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, Ontario Liberal Party candidate Ashley Fox answers the questions. The other registered candidates will also get the opportunity to answer these questions. Please check out the related articles listed below.
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?
Fox: I bought during the pandemic. I am a first-time homeowner, and there is definitely a supply issue. We know there needs to be more done to increase supply, and we know the province needs to work with the municipalities to make that happen. We are interested in the party rebuilding the relationship between Queen’s Park and Ontario’s 444 municipalities which have unfortunately been strained under the current government. In addition to that, we want to work with the Rural Ontario Municipal Association report, which has emphasized not just community homes locally but the connection between housing and employment, community sustainability, and just thriving for our small communities.
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?
Fox: Another thing that is near and dear to my heart. I live in the northern part of the riding, so Palmerston, Minto, Listowel, Mount Forest – those smaller communities. Very similar to Stratford and other locations, we struggle to hire people from our communities. Often people are bussed in from staffing agencies, so as a party, we want to replace the minimum wage with a living wage, and we want to make sure it is meeting the sustainability of the community … We are also looking to give ten paid sick days to all workers. That’s another issue that we have seen during the pandemic. It’s not just the staffing component, but how you staff when people are off ill or looking after their loved ones. We want to make sure benefits cover every worker. We know that it’s hard for some of these smaller businesses to provide that. We would also look at building a four-day workweek that would make it sustainable for both the employees and the employers, and we also want to focus on entrepreneurship and self-employment. There hasn’t been much support under our current government for those looking at entrepreneurship in small communities.
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?
Fox: Fair enough. I am a freelancer, and I did launch a business last year, so that is a priority to me. We want to make sure that production quotas are fair and safe. We want to bring back equal pay for equal work and protection for on-call workers, which has unfortunately slipped under this current government. We want to modernize the Ontario employment laws, which will classify gig workers as employees … giving them the same protections that all workers will have, including sick days, workplace insurance, holiday and severance pay. We also want to eliminate the incorporation fee for new business start-ups. One of the parts that will help with that is launching the one-stop 311 type service to help businesses navigate government support. Especially during the pandemic, we’ve focused on websites and online, but it is difficult for people to navigate, especially as a new business. The last option we would be looking at is adding self-employment to the high school careers curriculum. When I graduated, there was no information about freelancing or launching my own business, and I kind of regret not having that information.
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?
Fox: One of the things that we want to do as a party is to eliminate the corporate taxes for small businesses that the pandemic has deeply hurt. I know small businesses are the life of small communities, and in all fairness, the statistics show that small businesses, not big businesses, drive our economy. We also will be looking at backstopping loans that impact small businesses and funding programs for small and medium businesses to go digital. That was one thing many businesses struggled with during the pandemic because they had been focused on being a physical location. They weren’t sure how to adapt to that online community. We would also look at capping credit card and delivery fees charged to businesses. We’ve seen that hurt the hospitality industry more so during the pandemic. As our lives move online, our economy is too, so we would be looking at going digital with our dedicated programs and including special streams for rural and agricultural businesses. As I’m meeting with businesses in the riding, they have been showing me there have been a lot of technological advancements in the last few years, and unfortunately, as a government, we haven’t kept up with that.
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?
Fox: So, there was a pilot project under the previous Liberal government and was cancelled, unfortunately under the Conservative government for the guaranteed basic income. There is an organization called Basic Income Now … I was the first and only candidate so far in Perth-Wellington to take their pledge that if elected, I will actively support the establishment of a basic income.
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?
Fox: The two primary issues that contribute to that are affordability which is linked directly to wages, homes etc. Then the second part goes back to the previous question, looking at a basic income and looking at what is sustainable for those on Ontario Disability Support Program or Ontario Works, for example. We know statistically that people are one to two paycheques away from being homeless, so my role as an MPP would be advocating for the issue and shining light and awareness on community resources and what we can do better to support those in our community who are struggling.
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?
