Provincial candidates face off in debate



By Ron Giofu


Candidates in the riding of Essex faced off as part of a series of debates presented by the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Windsor and District Labour Council.

NDP incumbent Taras Natyshak faced challengers that included PC candidate Chris Lewis, Green Party candidate Nancy Pancheshan and Liberal candidate Kate Festeryga.

Natyshak said “we are on the cusp of change in Ontario” and that “New Democrats believe we don’t have to choose between bad and worse.” He said the NDP has a fully costed plan if elected.

Lewis said that “to say I’m grassroots is an understatement” and that he is “results and action driven.”

“I know what it takes to get the job done,” he said.

Liberal candidate Kate Festeryga

Festeryga acknowledged that the “Liberals aren’t the most popular party in the room right now” but said Liberal policies have led to big gains in the Windsor-Essex region including the unemployment rate dropping below the national average, reductions in small business tax rates and cutting regulations to businesses.

“We could go on forever on what we’re doing for the economy,” she said.

As it relates to agriculture, Lewis said it was an issue “near and dear to me,” adding the PC’s will be the only party to cut the carbon tax. He said he doesn’t claim to have all the answers but he and the PC Party will surround themselves with the right people and “we’ll get the job done.”

Festeryga said she comes from a third generation family farm and criticized PC leader Doug Ford for comments about paving over the green belt as “it’s just farmer’s fields.” She said Liberals have helped cut hydro rates for 500,000 small businesses and farms.

PC candidate Chris Lewis

Pancheshan said the Greens support small businesses and farms and support the promotion of craft breweries and wineries.

Natyshak said “my PC colleague says he doesn’t have the answers because he has no plan whatsoever.” He said the NDP will invest in broadband internet because farms are “high tech” operations. The NDP will also end the rural delivery charges and also will end time-of-use billing, noting it is “ruining” some farm operations. He said while Premier Kathleen Wynne has called the NDP position on energy “a dream,” the Liberal plan is “a nightmare.”

Natyshak added the NDP will buy back Hydro One shares as the party believes hydro should always be in public hands. He accused the PC’s of actually wanting to adopt some of Wynne’s plans regarding energy.

NDP candidate Taras Natyshak (incumbent)

Festeryga said Natyshak voted against the Ontario Fair Hydro Plan and said the NDP plan will not result in any billing decreases as rates are set by the Ontario Energy Board. Lewis said the Green Energy Act is having an adverse effect and is driving business away while Pancheshan said the Greens support not continuing to subsidize big business. The Green platform calls for a long-term energy plan that would see Ontario powered with 100 per cent renewable energy.

Pancheshan said the Greens support the idea of one school board with savings from administration costs passed down to the “front lines” such as students in classrooms. They will also eliminate EQAO testing, something Natyshak said the NDP will do as well.

There is also a failed funding formula in education, Natyshak added, something that has been passed down from as far back as the Mike Harris PC government.

Green Party candidate Nancy Pancheshan

On the health care front, Natyshak said the health system is “chronically underfunded.” Lewis indicated the party will end “hallway healthcare” and that the PC’s will “take care of front line workers” and assist mental health initiatives.

Festeryga indicated there were hospital closures and cuts under both NDP and PC governments while Pancheshan said the Greens want to prioritize front line investment.

The provincial election is June 7.

Federal budget has “a lot of missed opportunities,” says Essex MP



By Ron Giofu


The Trudeau Government’s federal budget is lacking in some key areas, according to Essex MP Tracey Ramsey.

“My general overview is that there are a lot of missed opportunities,” the NDP MP stated.

Some of the “missed opportunities” were in areas where the Liberals could have done more to “tackle inequality,” she stated, also accusing the government of “backtracking on key commitments.”

“Families in Essex are worried about their jobs and struggling to make ends meet but this budget told them they would have to wait longer for help,” said Ramsey. “The government missed an opportunity to really deliver change.”

