Ontario Liberal Party leader attends farming roundtable in Winthrop
BY DENNY SCOTT
Steven Del Duca, the leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, visited Huron County last week to discuss the issues facing the area and listen to local farmers.
Del Duca held his meeting at the Whyte farm, southwest of Winthrop, where he met with local media before having a physically-distanced meeting with local agriculture production group representatives and farmers.
Del Duca spoke to the gathered journalists about the pandemic, agricultural issues and how the Liberal party would seek to sway voters in ridings like Huron-Bruce that have been voting Conservative in the last several elections.
“We’re about to sit down with a bunch of individuals, both women and men, to talk about how this part of Ontario has been faring during what’s been a tough number of months with the pandemic,” he said. “I, as Ontario Liberal Party leader, want to hear first-hand from those living in Huron County about what they’re experiencing and how the provincial government can help them going forward as we deal with the rest of this pandemic and the recovery on the other side.”
Del Duca said the provincial government, alongside all other levels of government, was scrambling during the early days of the pandemic due to how unique the situation was, and it was easy for everyone to understand the difficulty of the situation.
“We’re now about seven months in and I do have grave concerns about [Ontario Premier] Doug Ford’s preparedness for what is now a second wave,” he said, saying the hot spots are especially concerning. “When you look at the back-to-school plan that they presented, that was really underwhelming. Parents, students and educators deserve better.”
An increase in the number of cases, lack of contact tracing in hot spots and a general lack of preparedness on behalf of the Conservative Provincial Government and Ford signal a worrying trend, Del Duca said. He called for cessation of indoor dining in hot-spots, as well as closing some businesses, saying those businesses then need direct financial support to get them through the period. In the days following Del Duca’s visit, some of those changes were enacted by the provincial government.
“I don’t want to see a lockdown,” Del Duca said. “What I want to see right now is decisive leadership that takes the best advice. That’s what I think Doug Ford should be doing right now.”
When asked whether local businesses should be avoiding allowing people from hot spots or larger city centres to frequent them, Del Duca said that might be worthwhile.
“If you have the proper infrastructure in place [that could work],” he said, adding it could be as simple as asking for identification, saying that, for the most part, he believes in Ontarians and doesn’t know if that’s necessary. “There’s always some bad apples, some bad actors, but there are measures we can enforce.”
As far as dealing with agriculture, Del Duca said that reliable, affordable broadband internet across rural areas is a high priority and the need for it has been highlighted by the pandemic.
“We have some people who are working remotely or learning at a distance,” he said. “We are well past the stage that this should be considered anything but an essential service. Provincially and federally, I think we can’t just say… it needs to happen.”
He said the timelines on that project can’t be too far out, as he is hearing from students and people working from home that the technology is necessary. He also pointed out that the issue is widespread, referencing Dufferin County, 25 kilometres away from his home, where service isn’t completely reliable, saying that’s proof it’s not just a Huron County issue.
He said, in regards to other changes, he was in “listening mode” when he visited Huron County, which was his first visit to the area since the pandemic started.
“I’m interested in hearing how we can open up new markets,” he said. “I want to hear a little more about risk management, I want to hear more about how some of the trade deals that are being negotiated are impacting people here locally and I want to make sure that, on the climate change topic, that we no longer live in a world where individuals who have a ton of expertise who are based in urban settings like the GTA… are not out here lecturing to people who have been stewards of the land for generations.”
Del Duca said he wants to listen to long-time farmers who have witnessed what climate change does to agriculture and combine that wisdom with expert analysis to come up with real solutions for southwestern Ontario.
“I believe in one Ontario and we need leadership that will move the entire province forward, including Huron County, Bruce County and the rest of the southwest,” he said.
When asked how he would attract voters like those in Huron-Bruce, Del Duca said there was work ahead of him and the party. He said that Huron-Bruce has a long, proud tradition of voting Liberal prior to the recent streak of Conservative wins and wants to focus on the values that resulted in those Liberal wins.
“Ontario Liberals have a ton of work to do to regain the trust of individuals who live in small towns and rural Ontario and I’m determined to do that first-hand,” he said. “I don’t believe our values are dramatically different. I believe in opportunity, I believe in rewarding hard work, I believe in publicly-funded education, I believe in universal, publicly-funded healthcare. I want to see a real plan to confront the climate crisis which we know is impacting farming.”
He said it’s about “rolling up one's sleeves, doing the hard work and regaining the trust.”