London Free Press
“Pay attention. We vote.” That’s the overriding message The Free Press heard during a 600-km road trip through Southwestern Ontario’s heartland as Ontario Liberals get set to choose a new leader and premier this weekend.
The 10-riding region is largely an ocean of Tory blue, with a two-seat Liberal island. Little wonder some residents feel they’re afterthoughts to Queen’s Park policies on wind turbines, education, job creation and other issues.
We hit the road with the question: If you had one message for Ontario’s new leader, what would it be? Here are some of their answers.
PARTY LEANINGS: Strong Liberal loyalties, even against a Tory tide, but voted Conservative last time.
ISSUES: Turbine towers, farming are rural hot buttons, with boom-and-bust manufacturing sector underpinning the urban economy.
Wayne Glassford, Muirkirk- A power struggle — its source, availability and cost — is frustrating Glassford in his plans to add a dryer and storage facility to his corn-growing operation. A line of turbines starts just south of the Agris co-op where he’s parked himself to check out grain trends, but somehow it’s still too expensive to get sufficient, reliable power to his farm a few kilometres north. “Energy is what this all revolves around. How to generate it, how to distribute it and how to make sure we make best use of it. We need equitable distribution of energy within the province so that all people have access to it, and access to it within a reasonable price level.”
PARTY LEANINGS: Has a Conservative MPP now but the riding has been known to vote against the provincial tide.
ISSUES: Announced closings of Sarnia jail, Hiawatha Horse Park, coal-fired generation plant. Natural gas power plant to be built; ethanol, solar, wind economies growing.
Jean-Guy LePage, Wyoming – Wind turbines are the big issue, with hundreds either planned or built within half-hour drive of his home. “I don’t think it’s working, the windmills. I think it’s bad for the health. It devalues your property.”
PARTY LEANINGS: Conservative now, but historical voting preferences all over the map.
ISSUES: With no community populations larger than 14,000, this is one of the largest ridings in region. Wind turbines, farm policy and education dominate political landscape.
Christopher Thorne, Kerwood – He’s baking tea biscuits for his two children as they return early from school. His daughter, having had to forgo her favourite school sports, is worried about the fate of her Grade 8 graduation party and school trip. Meanwhile, Thorne’s anxiety grows about a wind turbine that will soon sprout in the cornfield behind their country kitchen. To the soft-spoken Thorne, both issues have a common theme: his children. “This is my backyard and we bought this house to bring our kids up in a safe area.” McGuinty forced turbines on rural residents and will leave before he sees their impact; he imposed a teacher contract and then left parents, kids and teachers to sort it all out. “I think he came in and made a mess and then walked away with his tail between his legs.”
Phil Patterson, Strathroy – Gardenia Restaurant is the unofficial gathering spot for town pundits and local and visiting politicians. Patterson, the cook here, rarely gets to speak his mind but he wonders why none of the politicians seem to bring spending under control. “The onus is on the people to bail out (politicians’) bad decisions.” He’s annoyed that wind turbines have been forced upon surrounding communities despite neighbours’ objections.
PARTY LEANINGS: There have only been two elections since the riding was founded in 2003. It’s Conservative now, but the first election went Liberal.
ISSUES: St. Marys, Stratford, Minto and Mapleton all fall within Perth–Wellington’s boundaries. The towns are full of independent businesses, and soaring hydro expenses have put an extra strain on small business owners.
Ron Cottrell, St. Marys – Cottrell has chocolate on his apron, which is just one of the perils of owning The Chocolate Factory. But making the sweets requires more than getting your hands dirty — it also means using a fair bit of electricity. “We’ve noticed a sizable increase in our hydro bills,” Cottrell says. He says small-town businesses already fight to keep customers from heading into nearby cities and rising expenses are an added strain. He hopes a new premier could bring relief from the rising costs. “Take another look at how much the whole green energy thing is going to be costing consumers and business people.”
PARTY LEANINGS: A Conservative win in 2011 turned the tide after two Liberal victories, but Huron-Bruce was blue in the late 90s, too.
ISSUES: Wind farms have been sprouting up across Southwestern Ontario, and Huron–Bruce is no different. The turbines are championed for their clean energy but have caused debate as many worry about their effects on property values, health and scenery.
Steve Olley, Zurich – Huron–Bruce envelops kilometres of Lake Huron’s scenic shores, but the beautiful horizon might soon be dotted with energy-producing turbines. “Many of the local people think that it’s going to completely destroy the beauty of our area,” says Olley. “I would say the population is pretty split as to if this is a good thing or not.” While he worries the wind farms could wreck the area’s natural beauty, he recognizes the importance of green energy. He says he hopes a new premier will still put up new turbines — just somewhere else. “Find areas that maybe not so many people live in, you know? Not so many people would be affected by what you’re going to do.” Read article