Helping families find affordable child care was one area where the Liberals didn’t deliver, Ramsey said. She said families with two parents working shiftwork or where parents have to piece together two or three part-time jobs to make ends meet makes it difficult to find childcare.

“Trying to find childcare is really challenging,” said Ramsey.

The Liberal budget failed to make promised investments to improve home care access for seniors, restore home mail delivery or lower the small business tax rate, she added.

Essex MP Tracey Ramsey

Essex MP Tracey Ramsey

Regarding the home care issue, Ramsey said the Liberals promised $3 billion over four years doesn’t appear in the budget.

“There’s nothing,” she said.

Agriculture was also absent from the budget, Ramsey added. She said family farmers are hurt by “Liberal inaction on PACA or CETA compensation.” It wasn’t the first time since the Liberals took office that agriculture was not mentioned, she added.

“It was shocking to me when we heard the Throne Speech and agriculture was not mentioned,” she said. “Here we are with the budget and again it’s not mentioned.”

The government also continued the longstanding Liberal and Conservative practice of raiding the EI fund, she stated, with that resulting in “taking almost $7 billion contributed by workers and businesses and using it for general government revenues.

“I can’t believe the Liberals are repeating the mistakes of the past,” she said.

While investments were made, Ramsey said they fall far below $7 billion and she feared a two-tiered system was on the horizon. Four in ten Canadians can access EI and “money is going to be skimmed out of it again.”

The federal budget “also missed a key opportunity to fix problems with the Automotive Innovation Fund,” she added.

There are good things about the budget, she pointed out, including expansion of broadband internet. She said there are still areas of the riding that don’t have high speed internet.

The reopening of a local veterans affairs office is also pleasing but hopes it comes sooner rather than later.

“I’m very happy to see the reopening of that office,” said Ramsey. “It’s desperately needed.”

Ramsey said she reached out to municipalities within the riding to gauge their needs prior to the budget and pledged to continue to work with them. Infrastructure promises fell “far short” of what was expected and there was “no plan” revealed as to how and when municipalities can access infrastructure dollars.

“Every budget is about choices,” concluded Ramsey, “and Liberals have chosen tax breaks to CEOs and profitable corporations over helping seniors, farmers, and the unemployed.”

Watson, Ramsey, Festeryga square off in debate


By Ron Giofu


The Conservative, Liberal and NDP candidates for Essex squared off in a debate last Wednesday afternoon sponsored by the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The debate – which preceded similar ones in the ridings of Windsor-Tecumseh and Windsor West – saw Conservative incumbent Jeff Watson, NDP candidate Tracey Ramsey and Liberal candidate Audrey Festeryga talk trade deals and agriculture among other topics.

Regarding the latter, Watson said farm incomes and farm equity is up but more trade deals are needed to get their farm products to market. Conservatives would keep taxes low while the NDP would raise them, Watson added, though Ramsey countered by saying debt loads are up 70 per cent on the family farm.

Ramsey added New Democrats would protect supply management, something Festeryga said the Liberals will do it as well.

While trade deals are important, Festeryga added Liberals know the importance of supply management.

Ramsey noted trade deals have to be done fairly while Festeryga added Canada has to be competitive in a global marketplace. Watson noted Canadians depend on trade and exports, adding that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has entered into trade deals that have been good for Canada.

Single-sports betting was touched on with Festeryga stating it has to lead to good jobs and jobs that stay local. Ramsey said she was in support of it, believing it can lead to good jobs, but the bill has been stalled in the senate.

Watson believed the idea presents “real risk” and that unintended consequences could occur. He added the integrity of the sports has to be preserved as well.

On the topic of fighting terrorism, Watson added the Conservative approach is to confront the terrorists where they exist. He added Canada has to be vigilant on the home front as well, including removing the citizenship of known terrorists.

“Only a Stephen Harper government will keep Canada safe from terrorists,” Watson declared.

