Rick Nicholls – PC

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Rick Nicholls

The Chatham Voice recently asked Chatham-Kent Essex provincial candidates a series of questions on key issues.

What is your plan to ensure the cost of electricity is affordable to Ontarians?

My priority is affordable energy.  Nothing has been more damaging to household budgets and to our economy than Ontario’s soaring electricity prices.

Our Million Jobs Plan will stop expensive and counterproductive wind and solar power subsidies and end the FIT program, get rid of costly and unnecessary bureaucracy, and invest in affordable and clean nuclear and hydroelectric energy.

LEADWAVE Technologies from Chatham Voice on Vimeo.

What is your policy regarding continued expansion of wind turbines and municipal input into such projects?

Ontario has now spent $46 billion to set up and subsidize the wind and solar power industry, angered many in this region with the installation of hundreds of turbines, and energy bills are still soaring.

We would call for a moratorium on all new renewable energy projects and this will save the province billions moving forward.

Kathleen Wynne has stated that there will be a new way of dealing with communities that are unwilling hosts to wind farms, but has not released a specific plan.

It is too little too late for the people of Chatham-Kent-Essex, whose community has been forever altered with the installation of nearly 500 industrial wind turbines.

Are you in favour of the Hydro One nuclear waste storage facility on the shore of Lake Huron?

The federal government has jurisdiction over this matter and I am by no means an expert when it comes to the proper storage of nuclear waste, so it would be inappropriate of me to comment on this issue.

I’ve said it before but safety is paramount. That’s our main focus as legislators and I hope the agency in charge of this keeps public safety in mind.

Will your government be in favor of continuing standardized testing?

The current test score standards for competence in reading, writing and math assume that one-quarter of our children won’t master these basic skills. Our kids deserve better.

We will raise the targets for reading, writing and math, make Grade 8 science subject to a province-wide standardized test and introduce a strong financial literacy curriculum. Higher standards mean our schools are preparing more students to lead full lives and get good jobs and it means leaving no student behind.

Is the level of education funding sufficient?

At the end of the day, what matters most to the success of our children is a quality education.

In Ontario, we spend $8.5 billion more on education than we did 10 years ago, to teach 250,000 fewer students. And test scores are down.

More money is being spent in the provincial budget, but our children are not seeing enough improvement in their quality of education.

It’s an issue of this government having too many pet projects in education but neglecting the essentials.

That’s why we want to increase the focus on the basics: math, sciences, and physical education.

I feel that when it comes to Ontario’s education we don’t have a spending problem, we have a priorities problem.

Does the province need to do more in terms of using education as a tool for job training?

The province needs to do more to ensure that students receiving an education in Ontario have the chance to get a job in their field after graduation.

We will encourage more students to attend our high-results colleges, and make it easier by offering more college courses that also count as high school credits.

In universities, we will put a greater focus on the quantity and quality of teaching which will help our students get ready to enter the workforce.

We will also make it simpler for students to transfer from college to university and vice versa, while getting credit for the work they have already done.

What is the greatest financial challenge facing the province and how would your government deal with it? 

The greatest financial challenge facing our province is without a doubt Ontario massive debt and deficit.

The McGuinty-Wynne Liberals doubled the provincial debt after a decade in office.

They racked up more debt in 11 years than all of the other premiers in Ontario’s history combined, and that’s a history that includes two world wars and the Great Depression.

Instead of tackling the issue, Ontario’s deficit will actually increase for the second year in a row to $12.5 billion, making the problem even worse. This is larger than the all the other provinces’ deficits combined.

An enormous amount of debt means we pay an enormous amount in debt interest. If interest payments on our debt were a ministry, it would be the third largest ministry in terms of dollars spent behind Health and Education.

As we get deeper into debt, it costs more for Ontario to borrow money.

All three major credit rating agencies have downgraded Ontario’s debt.

What worries me is that if we see an increase in interest rates by just one per cent this will mean Ontario taxpayers will have to pay an additional $500 million in interest payments with nothing to show for it.

We know that there is a direct relationship between lowering our debt and deficit and job creation.

It’s time to tackle Ontario’s debt before it tackles us.

Locally are you in favor of forcing provincial arbitrators to consider the ability of municipal governments to pay arbitrated settlements?

Yes. What good is an arbitrator’s decision if it does not factor in a municipality’s ability to pay?

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has long called for reform to the province’s arbitration processes, citing massive pay increases that caused some municipalities to cut other services.

The PCs introduced the Ability to Pay Act, which would require that arbitrators’ decisions factor in specific economic and budgetary factors.

Arbitration settlements need to make sense for workers and communities.

Do you believe the current health bureaucracy is the most efficient health care to Ontarians?

Absolutely not.

A former Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) executive told the Toronto Star in February 2014 that the LHINs “are as much of a mess as CCACs, with too much bureaucracy, soaring salaries for top bosses, a lack of coordination between individual LHINs and no accountability to Queen’s Park.”

In 2010, salaries at LHINs cost $42.5 million.

The Erie St. Clair LHIN, which hands out health dollars in this region, has run out of money in their budget for hip and knee surgeries each of the last two years before the end of the year.

Today, about 40 cents of every dollar is spent on administration at Community Care Access Centres (CCACs).

This is a staggering amount, given that CCACs receive about $2.2 billion annually to provide health services for patients living at home or in long-term care facilities.

Despite being non-profit agencies, the average salary of CEOs at the 14 CCACs was $234,000 in 2012.

Liberal Health Minister Deb Matthews said she was powerless to stop these whopping pay raises for senior executives at CCACs, even though supposedly a public sector wage freeze was in effect across the province.

Meanwhile, the Liberals were paying front-line health care workers – including personal support workers – often less than $20,000.

While salaries have been growing out of control, senior executives at LHINs and CCACs have been slashing critical services for patients, like physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services.

When so much money is wasted on the salaries of an increasing number of CEOs and administrative offices, fewer dollars are there for those working on the front lines.

We will expand health-care funding overall and make sure that more of those tax dollars make it to the front lines.

We would scrap the LHINs and ensure that precious health-care dollars are prioritized for the front lines and pass through less layers of redundant government bureaucracy along the way.

Inefficiencies in the province’s health-care system cost us millions of dollars each year that could be sorely used in this area for things like hip and knee surgeries, as some are now forced to wait over a year to get the help they need.

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