Kirsten Gardner – Ontario Liberal Party

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Brandon: How would your party support rural education and what is your stance on the closure and amalgamation of rural schools?

Kirsten: One of the things that I was most excited about with our platform is we are cancelling the highway in Toronto… but we’re taking that $10 billion investment and investing it in schools. Rural schools are included in that, and capping class sizes will assist. I mean, anyone that knows me knows that I’ve been an advocate for rural education for over 20 years. So I think that rural schools are central to rural communities. They oftentimes act as community hubs. I mean you can have a closure with a reinvestment and a new build. But when a school is taken away from the community, it can have a devastating impact. So I’m on the record for the last 20 years saying that rural schools are incredibly important to the communities that they serve. But getting a piece of that $10 billion investment to make our rural schools even better is absolutely essential. My foray, if you will, into the political scene was actually working to save my daughter’s school and we were successful. And of course, at the county level, I pushed the education file to make sure that Dundas was included in the conversation. And we actually ended up having a rural school symposium of which I was the co-chair and I’m chair of the Rural Schools Committee, so I’m heavily invested in rural schools.

Brandon: What would your party do to support small businesses and local commerce?

Kirsten: When I look at the platform and see that different things are being supported, they will all come back and support small businesses. But when you’re talking about small businesses directly on the platform, they talk about eliminating the corporate taxes for small businesses for two years as the businesses recover from the last two years that we just had. I really feel that the pandemic really favoured the big box stores, and there was a real shift away from protecting the small, small businesses. You know, a lot of times they were shuttered when the big box stores were allowed to be open and that type of thing. When you incorporate a business, eliminating those fees, we’re going to be investing $300 million in small businesses, looking at things like capping credit card fees. Often I’ve asked a small business owner, you don’t take debit or credit? And they’ll say, no, the fees are too much to justify having that service.

Brandon: North Dundas is a growing community. Are there any projects that would be investment priorities for the province locally as in here?

Kirsten: Absolutely. There’s lots of talk about the 138, which obviously is not in North Dundas, but one of the omissions was Highway 31. So pretty hard at the rate that North Dundas is growing. And one of the major arteries that leads us to the nation’s capital is not actually included in that plan, and it is in the Eastern Ontario plan. So I’ve been fairly critical of the fact if it’s Eastern Ontario, Eastern Ontario is not that big. Why would you not include Highway 31 in that? So that needs to be on the radar of the government, because as you grow there, you know, that’s a commuter highway. It’s definitely something that needs to be included in any conversation when we talk about transportation for Eastern Ontario in North Dundas.

I know that there’s infrastructure needed to increase water and sewer capacity, so infrastructure dollars will be something that I would definitely fight for so that you can grow because you cannot be having one hand tied behind your back when you’re trying to grow. People want to invest in your community, and yet you don’t have the capacity to hook up is very, very difficult. And then the third one that has been on my radar for quite some time is Dundas Manor. The fact that the expansion has been on there and the amount of money that the campaign has committed to raising locally is phenomenal. They’ve got the plan. They’ve got donor commitments. It’s time to rebuild the Dundas Manor.

Brandon: Going back to the water issue, a lot of residents in Chesterville have been complaining about the quality of the water, issues of brown water more often than you would expect just because of things like firefighting, so I wonder if that would be something your party would look at?

Kirsten: If it’s an infrastructure breakdown that’s causing it, then yeah, if it requires assistance to increase the quality, then absolutely. These communities can’t grow with ageing infrastructure. And I will say that for me, as MPP if given the opportunity, I will fight to make sure SDSG gets a fair share.

Brandon: What is your take on the affordable housing crisis locally and what is the solution?

Kirsten: There is not one solution. It’s a very, very complicated issue. You look at housing here and the housing inventory. There’s very few houses available. They’re very expensive. Most of the houses just for a family house, they’ve doubled, sometimes tripled in price. I think that our platform actually speaks to it when we’re talking about empowering the local municipalities to accelerate housing projects, because that that whole process that I’ve sat at the table for many times, it can be a long, drawn out process. The Liberals have proposed a corporation that will offer up loans to first time homeowners to make it affordable. Building up, not out, is a priority, so using existing land within municipalities that are residential to their fullest capacity before you take over farmland.

Brandon: How would you support the largely rural population of this riding in being heard at Queen’s Park?

Kirsten: Well, I’ll be honest with you. The reason why I’m running is all about representation. So I have felt as a municipal leader that this area has been ignored. I publicly stated that North Glengarry has gotten more support with our current MPP than Dundas has. I don’t agree that a one size fits all approach works every time and it is my duty and responsibility if elected, to support our riding first, but we need somebody who is going to champion this area. It’s having the partnerships with municipal leaders to know what the priorities are for the residents, and then taking that to Queen’s Park instead of having it where it is now, where the Toronto information just kind of goes one way; the information should be taken to Queen’s Park, not the reverse.

Brandon: Are there any issues that locals have touched base with you about that you  intend to bring forward if elected as MPP?

Kirsten: Yeah, you know, the housing thing, the employment. I know a lot of small business owners are having a really hard time getting staff. That is becoming quite tricky. The health care thing, you know, the health care support and support for seniors. We also do have a large population of seniors. A lot of the seniors I talk to are worried about health care. They’re worried about how long they can stay in their home, especially North Dundas. With the Manor being in the situation it’s in, they’re wondering where they’re going to go. Folks need support. Education is key too. I’ve been somebody who’s a mental health champion. I fought to get the OPP the support they needed to have a mental health nurse. And people are knowing that their neighbours or members of their family might not be okay.

Brandon: There’s also been mental health concerns related to the pandemic itself. Do you believe the COVID 19 pandemic is still of concern locally?

Kirsten: Well, you know, I’ll be honest. The COVID 19 pandemic hasn’t gone away. We’re dealing with it differently than we did last year, but it’s still there. And one of the things that has come out of that is the mental health. I mean, I will argue though, there are some people that think that the mental health just sprung up during the pandemic. As a mental health first aid instructor, I will tell you, mental health has always been there. And actually we have in Dundas County quite a high rate of suicide that nobody wants to talk about. There needs to be work still around the stigma. And I’ve noticed in conversations that there still is a huge stigma around folks reaching out for mental health support.

We need to have that conversation and we need to have the conversation about how the two years impacted our children’s mental health. There are arguably some kids that did really well online, but there’s a lot of kids that didn’t. And there’s that catch up. I mean, one of the things I do like about the Liberal platform is the fact that they’re going to bring back grade 13 for at least two years to allow the kids to catch up. And mental health actually would be part of the curriculum… I was a victim services responder for years, including in North Dundas, so I’ve been in the mental health game for a long time and it’s incredibly dangerous if we do not utilize this opportunity that the pandemic has highlighted to even further the discussion.

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