Chamber Candidate’s Forum

By John Swartz

Thursday evening about 60 people were on hand at the beginning of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce’s ritual candidate’s night. By the time microphone’s were opened for audience members to ask questions there were 50 people in the council chambers at City Hall.

The low turnout may have been because many people are still wary of attending functions where large groups of people are also expected. It also could have been the absence of Conservative Party supporters because MPP Jill Dunlop did not attend. Dunlop also did not attend a forum held the previous evening at Creative Nomad Studios.

The candidates on hand were Krystal Brooks (Green Party), Aaron Cayden Hiltz (Liberal Party), Mark Douris (New Blue Party), Aaron MacDonald (Ontario Party) and Elizabeth Van Houtte (NDP). Not present was a newly registered candidate William Joslin who is running as a Libertarian.

Candidates answered questions posed by the chamber and two questions from forum sponsors Lakelands Association of Realtors. As usual journalists from Orillia’s media had an opportunity to ask questions. SUNonline/Orillia asked two questions and the questions as asked and answers follow. Because not everybody has experience using microphones, and the low quality of council chambers PA system, some parts of replies were unintelligible on the recording. Those parts are noted by bracketed ellipses (…)

SUNonline/Orillia: I am constantly amused there are some issues during elections which have no basis in fact. The Critical Race Theory controversy is one of those. One party here opposes teaching it in elementary and secondary schools, another dances around the idea in their platform without specifically saying CRT, a third has several candidates who have publicly objected to teaching CRT in schools.

The fact is, it isn’t taught in elementary and secondary schools – never has been and never will be. It is a university level law school tool – a tool – for examining law and institutional systems and how those may perpetuate racism. No one in Grade 3 is going understand the anything about CRT. And clearly many adults don’t either.

So I’d like to know why are parties and politicians beating this dead horse?

(Time allotted for questions did not permit discounting talk of Bill 67, The Racial Equity in the Education System Act, 2022, which has been used as evidence CRT will be taught to children because the bill does not contain any wording about curriculum and or what subject matter teachers teach in classrooms.)

Aaron Cayden Hiltz

Aaron Cayden Hiltz – “There is nothing in our platform about CRT. I know as a university student we look at data. Myself particularly I studied disproportion in incarceration rates, but I’m old enough to comprehend that. We’re not going to pursue anything of that nature and we will not continue with any sort of dog whistling either.

Mark Douris – If you read Bill 67, the Racial Equity Act, it actually targets (…) and students will be fined. So to say that that’s not being taught in school, while it may not be specifically taught, it is being instructed. But it is influencing children by telling them they are inherently racist.

Krystal Brooks – I’m just going to talk about the equality right here (…) . There’s a reason I’m wearing this shirt. Indigenous people represent over a third of the children in care and we only make up 7% of the population here in Canada. We have not (…) people for a very long time. I don’t like talking (…). We are not people, we have a long way to go.

Elizabeth Van Houtte

Elizabeth Van Houtte – I think everyone here knows what I’m about to say. My party believes in equality and supports equality. I’m sorry Aaron, if you think we’re all equal, you are sadly mistaken. People do not get equal chances and equal opportunities in this world, primarily on based on race, colour, culture, heritage. I’m privileged, I’m a white woman, but when I grew up I was an immigrant’s child. It’s changed now. My skin is white and I’m OK and that’s completely unacceptable. We’re all in this together, but to say that we are equal, we’re not and we’re striving to be so.

Aaron MacDonald – Currently no, CRT is not being taught in schools. As was brought up, Bill 67, if you look at the first line, Equity in the Education Act. It should be the Equality in Education Act. Everybody in this room is equal under the law and should be treated and have equal opportunity for success. Within that bill, it mentions anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, anti-Semitism, Islamphobia, which is an ideology, and it doesn’t represent everybody within this community. It should include all people, all religions, all things because we’re all people.

SUNonline/Orillia:  Most experts on work and employment issues agree automation is going to cause real problems for the prospect of meaningful jobs tomorrow. No one in government is doing anything, except to ignore those writing and talking about it – just like they did with those warning about climate change.

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding in government of what the future holds and I really don’t want to hear one more politician say – “oh I think there will always be enough jobs,” because the experience to date and projections for tomorrow show that won’t be the case.

Politicians say the market will take care of it. Well, the market is taking care of it and companies are shedding staff all over the place as jobs get automated. If you are elected, are you going to be the catalyst to get your colleagues to take this issue seriously?

Krystal Brooks

Krystal Brooks – I think this is an important conversation we need to be having. My step father, he’s a mechanic, what used to take him several hours to do takes him less because he plugs the computer thing into the car and it tells him what’s wrong and does decrease the work load. It is definitely taking a lot of jobs away and it is important we have these conversations.

