A war of words

Candidates spar over platform points

Students and residents will go to the polls tomorrow to elect Kingston and the Islands’ MPP.
Students and residents will go to the polls tomorrow to elect Kingston and the Islands’ MPP.
Tyler Ball

Last week’s candidate debate at Grant Hall saw Liberal incumbent John Gerretsen taken to task on his record as Kingston’s MPP.

In the 90-minute debate, four of the six candidates running for Kingston and the Islands—Conservative Dr. John Rapin, Liberal Gerretsen, NDP Downes, and Green Bridget Doherty—answered questions from a five-person panel and took questions from the audience.

The questions ranged from health care to economic development in Kingston.

Downes attacked the Liberals for ending the tuition freeze.

“We have to have sustainable funding [for post-secondary education],” Downes said, adding that the NDP would freeze tuition across Ontario.

Gerretsen defended his party’s Reaching Higher program, which promises to invest $6.2 billion in education through 2010.

Gerretsen criticized citizens for demanding tax cuts while also demanding increased support for social services.

“Who wouldn’t want a tax cut? I would,” he said. “The problem is we can’t afford it.” He said the party would introduce new grants for students and find other ways to help them fund their education.

“It isn’t just by tuition freeze,” he said.

Doherty said the Green Party would move towards capping tuition at the $3,000 level, by investing $500 million a year into the system until 2011.

Rapin said the Conservatives would use “targeted funding” to help only those students in need.

“I don’t support freezing tuition fees across the board,” he said. “It’s not efficient.”

He cited the School of Medicine as one example of where tuition fees have increased significantly, and where help is needed to ensure qualified students can enrol in the program. Rapin said this could help with Kingston’s and Ontario’s doctor shortage.

Health care was raised as an issue by an audience member who said he’s among the 20,000 Kingston residents who don’t have a family doctor.

Doherty said she would entice physicians who are trained in the province to stay and work in Ontario.

Downes said the NDP would allow doctors who come to Canada from other countries to use their credentials, provided they met the Canadian standard.

Gerretsen said nurse practitioners should be given a greater role, instead of viewing physicians as the primary agents of health care.

The parties clashed on the role of private-public partnerships in helping hospitals with their funding.

“There’s a way for private money to be involved in [health care] but it has to be regulated,” Gerretsen said.

Downes responded that private-public partnerships work in favour of private companies seeking profit.

“Public money is used to underwrite risk for private companies,” Downes said.

“We’re equal when we’re born, we’re equal when we die, surely to goodness we should be equal when we get sick,” he said, to loud applause.

Rapin said privatization shouldn’t be a dirty word, and compared it to “competition” and “choice for people.” “Private doesn’t mean the public has no say,” he said.

Doherty agreed that the private-public partnership “doesn’t work,” and said her party would use preventative measures to encourage people to have healthier lifestyles so there would be fewer patients and less strain on the health care system.

The parties agreed that there was too much strain on municipalities to fund their own social services.

“Local tax dollars will only go to local services,” Gerretsen promised.

But Downes said the Liberal candidate’s social services promises can’t be trusted.

“The Liberals talk left but vote right.”

All four parties agreed Kingston needs economic development to help fund better social services.

Gerretsen said the Liberals have targeted investments in industries that have flourished, such as $1 billion given to the automobile industry.

“With good leadership and without tax cuts so we can invest in public infrastructure, we can do it,” he said.

Doherty said her party’s green platform could start an “environment revolution” that would create a lot of jobs.

Downes attacked the Liberals for voting in a pay raise for themselves.

Downes said Gerretsen received a raise of $32,000 annually and makes more than eight premiers of other Canadian provinces, and said Gerretsen didn’t announce this raise to his constituents.

“Where’s the leadership by example?” he asked.

Downes said he would tout a raise in minimum wage to $10 per hour.

“$10 brings you up to the poverty line, at least.”

Rapin, who grew up on a farm, said he would invest in Kingston’s agricultural industry.

“Farmers need income stabilization,” he said.

He would also introduce an “eat locally” system to encourage Kingstonians to buy produce from local farmers.

Mark Wilson, MSc ’08, came to the debate to decide which candidate to vote for.

“For past elections I’ve voted by proxy,” Wilson said. “[This time] I couldn’t stomach any of the candidates in my riding.”

After the debate, Wilson said he doesn’t have a clearer idea of who to vote for because none of the candidates gave sincere or interesting answers.

Although there are six candidates running for Kingston and the Islands, the AMS-hosted debate only invited four of them to participate.

“The decision was made that to have the most questions answered, we couldn’t have six candidates present,” said Academic Affairs Commissioner Alexi White. “Four was considered to be manageable.”

White said the AMS decided to invite the major four parties, including Green in the list even though it hasn’t won a seat in the legislature.

“To be honest, the Green Party is a lot more visible in the Kingston community.”

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