thrive in that we attract more investment to our riding.
WM: Under the broad umbrella of job and labour issues are labour protections, benefits, and paid sick days, especially for the gig and contract workers and others working in non-traditional roles as freelancers or self-employed workers. How will you advocate for those workers?
Rae: I know Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton has brought in some legislation recently around the gig workers, as you refer to them, whether that is Uber drivers, delivery drivers for food – protections around them. He’s also brought in some legislation for people who worked from home over the past couple of years. I know people who work in the Region of Waterloo and live in Mitchell, so they work part-time from home and make sure that the legislation protects workers from being on 24/7. When it’s 5 o’clock or whenever your day ends, you can shut the computer or the phone off—protecting workers from that. With the gig workers, whether they are small businesses, entrepreneurs, or contractors, I know recently we did update Service Ontario, and our Associate Minister of Digital Government Kaleed Rasheed was working with Minister of Government and Consumer Services Ross Romano. They have announced Service Ontario is one window essentially. Before, the business registry was all over the place; online, you’d even have to mail in some stuff. Now, it’s one place for all that information. It will also work with Canada Revenue Agency federally to make that process easier, to save time for people for paperwork in the gig economy to focus on creating. Many people in the gig economy are content creators, so they’ll be able to focus on that. Hopefully, it will help them focus more time on making more money, reducing some of those barriers and red tape for the gig workers and encouraging them to come to our riding. It’s a great place to live and work.
WM: One of the main pillars of pandemic recovery will likely be small business support? How will you advocate for local businesses if you are MPP?
Rae: Small businesses are one of the biggest employers in our riding, and they are significant contributors to our economy locally and in the province, so whether that’s in retail, food services or agriculture. So, how to support them? The pandemic has been very difficult for our small businesses, especially in retail, food services, and gyms, so we are working with them to identify ways to support them. I know tourism-wise, Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece was a big advocate for this with the Ontario Support Tourism grant program with our bed and breakfasts. Initially, they did not qualify under that program and because of Randy’s advocacy, they now qualify. They can apply for the grant which is great to see. They are a very important part of our economy across the riding in Stratford and other bed and breakfasts across Perth-Wellington. We are working with small businesses to identify how we can continue to support them as we have supported them throughout the pandemic with our Ontario Small Business Grant program or the tourism grant program. I know Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Lisa MacLeod has also announced you can claim a portion of your staycation. If you stay somewhere in Ontario, for example, at a provincial park this summer, you can claim a portion of that on your tax return to encourage local tourism.
WM: Should ideas outside the box in Ontario, such as guaranteed basic incomes, be considered to help with some of the social issues constituents face?
Rae: So, related to guaranteed basic income, whether ODSP or Ontario Works, in 2018, when the PC first formed government, they raised Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works rates by 1.5 percent. This was obviously before the pandemic. They raised those rates to provide the people in our community with more support on that. I know a challenge I hear a lot from people who rely on these services is the red tape and bureaucracy of getting approved and accessing the funds they need. So I would work with whoever is the minister at the time to figure out how we can streamline that process to make sure they get the help and services they need in a more timely manner, so they don’t have to wait; in some cases, unfortunately, years for the funding they require. During this pandemic, the government made significant investments in social services … They expanded access to temporary emergency assistance, so if you can’t make a rent payment. To my knowledge, this is still in place. Money is still available for those who require ODSP or Ontario Works. There is assistance still in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.
WM: Homelessness has become a more visible issue in the region over the past ten years? What would you see your role as an MPP in tackling this issue?
Rae: As I mentioned previously, I sit on the Perth County committee for affordable and attainable housing. As I said as well, housing is a continuum that includes, on one side, homelessness and those who require housing, to the other side, those who are looking to purchase a home, and so addressing that one side of the continuum is very important. As I mentioned, the provincial government did invest $3.9 million in the Britannia Street Housing Project in partnership with the city of Stratford with their housing department, so hopefully, that will help alleviate some people in need of housing. I know North Perth is looking at (working) with the United Way and other community partners to develop a strategy around homelessness and addressing those needs in their community. As MPP, I would work with our municipal partners because, as I mentioned, the City of Stratford does administer social housing in the county, so I’d work with them to address those issues and support any applications they would be making to the provincial government for funding.
WM: In light of the pandemic, issues with long-term care have been at the forefront of conversations recently. How will your party continue to address shortcomings in long-term care across the province, and how will you advocate for better services locally, getting more beds closer to people’s communities?
Rae: I’ve been pleased to see that the PC government has invested significant amounts locally in long-term care beds over the past four years. It’s great to see. Unfortunately, there were no new long-term care beds under the previous government in almost ten years in our riding. So one example in Mitchell is a redevelopment. West Perth Village, it’s redeveloping 128 beds. Redevelopment means there will be state-of-the-art beds that meet all the requirements, so it is great to see that investment. New long-term care beds, one example is peopleCare in Stratford, that’s 100 new beds plus the 60 beds which were taken out of commission in 2015 due to the events at their old facility, so it’s great to see peopleCare is moving forward, and those beds are staying in the community. Southside manor, again another example of I think they are getting 38 beds in addition to the 98 beds they already have, and they will build a new facility again somewhere in our community because of the advocacy of Randy Pettapiece and the community in 2017-18. I also believe Caressant Care in Listowel will receive new beds. It is great to see these new investments. I think it is almost 700 new and upgraded beds across the riding, including Wellington County. We are also making the Personal Support Worker (PSW) pay increase for our long-term care workers and our PSWs in other settings permanent moving forward. We gave them a pay bump for all their hard work during the pandemic, which has been made permanent under our plan to stay open.