Aaron Cayden Hiltz – Automation is happening already, it’s happening around us. Like Mr. MacDonald said our economy is changing and it is happening rapidly. Automation is here already. We’ve seen it in our food restaurants, we’ve seen it at different (…), we’ve seen it at grocery stores. It’s already here, so it’s already happening. I think this is a unique opportunity to bring up Universal Basic Income., which the Ontario Liberals started a pilot project;  again one of the first things the Ford government did was cut it. I looked at the data for that project and found these people were using that money to start businesses, to get affordable housing, to get dental work done. If corporations are going to be able to automate the jobs away from us, we should be taxing them to have UBI. These mega-corporations are taking over a lot of sectors and they are leaving a lot of us behind.

Aaron MacDonald

Aaron MacDonald – We’re definitely changing, the economy is changing. We’re still going to have manufacturing, I work in manufacturing. Typically when we’re looking at automated solutions, we’re taking on more business, not to shed workers. I do know there are corporations that really do take advantage of those types of things. I think most cases from what I’ve seen in my experience so far are that we are doing it to be able to support our customer base without impacting the people that are directly working with our product. We are a changing economy and I think it’s our part of government to be able to get people into those other jobs and to support the transition of change from one career to another. We’ve had many opportunities over the years to see efficiencies whether it be one person creating a needle to one person creating 100,000 needles. They moved on to something else that they were able to do.

Mark Douris

Mark Douris – Automation is to find a way to help improve our efficiencies and not necessarily take away jobs because obviously people are more important than machines. But to Aaron’s point, UBI would not be a solution to help people who do end up losing their jobs if automation comes as a main factor. In Finland they did a study, or they tested it out for two years on Universal basic Income, but they had to scrap it after six months because the fall in their labour, people just took advantage of Universal Basic Income and it created a shortage in workers.

Elizabeth Van Houtte – I agree automation is already here. What I always find surprising is that we, as government, are always surprised that it’s here. Where’s the plan, where’s the strategy that comes prior to this. It just doesn’t grow over night like the dandelion on your lawn. We know that automation is the wave of the future. We know that education, colleges and universities and researchers have said this is the way we are going. So one thing is to plan with those who already have their finger on the pulse of where we need to go. They’re the experts and follow their lead and unfold an automation program across this country with trained and skilled individuals. I do want to mention, my daughters are 16, what jobs they will have. Let’s tax self checkouts. They replace jobs, tax them.

The absence of Conservative Party supporters may be why questions from the audience were lopsided with criticism of the Conservative Party. One audience member, John Winchester, who is an NDP campaign worker, prefaced his question saying he has previously voted across the political spectrum. He asked “the empty chair to the left of Aaron Cayden Hiltz; given Premier Ford’s refusal to be interviewed by TVO, the first premier in 50 years, and MPP Dunlop’s refusal to attend three all candidate forums in her own riding, why should anybody put Doug Ford, or MPP Dunlop back at Queen’s Park?

A sample of the comments from the candidates is as follows.

“I believe whatever their strategy is it’s not a good one. It’s a slap in the face and demoralizing to the people who voted for them,” said Van Houtte.

“Voting for her, you are basically (have) an absentee landlord. She doesn’t look after the infrastructure here and any time she shows up is because the government has given her the opportunity to give a cheque and take a picture,” said MacDonald.

“I’ve talked to the people. It’s a common theme when they reach out to their current MPP, their current representative, they get no response,” said Mark Douris.

“Accountability is part of it. It’s also part of the job. We have to be able to hear from you about the things that matter to you, the things that are affecting you,” said Aaron Cayden Hiltz. “The refusal to be accountable in politics when your are literally writing law that affects people’s lives is ridiculous.”

Keenan Howell asked a humourous question, but with a point. “Economist Ben Eisen, who the Toronto Sun described as fiscally conservative, released a study in 2021 that showed that Ford’s deficit spending – even before the pandemic – was worse than McGinty and Wynne ever were at any point in their tenure,” said Howell. “What cuts or revenue generating tax will you implement in order to actually lower the deficit, and my question is directed to any candidate who will have a lower deficit than Ford, so everybody.”

As interesting as the question was put, including specific comments from any candidate seems redundant because election after election we’ve heard the same answers to similar questions and nothing new was said, though several wanted to cut spending and some wanted to spread tax burdens to higher incomes.

Advance polling has begun. Here is a list of when and where advance votes may be cast.

  •  Today through to May 28 at Orillia Square Mall (use the mall entrance near Jason’s No Frills) from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  •  May 21 through May 27 at the returning office, 128-210 Memorial Avenue from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 29 noon to 5 p.m. and June 1 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Supplied) Main: Candidates on hand for the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce’s candidate’s forum Thursday evening.


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