Ramsey said the NDP takes the role of protecting Canada very seriously and accused Watson and the Conservatives of fear-mongering.

“It’s the politics of fear. It’s the politics of division and distraction,” she said.

Conservative Jeff Watson, New Democrat Tracey Ramsey and Liberal Audrey Festeryga debate each other last Wednesday afternoon at the Caboto Club in Windsor.

Conservative Jeff Watson, New Democrat Tracey Ramsey and Liberal Audrey Festeryga debate each other last Wednesday afternoon at the Caboto Club in Windsor.

Festeryga said Canada has a role to play against ISIS and that prime ministers are expected to keep Canadians safe and secure. She said Harper’s mission against ISIS is an “unfocused and unending combat mission.”

How each would represent the riding in Ottawa was discussed, with Ramsey stating she is proud to be part of a party that allows MP’s voices to be heard and she would bring the voices of Essex to Ottawa. She accused Watson of bringing the Conservative voice to Essex and “imposing” it on the region.

Watson used his voting record as an example of him using his voice in Ottawa while Festeryga said leader Justin Trudeau wants his MP’s to represent their constituents issues in Ottawa.

“We need to have our voice heard for a change,” Festeryga added, before referencing the area top unemployment rate for five straight years.

Festeryga said she fully understands the issue of health care, having worked on behalf of those in the industry. She added she is also a breast cancer survivor, and knows that while Ontario has a great health care system, it needs to have funding increased and made into the priority it deserves.

Watson said Conservatives have supported universal health care and said the Liberals slashed $25 billion in transfer payments to provinces the last time they were in power. He told the crowd Conservatives have made record transfers to provinces while the NDP platform has “hidden costs” and is not realistic.

Five million Canadians have no family doctor, said Ramsey, adding a Tom Mulcair government will stop “Stephen Harper’s cuts” and strengthen Canada’s health care system.

Watson concluded by saying he should be re-elected as Canada needs a proven leader to “keep Canada safe and the economy strong.” He said Conservatives offer low taxes and have brought in 1.3 million new jobs while the NDP would raise taxes.

Ramsey said her party would create jobs and give greater opportunity for the people of Essex.

“I know the people of Essex and I know how hard they work,” said Ramsey.

Festeryga believed it will be a Liberal government that will be elected Oct. 19, adding that she doesn’t think Essex needs a backbencher calling himself “a billion dollar MP.” She added the NDP has failed to show leadership and that their plans would take four to eight years to be implemented.

Local Liberals state they will re-open Veterans Affairs offices



Essex federal Liberal candidate Audrey Festeryga (right) shares a laugh with Navy veteran Larry Costello prior to a Liberal Party announcement about the local veterans affairs office. In the middle is Frank Schiller, Liberal candidate for Windsor-Tecumseh.

Essex federal Liberal candidate Audrey Festeryga (right) shares a laugh with Navy veteran Larry Costello prior to a Liberal Party announcement about the local veterans affairs office. In the middle is Frank Schiller, Liberal candidate for Windsor-Tecumseh.

By Ron Giofu


Liberal candidates from around the area, including Audrey Festeryga from Essex, announced their party’s platform regarding veterans with that including reopening a veterans affairs office locally.

Festeryga, along with Frank Schiller from Windsor-Tecumseh and Windsor West candidate Dave Sundin, made their announcement last Thursday.

Festeryga said Stephen Harper and the Conservatives – including Essex MP Jeff Watson – “have not taken care of veterans” and said a report from the auditor general shows it takes eight months for a veteran to have a case heard.

“That is simply unacceptable,” said Festeryga. “Why does it take eight months to get a case open and reviewed? That’s just atrocious.”

Festeryga said she is a pacifist but is also against “shortchanging” veterans who have served Canada.

“They have fought for us and we are here to fight for them,” she said. “I’m all for being fiscally responsible but there are some things you can’t nickel and dime to death.”

