By Megan Devoe
On May 17, ten community associations organised a debate for MPP candidates in Ottawa Centre. Community members and organisations were given the opportunity to ask questions and get answers about important local issues.
We here at The Leveller have compiled each candidate’s stance on housing, climate, and healthcare into an easy guide so that you can be sure you know exactly who you’re voting for.
(We’ve also provided timestamp links, if you want to dip into the debate on any particular topic.)
Seven candidates were present for the debate: the incumbent MPP Joel Harden of the NDP, Shelby Bertrand of the Green Party, Katie Gibbs of the Liberal Party, Scott Healey of the PC Party, Glen Armstrong of the New Blue Party, Josh Rachlis who is running as an independent candidate and Raymond Samuels of the Ontario People’s Front. Members of majority parties (PC, Green , Liberal, and NDP) participated in the debate, while independent and minority party candidates were each given two minutes to speak following the debate.
It’s no secret that there is a housing crisis in Ottawa Centre. The cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years, and the city has increasingly been plagued with renovictions. With candidates receiving several questions from the community about housing affordability, here are their answers.
Shelby Bertrand cited the Green Party’s housing plan. She plans to instill vacancy rent control in Ontario under a Green government (30:30). This type of legislation would limit the amount that a landlord can increase the cost of rent while a unit is vacant between the occupancy of one tenant and the next. She said that low income people are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by housing corporations, “It’s very clear to me that the predatory corporations that snap up currently affordable housing predate upon the aged, privately owned buildings that a lot of newcomers to Canada and folks on ODSP currently reside in,” said Bertrand (30:40). In order to prevent this exploitation, she said, the Green Party is planning to double Ontario Works, ODSP, and all related benefits packages. She said that the Green Party is also planning to use legal forms to protect those who are vulnerable to this type of exploitation (31:00). Bertrand touched on renovictions, stating that the Green Party would create penalties for renovictions and make landlords demonstrate that renovations are necessary before beginning construction.
Katie Gibbs of the Liberal Party stated her support for rent control and said that under a Liberal government, rent control would be brought back to all units across the province (36:10). If elected, the Liberals would reinstate their previous rent control legislations. Gibbs said that the Liberal Party has a plan to build 1.5 million new homes over the next ten years, some of which would be on the market and some of which would be designated as affordable housing (28:10). Gibbs said that the Liberal Party plans to increase incentives to convert commercial spaces into housing, which she believes will bring more homes into Centertown. She also said that a Liberal government would create new tax penalties for empty homes and vacant lots. The Liberals have also proposed a new legal framework for rent-to-own properties (37:00).
Joel Harden re-stated his support for rent control and stabilisation. In 2021, Harden helped propose the Rent Stabilisation Act which would create greater protections for Ontario tenants and specifically low-income tenants. Harden has pledged to instill vacancy rent control under an NDP government. “One of the major drivers of increased rents in our city is that when one tenant moves out and someone else moves in, there is a gap in our rent control legislation,” said Harden. He said that under an NDP government there would also be a public registry of rent prices (30:00).
Scott Healey had the platform the least similar to other candidates. In line with the PC platform, Healey said that he does not support rent control or stabilisation (35:24). Amongst the reasons he did not support it, Healey said he believed that enacting rent stabilisation would be “punishing small landlords.” He cited the Ontario PC party’s plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next ten years as his solution to affordable housing. He referred to housing as a supply and demand issue, “the more supply you have, the more prices will be moderated and go down,” said Healey.
In 2018, Doug Ford lifted rent control policies on all new builds and units being occupied by a tenant for the first time. Healey claimed that this lack of regulation has increased the number of units being built in Ontario, addressing the supply and demand issue (32:00).
Combating climate change and championing environmentalism have become increasingly important planks in the platforms of mainstream political parties. Candidates were asked their stances on several climate issues.
Shelby Bertrand presented a climate strategy in line with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (41:30). This included a promise to halve emissions by 2030 and bring Ontario to net zero emissions by 2045. She referred to the 2020s as the “make or break” decade for climate change. This plan would also include a fee and dividend carbon budget program. The Green party would increase cap and trade fee every year until 2032, would give that money back to people and institutions as a reward for cutting back on carbon. She did not support the hospital development at Queen Juliana park and said that a Green government would try to restructure city planning in order to avoid cutting down trees at all costs.
Katie Gibbs said she wanted to develop an urban tree strategy at a provincial level in order to protect and preserve Ottawa’s tree canopy. The Liberals have also promised to halve emissions by 2030 and plan to bring emissions to net zero in 2050. Part of their plan is to transition Ontario to a fully clean energy supply, which would include offering rebates for electric vehicles and electric bikes. The Liberals have pledged to protect 30% of the lands in Ontario as well as plant 800 million trees. They have also promised to implement $1 transit across the province. Gibbs said she supported the development at Queen Juliana park.