WM: Like long-term care, the pandemic has also shone a light on problems with the healthcare system – availability of beds, services in rural communities and staffing issues were just a few issues? How will you advocate for Perth-Wellington when it comes to healthcare?
Rae: Rural hospitals are essential. I was born in Palmerston General, so our hospitals are very important. One example, in Wellington, is under our mandate over the past four years, the government invested $18.5 million in the Louise Marshall Ambulance Care redevelopment and their emergency room, so it’s great to see a state of the art emergency room now and a new bay for the ambulance in Mount Forest and with hospitals and retaining workers across our riding we did table some legislation we are going to invest $142 million to launch the new Learn and Stay grant. The program will start with $81 million over the next two years for people going into the nursing profession. If you agree and serve after graduating in a rural or northern community, the government will pay for your tuition. You’ll get a rebate. It’s great to see that this will encourage more people to enter the workforce as nurses and other healthcare professionals and increase the number of people. We have made some changes obviously during the pandemic with major needs for helping healthcare workers. The government-led programs to help recently retired nurses upskill or speed up their graduation helped contribute across the province to roughly 8,000 nurses in 2020-21 to join the healthcare profession to alleviate some of the pressures around the pandemic.
WM: The opioid crisis is another issue related to healthcare that some people say is a pandemic of its own? What sort of advocacy will you provide residents of the region on this issue at the provincial level?
Rae: That’s an excellent question. So, working with our healthcare professionals and our family health teams to highlight ways we can support those people and rehabilitation and other supports we can provide. I am not a medical professional, so I would rely on what our healthcare professionals are saying locally. The ones on the front lines and working with them to address the opioid crisis locally and make sure the Minister of Health knows where our local priorities are and how we believe we can help our fellow citizens in our community. Make sure the Minister of Health, whoever that may be at the time, is aware of that and pushing that forward.
WM: Climate change and environmental issues are always top of mind for many Canadians, especially when recently looking at the extreme weather conditions in provinces on both coasts. This is an issue facing all levels of government. What can constituents expect from you and your party on this issue?
Rae: One big announcement which has been happening, or a couple of big announcements, recently in the past months, from Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Victor Fedeli. One of the biggest contributors to emissions is vehicles and so there is a growing demand for electric vehicles and many of the major car manufacturers are starting to produce those so Premier Doug Ford and Minister Fedeli have announced big investments down in Windsor, some investments in Oshawa where GM, Ford and other manufacturers and Honda up near Barrie are going to start producing electric vehicles at their plants there. This is very important as LTI, TG Minto, and many manufacturers currently produce components for the auto sector. We are focused on strengthening that moving forward, which will help meet our 2030 climate targets and working with the federal government to meet those targets moving forward.
WM: Agriculture is a massive part of life in Perth-Wellington. Locally I’ve heard concerns raised about the loss of farmland to development as the areas such as North Perth continue to grow exponentially. What will you do to preserve farmland?
Rae: I grew up on a dairy farm just north of Harriston, so coming from an agriculture background, I understand the importance and the vital need to maintain our prime agricultural land in Perth and Wellington Counties and across Ontario. So basically, we need to encourage our small towns and cities to grow up as they refer to it or infill. I know in West Perth there is a lot of infill going on, which is great to see, so these are lots. Now they are going to put a couple of townhouses on them, or they will put small apartment buildings, so encouraging that and Perth County council, I believe, is very aware of that. They do encourage that at the county level so working with our municipal partner to highlight those areas where we can infill and grow our towns upwards and condense the housing a little to avoid massive urban sprawl because our communities are growing.
WM: Transportation – PC Connect is good, but it has some practical shortcomings for commuting to and from cities for work? Will you advocate for expansions of the local transportation system?
Rae: Great question, so we did announce in 2018 the PC Connect funding for Perth and then Wellington County. The county decides what they want to do, and they chose different paths but then again, similar ideas, and more recently, we announced additional funding for this pilot. $1.4 million over the next couple of years, I believe, until 2025. It will run until then as a pilot. They are still collecting data. One of the main reasons they want to extend that is because COVID happened, so they want to make sure, and I think that’s great that they are continuing the pilot. I know a lot of people have used it. Some of my friends have used it to get to the larger urban centres near our towns, so it’s great to see we continue to invest in that with $1.4 million over the next two years and continue to collect data on it. I’m sure the county is looking at that closely to see how they could potentially change some schedules or better serve the people in our area.
WM: Any other words for the constituents of Perth-Wellington?
Rae: Since I won the nomination for the campaign, I’ve run on a commitment to be approachable and accessible, so people are more than welcome to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or text or call me at 519-604-8078 and they are always more than welcome to reach out. It’s great to hear from voters.
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