Sundin called the way veterans are treated “shameful” and said the Liberal Party will make “major new investments” to upgrade veterans’ quality of life.

“A Liberal government will restore honour and respect to Canadian veterans and their families,” added Schiller. “No veteran will have to fight the government for the support and compensation they have earned and deserve with their service and sacrifice for our country.”
While the Liberals pledged to reopen a veterans affairs office in Windsor, they said it may not be at the same location. Festeryga contended “the overwhelming majority of our service men and women feel disrespected and abandoned by the Harper Conservatives” and the closure of the Windsor office has meant longer travel and worse service for veterans who need it.

“For ten years, Stephen Harper has draped himself in the Canadian flag, then betrayed the men and women who fought for it. Canadians rightly expect that their government will honour its sacred obligation to our veterans,” said Festeryga. “A Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau will live up to our obligation to Canada’s veterans and their families, and ensure that veterans in Essex, and right across the country, can confidently look forward to the future they are owed by a grateful nation.”

Festeryga added the Liberal platform is more than reopening veterans affairs offices, it also called for re-establishing lifelong pensions for our injured veterans, and increase the value of the disability award; investing $25 million to expand access to the Permanent Impairment Allowance; investing $40 million to increase the Earnings Loss Benefit to 90 per cent of pre-release salary; investing $80 million per year to create a new Veterans Education Benefit that provides full support for the cost of up to four years of college, university, or technical education; investing $100 million per year to expand support for families of veterans; increasing the veteran survivor’s pension amount from 50 percent to 70 percent; doubling funding to the Last Post Fund to ensure that veterans receive a dignified burial; fully implementing all of the Auditor General’s recommendations on enhancing mental health service delivery to veterans, and hiring 400 new service delivery staff, including new case managers at Veterans Affairs; and budget $20 million to create two new centres of excellence in veterans’ care.

A number of area veterans were at last Thursday’s announcement, including Navy veteran Larry Costello. He said the closure of the veterans affairs office in Windsor has has a negative impact.

“You have to travel halfway across the world to get any help with veterans affairs,” he said. “I love Canada but the way we are being treated now is not proper for the vets.”

Sundin said the NDP has shown “no leadership” on the issue while Festeryga claimed there is no commitment from New Democrats they would re-open the offices. Festeryga added that conclusion came after “scouring the NDP platform” but the local NDP candidate has already stated her party’s position.

Tracey Ramsey told the River Town Times last week that the NDP would reopen all nine veterans affairs offices across Canada. That view was also stated by party leader Tom Mulcair during a visit to Royal Canadian Legion Br. 157 last year.

The federal NDP leader said last August the Conservative government has cut $236 million from Veterans Affairs and closed nine Veterans Affairs offices, including the Windsor location.

“When we form government next year, we will re-open every one of the Veterans Affairs offices,” Mulcair said at the time, adding veterans affairs would be a top priority.

“I consider one of the most important things a government can do is honour those who served this country,” he said. “We’re not just going to talk about it, we’re going to get it done.”

Mulcair added that the NDP “think it’s a legal obligation and a moral obligation to be there for (veterans).” He said there is “an attitude coming from the top” to cut and that has become the mentality with that department.

Watson has previously stated the Conservative government has modernized veterans affairs offices by offering services through Service Canada office, including Amherstburg, Belle River, Leamington and Windsor.

The Windsor office was a 10,000 square foot building with six employees and 23 managed cases with Watson calling that “a colossal inefficiency.”

“Veterans Affairs had to undergo a modernization in service delivery. That is what has been done,” Watson previously said. “We have invested $4.7 billion in new money since 2006, all of which Mr. Mulcair and the NDP voted against,” said Watson.

There are a series of training and education initiatives the government offers, he continued, and that he believes the NDP are using their dislike of the government to “get in the way” of the support for veterans.


