Quality-of-life issues such as the economy and health care are top of mind with residents as candidates in Kitchener-Conestoga make the rounds in the early going of the federal election campaign.
Away from the melodrama of the national campaigns, the three candidates in the local riding are getting immediate feedback at town-hall meetings and knocking on doors.
People are concerned about jobs, health care and their retirements, says the NDP hopeful, who spent the middle part of the week at forums in Wilmot Township.
“A lot of people are identifying with the NDP message about getting back to basics with how the government runs,” said Lorne Bruce. “When you hear Jack Layton talking about CPP and GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) – ways of making life more affordable – it resonates with people.”
Rather than theories and promises off in the future, the party is focusing on issues that matter in the day-to-day lives of Canadians, he added.
The experience has been much the same for Liberal candidate Bob Rosehart, who sees economic issues at play in both the rural and urban areas of the riding. In the townships, the health of the agricultural industry is a big topic, as is the need for good jobs in the smaller communities. In the southwest portion of Kitchener, with its many new Canadians, there’s a pressing need for job opportunities: first jobs for the newer arrivals, and better jobs for those skilled workers who are often underemployed despite their previous training, he said.
A former university president, Rosehart said education and training programs are important parts of a stronger economy.
“We’re facing some economic challenges, particularly in opportunities for young people.”
For the Conservative incumbent, the doorstep issues “run the gamut,” with economic concerns leading the way.
“The economy is improving, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” said Harold Albrecht, noting “people want us to stay the course in terms of the economy.”
He points to plans to lower corporate taxes, reduce the impact of employment insurance costs and support small businesses as his party’s answer to unemployment rates that still hover around 7.8 per cent.
With no riding-specific concerns at play, the local race is following the platforms outlined at the national level, where the battle is playing out between a tightly-controlled Conservative campaign calling for stability and opposition stances that put the emphasis on middle-class standard of living rather than a corporate focus.
Opponents are also focusing on the character of Stephen Harper’s government.
“There are ethical issues. People are telling me they don’t like the way Harper does business,” said Bruce, suggesting there’s dissatisfaction with both Conservatives and Liberals – “people are fed up with the other two parties.”
Rosehart, too, says a general mood of change in the air. The Liberals are hoping to place themselves as the alternative for those unhappy with Harper’s leadership.
“It’s time for some new ideas,” he said.