Candidates for the provincial riding of Kitchener-Conestoga gathered at the Woolwich Memorial Centre in Elmira on Thursday evening for the final debate of the election campaign.
During the two-hour discussion, a clear consensus emerged amongst the parties: this election is about the economy, stupid.
“I believe that keeping working people employed while investing in infrastructure, education and skills training, will lead to growth which will in turn lead to greater tax revenues and eliminate our deficit without cuts to families,” Wayne Wright of the Liberal party said during his opening statement.
Progressive Conservative incumbent Michael Harris stressed the need to eliminate the College of Trades and reintroduce the Fair and Open Tendering Act.
“We have to end the waste, mismanagement and scandals at Queen’s Park, because you and I know that we must get Ontario’s finances under control so we can make the much needed investments in our health care and education,” he argued.
James Villeneuve of the NDP disagreed, calling the PC economic plan “fundamentally flawed” and noting that the proposed 30 per cent tax reduction is for “large corporations and not for you hard working people of Kitchener-Conestoga.”
The Green Party was represented by David Weber, who emphasized the need for environmentally sustainable economic solutions like light rail transit and a revised Green Energy Act.
The most contentious issue involved the PC’s plan to abolish the Ontario College of Trades.
“The College of Trades is not blocking anyone from getting into the trades; they are making sure that when they get in they are trained properly,” Wright, a professor at Conestoga College explained. “It is promoting and enhancing the skilled trades. We see plumbers, electricians, carpenters, we’re all certified so when they show up at your door, you have that confidence of knowing that they have completed the program, they are licensed, they are competent and they are experts in their field and we can trust them with our safety.”
Villeneuve, a sheet metal worker, agreed.
“The College of Trades was brought forward to protect people who are buying from the skilled trades, all the way down through hairdressers. It ensures that when you are calling on somebody to come and do work for you they have that skill.”
But Harris challenged the organization’s worth, saying that “from Confederation until 2013” it didn’t exist, and we “managed to build good bridges, buildings and roads up until now.”
The issue struck at the ideological divide in this election, with the Greens, NDP and Liberals calling for government investments to spur economic growth, while the Tories look to cut spending.