Joel Harden promised to stand up to oil and gas companies if elected. He said he wants to transition Ottawa to clean energy by buying hydroelectricity from Quebec. His goal is to close natural gas plants near Toronto by 2030. Harden championed the Green New Democratic Deal, the NDP’s official climate strategy. He said he does not support the development at Queen Juliana park.
Scott Healey supported the PC climate strategy, which mainly focuses on the electrification of vehicles. Healey also said that he supported the preservation of trees but did not elaborate further. In line with the PC party, he supports the development at Queen Juliana Park.
Over the course of the pandemic it became increasingly clear that Ontario’s healthcare system is in desperate need of reform. From the state of mental health care to the treatment of seniors in long-term care homes, community members had many questions for candidates about the state of Ontario healthcare and what they would do to fix it.
Shelby Bertrand addressed Ontario’s overdependence on urgent care and lack of funding for preventative healthcare. “It costs $840 a day to keep somebody in a hospital bed, and yet so many people are without a family doctor or primary healthcare provider,” said Bertrand (1:06:45).
She said the Green party plans to recruit more GPs and nurses, give more to community care clinics, and give personal support workers (PSWs) a living wage. In 2019 the Ford government enacted Bill 124, which caps increases to healthcare worker salaries at a rate below inflation. Bertrand said she opposes Bill 124, calling it a “fallacious response to fiscal responsibility in this situation.” (1:07:14)
Bertrand said that under a Green Party government long-term care homes would be de-privatized and a set of standards would be created for all homes to ensure every patient is receiving adequate care, (1:17:37). The Green Party has also pledged to invest in more long-term care home beds and home care for the growing senior population.
Katie Gibbs described an ambitious healthcare plan for the Liberals (1:04:35). If Liberals form government, she said that Bill 124 will be removed and all healthcare workers will be given a raise. Specifically, Gibbs said that PSWs would be given a raise to $25 per hour. She said that she would oppose privatized long-term care homes and under a Liberal government would work to phase out privatized long-term care homes by 2028. With regards to mental health care, Gibbs said that a Liberal government would guarantee mental health resources for all healthcare workers. She also said that $3 billion would be invested in mental health services, which would include hiring three thousand new mental health professionals, hiring one thousand mental health workers assigned specifically to schools, and ensuring that all benefits packages include mental health coverage.
Joel Harden said that under an NDP government, funds would be diverted away from Doug Ford’s proposed $10 billion highway and placed into healthcare (1:03:13). This money, Harden said, would be used in part to expand access to nurse practitioners and family health organisations in Ottawa Centre. He said that over the last four years he has spent much of his time in office trying to help people in Ottawa get access to family medicine. Harden also criticised the management of long-term care homes under Doug Ford, (1:18:39). He supports the deprivatization of long-term care homes and homecare, and pledges to do so over an 8 year period if the NDP forms a provincial government. Harden is in favour of repealing Bill 124. “We can’t do healthcare on the cheap, we are the lowest funded healthcare jurisdiction in Canada. We’ve gotta put the money back in so our staff have the support they need,” he said. (1:08:58). Harden also said that the NDP is proposing tripling the spending for mental health and providing 6 sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy per year under OHIP.
Scott Healey mentioned the sizable investment that the PC Party has pledged towards The Ottawa Hospital. He said that over the next ten years, the PC Party plans on investing $27 billion into hospital infrastructure (1:06:30). Healey also mentioned the Fixing Long-Term Care Act that was brought forth by the PC government in 2021 and referenced some of the Conservative’s previous investments in healthcare, (1:20:58). Healey and the PC Party were against the deprivatization of long-term care homes. “We believe that private, for profit and not for profit [long-term care homes] can work together collectively within a system to ensure that all people are adequately looked after,” said Healey.
Throughout the debate there were frequent references to the state of privatised long-term care homes under Doug Ford’s government. Harden, Gibbs , and Bertrand all brought up the well-documented mistreatment of seniors in long-term care homes during the pandemic. In response to this, Healey claimed to have visited several care homes in the area and did not see any issue in how they were being run (1:25:21). “I’ve been in 5 or 6 seniors homes during this campaign and I did not hear this outcry of issues regarding the treatment those residents were getting in those for profit homes,” said Healey. Addressing the concerns of poorly treated healthcare staff, Healey said, “The staff seemed happy.”
Healey also made a vague comment that seemingly disapproved of Doug Ford’s proposed $10 billion budget for Highway 413, instead suggesting that money could be used to fund healthcare (1:26:23).