- Created on Wednesday, 05 February 2014 14:34
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By NICK FEARNS
With the second debate in as many nights, Niagara riding byelection candidates drew cheers, jeers and some laughs.
Hosted by the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce and held in the town’s community centre, candidates from the four parties present answered questions from the Chamber of Commerce and audience in hopes of winning Kim Craitor’s former seat.
Among the most important issues discussed was the future of Parliament Oak Public School, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s only elementary school, the new South Niagara hospital and jobs.
Green Party candidate Clarke Bitter, coming off a strong performance the previous night, laid out an ambitious plan calling for the amalgamation of the public school board and the Catholic school board.
This will allow the school boards to shift funding from administration to the front-line workers.
Progressive Conservative candidate Bart Maves pointed the finger at the disparity in treatment schools in rural areas get compared to those in urban areas.
Liberal candidate Joyce Morocco, put on the defensive, reminded the audience that school board trustees are elected and accountable to their constiutents, adding, “If people are not happy with them, they should look at who they elect.”
New Democrat Wayne Gates says that he is unsure about building new schools when other schools are being closed down.
All four candidates supported the new South Niagara hospital, albeit with their own stipulations.
For Gates it was making sure the hospital was built by local workers.
Bitter was concerned about the transparency of the bidding process, suggesting that it should be out in the open and not leaving taxpayers on the hook for the cost if it is cancelled.
Morocco touted her fundraising efforts to bring health care to Niagara, having raised $9.2 million for a new emergency room as chair of the Greater Niagara Hospital Foundation.
Maves supports opening the bidding process to all companies, not just firms employing union labour.
An audience question asked Maves if he would support right-to-work legislation even if his constituents were not for it.
Maves responded by stressing the importance of “worker choice” as he relayed an anecdote about a firefighter’s union fining its members for serving as volunteer firefighters.
Gates called right-to-work legislation “right to work for less,” whereas Bitter quipped that right-to-work legislation would help solve unemployment because everyone would need a second job to get by.
Right-to-work legislation allows workers to join a workplace with a union without being required to become a union member.
Morocco says that right-to-work legislation would “kill pensions and jeopardise the safety of workers.” Kaitlin Gibson, 21, of Niagara Falls, was most impressed by what Maves had to say.
“I felt like Bart Maves did an excellent job portraying his ideas,” says Gibson. “I felt like the other candidates didn’t have the enthusiasm.
Also their issues are, frankly, old.”Gibson says the most important election issue for her is jobs. “As a young student I want to know I have a job when I finish university.”
Margaret Walker, 65, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, says she is still undecided as a voter. Walker says that the most important issue in the byelection is the future of Parliament Oak Public School and the new South Niagara hospital.
“For us it’s a long way to go.” The proposed site is at Lyon’s Creek and Montrose Roads off the QEW in Niagara Falls.Orest Samitz, 72, of Niagara Falls, says he was impressed by the civility the candidates showed each other.
“It’s nice to see a civil debate. When you look at the world, a lot of what’s happening in different countries people are wrestling in their parliaments and what have you, but thank God we still have that.”
The byelection is scheduled for Thursday.