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By Sam Odrowski
Five candidates vying for the Dufferin–Caledon seat in the upcoming provincial election recently squared off at a candidates' forum.
The two-hour long debate, held by the Dufferin Board of Trade (DBOT) last Wednesday, saw Sylvia Jones (Progressive Conservative), Bob Gordanier (Liberal), Tess Prendergast (NDP), Andrea Banyai (New Blue), and Laura Campbell (Green) answer questions on a variety of topics.
None of the questions were provided to candidates in advance of the candidates' forum.
Doug Harkness of DBOT moderated the event and first asked, “if elected, what would you do to address the housing crisis in the community?
Campbell responded that Dufferin–Caledon needs more “missing middle” housing and to stop paving over farmland with urban sprawl.
The way to do this is by making key investment and supporting municipalities to put in gentle density development, such as duplexes, triplexes, nanny suites, garden suites, and other forms of housing people can afford.
She noted that the starting house prices in Dufferin–Caledon of $800,000 or $900,000 is out of reach for too many people.
“We need to make sure that we're getting homes that are actually affordable, and Greens have prioritized that,” said Campbell.
Banyai said she's very familiar with the housing crisis, having been searching for a new home in the region for the past few months with no luck.
She noted that larger developments design infrastructure plans that aren't always the best fit for innovation in the housing sector.
“We do believe in development, we do want to encourage development, but we need to remove the red tape for smaller developers to come into the picture to be able to build new, innovative, creative ways for people to live,” said Banyai, who highlighted modern trailer park communities as an example.
Prendergast said the NDP believes housing is a human right that every Ontarian is entitled to.
“I was listening to a Dufferin County regional meeting, and they said that over 700 families had requested supports for affordable housing. To me that says there are 700 families on the brink of homelessness. It's a very precarious situation where we live in a rural setting where access to rental homes and supply just doesn't exist,” Prendergast remarked.
She added that the NDP plans to build 1.5 million homes in 10 years, end exclusionary zoning, and build more gentle density in the “missing middle” as Campbell highlighted.
"We're also planning on creating a new public agency, Housing Ontario to build over 250,000 new affordable and nonmarket homes, which people can rent,” said Prendergast. “We will bring back rent control so you will pay what the last tenant paid. That's really important to keep people in their affordable homes.”
Gordanier's answer was that on the campaign trail, it's the same complaint at the door, rents have gone up and people are paying as much as $600 more than they were prior. He said this is due to there being no rent control, which the Ford government removed in November of 2018.
He said the Liberals would bring back rent control and build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years, same as the NDP.
“Young people, and newcomers and families need to get into the housing market,” he noted.
Jones said whether it's a young person trying to get their foot in the door or a senior citizen who wants to downsize but not leave their faith, family, and friends – affordable housing is needed.
“We have already started making changes as a provincial government, working with our municipal partners, working with homebuilders, working with organizations like Habitat for Humanity,” Jones noted. “We have, in fact, already put in some policy changes that have made a true difference.”
Last year 100,000 new homes were built in Ontario, the highest in 30 years, Jones lauded.
“The policies that we are putting in place are making a difference right here in Orangeville. We are seeing rental properties being built, I can't remember the last time we had rental properties being built in our community,” she added.
Harkness asked candidates what they would do to expedite grant applications for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as many municipalities have actively supported ISPs in their provincial and federal grant applications. He noted that apart from SWIFT rollouts and announcements there's been radio silence on the fate of these applications.
Banyai said she understands the lack of internet connection issues in Dufferin–Caledon personally, having two megabits per second of speed at her rural home.
“I have been trying since I moved into my house in Mono to get faster internet and it is impossible,” she noted. “We contacted every single service provider there and tried to build a tower. I am well aware of how difficult it is to get high speed internet.”
With her house being 400 feet off the road, even if optic fibre lines were built up to the end of the driveway, she'd need to pay for them to get to the house.
“Realistically, the only option is Starlink, and I've also been waiting on that waitlist for a year and a half now,” said Banyai. “There's no way to contact them. So, if I was elected as MPP, I think that would be one of the first things I would do, is find a contact information from Starlink and figure out what is the problem with getting it to our communities.”
Prendergast said with Ontario mandating online learning for secondary school students, high speed broadband internet is critical.
As a sixth-grade teacher, she said she saw some of her students from Grand Valley struggle firsthand with online learning during COVID lockdowns, due to their unreliable internet service.
Prendergast noted that the NDP government is guaranteeing that on or by 2025, they will deliver high speed broadband internet to all of Ontario.
"I spoke to a farmer who had to drive 25 minutes to Tim Hortons to download essential software updates for his farming equipment. So that's taking 40-50 minutes out of his day to do that, and how often does that have to happen?” Prendergast asked.
Gordanier said internet service is undoubtably a problem in the riding and anyone who runs a business needs a stable connection.
"I don't know actually, who is in control of this as far as getting it done. But you cannot run a farm anywhere without feed rations, communications, sales – we can go on forever,” he said. "I believe we need to put somebody on this and get it done."
Jones said reliable broadband is a priority for her government and by 2025 every region across Ontario will have reliable broadband.
She commented on Mansfield and Mulmur recently getting an expansion of internet services from Bell and how Pikangikum, a fly-in community in northern Ontario, was able to get internet through low earth orbit satellites.
Jones said the slow turnaround of proposals the province submits to the federal government is part of the reason why there hasn't been much money granted locally.
Campbell said as Ontarians increasingly work from home, reliable internet service is critical and high-speed internet needs to be rolled out across the province.
“Ontario Greens have made that a priority,” she noted. “It's part of our platform to make broadband internet an essential service for the people of Ontario.”
The way this is achieved is by working with municipalities and making sure they're not burdened with waiting long amounts of time for grants.
The Greens would also incentivize the market, according to Campbell.
“We don't want another situation where we have two major corporations [Rogers and Bell] that essentially have a monopoly on the services. We need to level the playing field for smaller providers so that folks have more choices for internet for their homes,” she explained.
The provincial election is June 2.
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