Don Valley West incumbent Liberal Kathleen Wynne warned the audience at an all-candidates debate at Thorncliffe Park Community Centre that voting for anyone other than her would mean the Progressive Conservatives would take the riding.
“If you cast your ballot for any of these three fine people, and they are fine people, what that will mean is that my vote will split and the Conservative will be elected,” she warned the crowd at the Sept. 15 event.
While she has held the riding for eight years, holding off a challenge from then Progressive Conservative leader John Tory in 2007, the long-time Liberal stronghold elected a Conservative in May’s federal election ending 18 years of grit dominance.
The debate itself, which included Wynne, Green candidate Louis Fliss, NDP candidate Khalid Ahmed and Vegan Environment candidate Rosemary Waigh focused on issues ranging from transportation and health, to issues related to the settlement of new immigrants. PC challenger Andrea Mandel-Campbell was not at the debate due to a prior engagement, said her campaign manager, Matt Hiraishi.
The economy was seemingly not the biggest issue on residents’ minds despite the fact Thorncliffe Park has a high unemployment rate compared to the rest of the city. Instead, more local pocketbook issues were raised repeatedly such as the rising costs of TTC fares, car insurance and tuition.
In a neighbourhood largely composed of immigrants, Ahmed quickly seized the opportunity to present his personal connection to Thorncliffe Park in his opening statement.
“My father immigrated 35 years ago and I know what a lot of you face,” he said. “I’m one of you.”
Ahmed, 19, expressed similar sentiments in regard to him being a student and young person. He evoked Jack Layton’s name early on, mentioning how the former federal NDP leader encouraged him to run.
“You know what Jack Layton told me? He said ‘People say it’s never too late. I say it’s never too early’,” Ahmed said, receiving several cheers from the crowd.
To Ahmed, his age is a good thing because he can bring fresh ideas and perspective. He said the NDP’s commitment to removing the HST from everyday expenses such as home heating would be a big help to those from low-income communities.
Waigh of the Vegan Environment party, which was formed only days before the debate, pointed outside a window and positioned herself as a socially conscious individual who lives “just over there”.
“As a vegan, I’m concerned about protecting the rights of everyone in Ontario, both humans and non-human animals,” she said.
Liberal heavyweight Kathleen Wynne was clearly the most seasoned of the debaters, often thundering to the crowd her government’s commitment to health care and education.
She extolled how the Ontario Liberal government built a new public school in Thorncliffe Park, repaired subsidized housing and revised the residential tenancy act to make it more equitable for renters who must pay for emergency repairs.
“What I want to do is continue that work with you,” she said. “I want to make sure that your voices continue to be brought to Queen’s Park.”
In a room almost completely filled with members of the multicultural community, it’s no surprise integrating immigrants into the workplace was a prominent discussion point. Wynne defended her party’s tax credit for businesses that hire new Canadians.
“The newcomer tax credit is an opportunity for highly-skilled newcomers to get some Canadian experience,” she said. “Unfortunately what has happened is it’s become a wedge issue and somehow the notion that there are Canadians that are more Canadian than others has crept into this.”
Fliss emerged as a strong public transit advocate, slamming the Ontario government — and Minister of Transportation Wynne — for not fulfilling their commitment to the Transit City.
“The Liberal government has dropped the ball on Transit City,” Fliss said. “We were promised $50 billion to really turn Toronto into an international city and now we’re stuck with the Eglinton LRT buried.”
Fliss decried rising transit costs for being detrimental to the environment.
“Transit costs should be going down,” he said. “We should be encouraging use.”
He said the Green Party would make investments to encourage public transit and reduce gridlock.
Health care, particularly emergency room wait times, featured prominently in the debate.
“The Liberals have been here for the last eight years and we haven’t seen any changes,” said one concerned attendee.
Wynne stated her government has worked to reduce wait times for operations including hip and knee replacements and cataract surgeries.
“We’ve seen those wait times come down,” she said. “We know emergency rooms are the next frontier.”
Wynne also commended the Liberal government for building 22,000 new units of affordable housing and repairing more than 270,000 others.
“We need to keep renewing that (housing) stock,” she said.
In her concluding statements, Wynne made it clear that she saw Mandel-Campbell’s lack of attendance as a snub to local residents.
“I want you to pay attention to who’s not here,” she said. “The fact that the Tories have not shown up is very, very significant.”
Mandel-Campbell’s campaign manager Hiraishi disputed the inference that she did not attend because Thorncliffe is not a priority, and said she had a prior engagement agreed upon in June when she was first nominated.
“Andrea’s priority is all of Don Valley West, we don’t pick neighbourhoods,” he said.