Rural-urban divide makes waves in Ontario race

Lib candidate protestAdam Radwanski, The Globe and Mail
One of the candidates for the Ontario Liberal leadership is proposing a new system for setting provincial electoral boundaries that would give much more power to the Greater Toronto Area, at the expense of under-populated rural ridings.

According to his campaign officials, former government services minister Harinder Takhar is calling for the province to stop mirroring federal districts, as it has since the 1990s. He would give an independent “Ontario boundary commission” the task of drawing a new map that would provide something closer to “true representation by population.”

f it were to gain steam, the proposal could play to both the Liberals’ strengths and weaknesses. It would increase the number of seats in the fast-growing “905 belt,” which the governing party nearly swept last election. But it would also further alienate rural and small-town regions, making it harder for them to rebuild in areas where they were virtually wiped out.

Although Mr. Takhar is seen to have little chance of winning Premier Dalton McGuinty’s job at the Liberals’ convention later this month, his policy proposals are drawing attention from other candidates who will be looking for second-choice support from his delegates. And reactions from the two perceived leadership front-runners were indicative of significantly different perspectives on the urban-rural balance.

Sandra Pupatello, a former Windsor MPP who has made much of being the only candidate from outside the GTA, was lukewarm at best. “It is essential that we acknowledge the growth of our population in urban and suburban areas, but not at the expense of the democratic rights of our rural and northern regions,” she said through a spokesperson.

In an interview, Kathleen Wynne – who appears to have considerable provincewide support, but is strongest in her hometown of Toronto – was more open to what she called “an interesting idea.” While acknowledging that both rural sensitivities and the cost of adding new constituencies would have to be taken into account, Ms. Wynne said it “makes a lot of sense” to strive for more equal representation. Read article

Contenders & Protesters

CTV News“It was a scene of protest today in Ingersoll as the small town hosted all seven provincial candidates in the race to replace Dalton McGuinty. CTV’s Gerry Dewan has more on the debate inside and on the demonstrators outside.”

Kennedy: “We have to acknowledge we made some mistakes”

DSCF4078Rob Ferguson, Toronto Star
[excerpt] Gerard Kennedy, 52, the only other candidate who served in opposition, was one of several to acknowledge that the Liberals lost touch with rural voters — as evidenced by the loss of many rural seats, such as Elgin-Middlesex-London, which left the government in a minority.

“We have to acknowledge we made some mistakes,” said Kennedy, who hails from a small Manitoba town and left Ontario politics in 2006 to run federally before losing his Parkdale-High Park seat in the Commons to the NDP in 2010.

He cited wind turbines, the feed-in-tariff program for small-scale electricity production and the abrupt end to the revenue-sharing program for slots at racetracks that costs $345 million a year — a move that infuriated the horse-racing community and breeders and prompted the government to re-examine aid for the industry.

The candidates were greeted on the foggy street outside the building by several dozen protesters angry about wind turbines, garbage dumps and the controversial law freezing wages for teachers and curbing their bargaining rights — resulting in threats of teacher strikes any day. The turmoil in education was never raised in the debate. Read article

Libs say they would heed rural communities’ concerns about wind turbines — without saying how.

DSCF4081By Martin Regg Cohn, Queen’s Park Columnist, Toronto Star
How do you promote renewal when you’re constrained by restraint? That’s the central conundrum in the campaign for the Liberal leadership.

It loomed over Ingersoll this weekend, where the candidates convened for their first policy debate. It will linger for the rest of the race to replace Dalton McGuinty as premier. Saturday’s encounter served as a dry run (watching paint dry, in fact) for a road show of debates that culminates with the convention next month in Toronto. The first Liberal debate was timid, tame and platitudinous,

The candidates talked for two hours in rural southwestern Ontario without debating electricity prices or wind turbines in any substantive way. Despite the angry teachers protesting outside, they managed to drone on about educational excellence without acknowledging the impending labour strife that is top of mind for parents and Liberals alike.

Instead the candidates showered us with predictable pronouncements about consulting, heeding, listening, empowering, co-operating and, it must be said, pandering to rural Ontario. That’s what politicians typically do, but what they’re selling won’t sell in rural Ontario. Read article