Fox: Fair enough, that’s one of the bigger priorities in my realm of running in general. I am a nurse, and I work in homecare. In home care, I adapt and work in retirement and long-term care, so seeing the services and how far the beds are stretched within our riding is a big concern, especially for families travelling to their loved ones as caregivers. So, as a party, we will introduce a homecare guarantee that will support an additional 400,000 seniors with home care in the next four years, prioritizing non-profit care. We’ll be boosting homecare by over $2 billion through an annual increase of 10 percent each year. We would be looking at building 15,000 more assisted living homes, emphasizing a community care model, not a long-term care model. Also, because seniors want to remain in their homes, we would make the senior’s home tax credit permanent and allow seniors to complete renovations that they need to stay in their homes. We would make the Ontario caregiver tax credit refundable and paid out throughout the year for caregivers. It does tie in a bit with long-term care because we recognize that there will still be people that do require those additional supports. We would be looking at ending for-profit long-term care with the target being 2028 and building 58,000 spaces. We would be building a smaller non-for-profit community-type home that will truly feel like home, so PSWs, nurses and specialists will still staff it. Still, it would not be in a large facility approach. It would be more of a small direct care approach and increase the care that seniors need in long-term care, at least four hours a day minimum.
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?
Fox: Once again, being a nurse that’s an everyday role in my neck of the woods. With the Liberal Party, we will be raising the PSW base rate to $25 per hour at least and increasing wages for healthcare workers such as nurses and other specialists. We would guarantee access to mental health services for those professionals. During the pandemic, it’s become an issue, especially for our healthcare workers, as they are burning out. We would establish and enforce protected exclusion zones around healthcare buildings, protecting our workers from what we have seen during the pandemic of, unfortunately, very vocal people—protecting them at the sites where they work. We would also be closing any gaps regarding wages between home care, long-term care and hospitals. As we know, there is quite a variance between the parts of the sector. In addition to that, we would be repealing wage capping Bill 124, which has prevented our nurses and public sector employees from negotiations and contains some problematic legislation regarding vacations and time off. We would also be looking at sections of Bill 106, the Pay Equity Act for PSWs. Because we would be boosting their pay, we would also be looking at top ups for short-staffed shift work and delivering consistent and fair compensation across all healthcare sectors for home and community care, long-term care, and hospitals.
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?
Fox: In the rural ridings, we want to ensure that access to treatments and mental health services is done promptly to help target some of those premediating factors contributing to our opioid crisis. In addition to that, we will be dealing with the underlying concerns that result in someone becoming dependent on opioids. The complete platform will be released shortly, but at this time, that’s the advocacy I would do on the frontline as a nurse.
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?
Fox: We need to make Ontario a leader in the fight against climate change. We were before, and we will once again. But we do need to show that leadership. We will be focused on long-term science-based approaches to bring more land under provincial protection and work with our stakeholders, farmers, and Indigenous communities. The focus of our party is instead of paving new highways through the greenbelt across prime farmland, we want to protect it, and we also want to create five new provincial parks in Ontario that families would be able to access. We will give municipalities and families new trees at no cost to plant on their properties in their communities, and our plan will also create 2,000 jobs for graduates and former students who want to dedicate their time to climate action and resilience. In addition to that, our party is working on providing $8,000 for the purchase or lease of eligible zero-emission vehicles and another $1,500 on the charging equipment with that in hopes that we can do more for the climate. It’s not just the weather. There are quite a few changes that we’re seeing related to climate change, and myself, being a mother in the fall, I mean, I have my children to worry about as well.
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?
Fox: When I’m talking to local farmers in our area, it’s challenging for their families to continue family farms and continue what they love to do best, so the Ontario Liberals would scrap the Minister’s Zoning Orders, and we would bring in strict rules to preserve our agricultural land. We’d also like to add some transparency measures like required consultations with stakeholders to ensure that we respect the environmental protections and that they aren’t being forced on communities like we are seeing now.
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 because it can be difficult for riders to return home?
Fox: It’s a very good question. We also see that at the northern end of the riding in many questions from students. So, for example, students who are going to Conestoga, Wilfred Laurier or even going to Toronto regularly are looking for rides based on the fact that the transit has not been helpful for them, or the times are so inconvenient. So, What I would advocate for is to have those services be practical and realistic for people. I mean, we need to work. We need to go to school. We need to advance our communities, knowing that infrastructure is critical. Having that infrastructure, just based on our riding, is very important. We have lots of rural areas, so it is essential because of the small communities that are across the riding to make sure they can get to work and to make sure they can obtain an education.
WM: Any other words for the constituents of Perth-Wellington?
Fox: While I’m talking to others in the riding and getting their feedback, what I’ve been hearing is that an MPP needs to be listening to their constituents and they need to be serving their needs, and unfortunately, too many people in the riding have felt our MPP has ignored them whether that is contact through phone, email or sharing it on the frontline, so one of the promises I’m making in addition to being in the office myself is to make sure staff knows the importance of listening and responding to the community. We have an obligation and accountability always to do what we can to improve people’s lives and active listening. It means so much to people to reach out to their MPP with their concerns.
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