The big three
From left, David Henderson, Liberal Party of Ontario; Michelle Taylor, National Democratic Party of Ontario and Steve Clark, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario meet in Toledo to answer public questions about their platforms before the June 7 election.        Van Dusen photo

by Tom Van Dusen
AgriNews Staff Writer
TOLEDO — While it didn’t show, MPP Steve Clark had to be feeling a bit out of it while embarking upon his 2018 provincial election campaign in the Legion Hall at Toledo May 10.

Earlier the same day, Clark, who represents Leeds-Grenville, Thousand Islands-Rideau Lakes, spoke at the funeral of best buddy Gord Brown, former MP for the same riding, who died suddenly May 2 in his Parliament Hill office after playing pickup hockey.

The funeral packed the arena in Gananoque, drawing a who’s who of the Conservative Party, including Leader Andrew Scheer, opposition members and local dignitaries. A moment of silence was held in Brown’s honour at Toledo, which wasn’t a full all-candidates meeting because the Green Party’s Derek Morley and Libertarian Benjamin Cunningham were missing from the podium; meeting organizers explained they were unsuccessful in tracking them down.

The Toledo date was set before Brown passed and before his funeral was scheduled. While some thought was given to changing it, the date was left in place. “Gord would have wanted me to carry on,” Clark said of his inseparable companion for years in political forays across the riding.

The meeting was organized by the Leeds County Federation of Agriculture which had no trouble persuading Clark, Liberal Dave Henderson and the NDP’s Michelle Taylor to literally sign on to the organization’s showcase Producing Prosperity election initiative focusing on economic opportunities in agri-food and in rural ridings.

The Ontario Federation believes the plan is a “strong solution” that should be part of every party’s platform and a key deliverable for the next provincial government. The crux of the plan is a more balanced distribution of development dollars across Ontario, creating new businesses, jobs, and more affordable housing in the rural reaches.

In answering questions on everything from the Canada Food Guide – a federal responsibility – to drainage concerns, Clark showed the keenest general knowledge while Henderson demonstrated the political poise of a man who’s been mayor of Brockville for 12 years. An opponent of rural school closings, Taylor admitted she was unfamiliar with several of the issues raised.

Clark railed against rampant red tape in trying to move ahead with projects such as an abattoir in Athens which was stalled for several months waiting for an OMAFRA water test even though it had already been cleared by a regional health unit test. He bridled at 65 acres of farmland in the riding becoming designated protected wetland after flooding: “More issues should be looked at through a rural lens.”

He agreed with the OFA on the importance that agriculture and rural Ontario hold for provincial prosperity and long-term growth. He insisted the Liberal government’s priorities are urban centric: “The Go-Train isn’t coming to Leeds-Grenville. We have to get a commitment to rural infrastructure.”

Taylor cited the NDP’s commitment to protecting the family farm, preventing further school closings, and returning Hydro One to public ownership. She agreed with the two other candidates there should be more cooperation and service-sharing between Ontario’s two school boards: “The rural way of life should be rewarded, not punished.”

She touted her party’s fully-costed plan to get the province back on track with deliberate consideration given to farmers as the backbone of rural Ontario. She underlined the NDP intention to invest $100-million in rural broadband and another $100-million in rural natural gas expansion.

Henderson insisted his party would provide the improved infrastructure, investment and customized programs needed to create new jobs in rural Ontario. He emphasized the dairy industry prominent in the riding must be protected and not overlooked in the Canada Food Guide: “Marketing boards work.”

The high-profile Liberal called for action on all the rural infrastructure fronts, claiming it’s one thing for candidates to say they’re going to listen and “have a little group hug” but at some point: “Pure and simple, you have to act.”