By Doug Hallett
Candidates at the last debate of the provincial election campaign were urged to raise taxes to pay for social justice initiatives, but one candidate had no plans to raise taxes for any reason.
More than 200 people came to the Italian Canadian Club for the June 4 evening debate organized by the Guelph Wellington Coalition for Social Justice and the Guelph Wellington Poverty Elimination Task Force.
One questioner said it appeared none of the main parties has “the guts” to raise taxes to pay for worthwhile programs, such as more subsidized housing. He suggested an increase in the harmonized sales tax, which currently stands at 13% tacked onto most goods and services, but not groceries.
Progressive Conservative candidate Anthony MacDonald said the provincial government doesn’t need to raise any new revenue. What it needs, he told the crowd, is to stop electing governments like the current Liberal administration that spends money wastefully and is plagued by scandals that cost the public purse.
Liberal MPP Liz Sandals said new revenue is needed to do the things her government wants to do while also balancing the budget by the 2017-18 fiscal year. She said the 2014-15 budget tabled by her government this spring proposes higher income taxes on the top 2% of earners who make over $150,000 a year. The budget also proposes a higher tax on aviation fuel, as well as changes to corporate taxes that would prevent corporations from being taxed at the lower small-business tax rate on their first $10 million of income.
NDP candidate James Gordon said the NDP would raise corporate taxes by 1%. He also said an increase in the HST would be hard on low-income earners, as it is a flat tax not geared to income.
Mike Schreiner, the Ontario Green party’s leader as well as its Guelph candidate, said he favours a $2 a day parking levy in the Toronto area to help pay for transportation measure that would reduce road traffic congestion.
Juanita Burnett, one of 11 candidates fielded by Ontario’s Communist party, said her party favours raising both corporate taxes and taxes on high-income earners.
Gordon said the Green party had once asked him to run under its banner, but he chose to run for the NDP in the 2011 election and again this year. He said he made this choice because of the NDP’s traditional commitment to social justice.
The 58-year-old musician and activist said Guelph residents have seen him “outside with my guitar, championing too many lost causes,” and now he wants to work “from the inside” within government.
Schreiner, who would be the Green party’s first MPP at Queen’s Park if he makes a breakthrough in Guelph, said with a smile that he’s hoping for a minority government where he holds the balance of power.
Sandals, currently the province’s education minister, listed many things she has done for her home city since first being elected in 2003. “If I’m re-elected, I will continue to work for Guelph,” she said.
MacDonald told the crowd there is “a stigma” attached to being a PC candidate – namely suggesting someone who is “an old, white male or has lots of money. I’m neither.”
“I’m not just a Conservative,” said MacDonald, a 37-year-old harness racing trainer and driver who was motivated to run for office for the first time by Liberal government changes in the area of gambling and horse racing. “I’m not the stigma that comes with that.”
Burnett said she didn’t expect to win Thursday’s election, but she hoped to improve upon the vote count of previous local Communist candidates. After the election, she told the crowd, “I hope to see many of you out fighting in the streets for what we need.”
Candidates were asked what they would do about low social assistance rates, such as Ontario Works social assistance payments for single people that a questioner said are “$12,000 a year below the poverty line.”
Sandals said Liberals prefer the model they use for the Ontario Child Benefit, which offers financial support for low-income families to help provide for their children. “If the child is living in poverty,” this benefit flows to the family whether the family receives social assistance or is working in poorly paid jobs, and Liberals like this model, she said.
Gordon said he favours raising Ontario Works social assistance payments and provincial disability payments more than the Liberals have proposed. “We don’t need Band-aid fixes. We need to go all the way with that,” he said.
Burnett favours a big boost in the minimum wage and “a guaranteed annual income that is actually a livable wage.”
Strengthening Ontario’s economy is the way to stop people “from getting left behind,” said MacDonald.
Schreiner said he favours ending the Liberal government’s 10% hydro bill reduction and then using some of this money to raise social assistance rates to start lifting people out of poverty. “The money is there if we prioritize it to help the people who need it most,” he said.
Asked about substituting proportional representation for Ontario’s current first-past-the-post system of electing MPPs, Schreiner and Gordon said they favoured such a change.
“If that is what the people of Guelph want me to lobby for,” MacDonald said, he would do it.
Sandals noted that when her government named a citizens’ commission to recommend a system of proportional representation for Ontario, the system recommended by the commission was defeated in a 2007 provincial referendum.
By Doug Hallett