Federal Essex candidates continue on the campaign trail

By Ron Giofu


Candidates in the Essex riding continue on the campaign trail with one of them coming to Co-An Park in McGregor.

Liberal candidate Audrey Festeryga was on hand with several of her supporters recently distributing frozen yogurt from Nuccelli’s to voters as well as talking issues. Festeryga said she is hearing a lot of good response on Liberal policy proposals, including recently announced proposals such as flexible parental EI insurance, Canada child benefit and the flexible working arrangements in federal jurisdictions.

Liberal candidate Audrey Festeryga distributes frozen yogurt to Mark and Katelyn Bovenkamp during a recent campaign stop at Co-An Park in McGregor.

Liberal candidate Audrey Festeryga distributes frozen yogurt to Mark and Katelyn Bovenkamp during a recent campaign stop at Co-An Park in McGregor.

As part of their platform, the Liberals have also been touting increasing infrastructure funding by $60 billion over ten years. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has also vowed to repeal Bill C-24 and cut the middle class tax rate.

“We are knocking on doors and people are very receptive,” said Festeryga. “We’re getting a lot of people asking for signs.”

Festeryga pledged to fight for the people of Essex, if elected Oct. 19, and used a theme that is becoming common in this campaign about what people are wanting.

“I am hearing it’s definitely time for change,” she said.

Noting her background as a lawyer, the Liberal candidate added she has experience in both negotiations of multi-million dollar deals as well as labour relations thus is qualified for the job as Member of Parliament and wouldn’t have to learn on the fly.

“I can hit the ground running,” she said. “People understand that when I get to their door.”

Festeryga added voters are seeing that she is willing to work hard as she is campaigning daily in the riding. She has also been holding meet-and-greets around the area and has appeared at several festivals in the region.

“The voters are seeing I’m working hard and I’m working hard for them,” she said, adding she is hopeful Trudeau will visit Essex at some point this election campaign.

NDP candidate Tracey Ramsey reported that her campaign is “going very strong” and that she believes people are willing to shift the way they vote and go with Tom Mulcair and the NDP.

“The momentum is building and building. It’s getting stronger as we go along, which is so positive,” said Ramsey. “I think there is a deep desire for change. People are excited about going in a different direction and that means the NDP in Essex.”

Jobs continue to be an issue, she added, stating the NDP has a “clear” plan to create jobs by cutting taxes for small and medium-sized businesses. She said she has been hearing people are opposed to a $36 billion cut in health care transfer payments to provinces, something she said the Conservatives favour. The ongoing Mike Duffy trial has also having an impact locally, added Ramsey.

“It’s tough to escape from and people are tired of corruption in the government,” she said.

Treatment of veterans is another issue Ramsey said she is hearing as she accused incumbent MP Jeff Watson of having a “lack of commitment” and an inability “to stand up and fight for the people who fought for our country.” The NDP would reopen veterans affairs offices in Canada, she added.

People are coming to her campaign office and asking how they can help, Ramsey continued, and that there is an excitement in the riding for her campaign.

“More and more Canadians are putting their trust in Tom Mulcair and in Essex, we want to bring that change to Ottawa,” said Ramsey. “It’s very exciting for the NDP in Essex.”

Ramsey has been campaigning with Essex MPP Taras Natyshak and Ramsey said the provincial member is “doing a fantastic job standing up for the people in Essex” and that is being seen at the door.

“The difference is the NDP cares about the people in Essex and is helping them,” she said.

Watson, the Conservative candidate who has served the last 11 years as Essex MP, said his campaign is going well.

“The longer campaign is giving us far more opportunity to engage people at the door. More conversations are a good thing,” said Watson.

The longer campaign allows voters to become better informed, he believed, and allows candidates a chance to be more accountable. He speaks to voters about his record, he said, with the record including delivering billions to the area including “tens of millions” in Amherstburg for such projects as the wastewater treatment plant, the Libro Centre, and road rehabilitations.

The campaign is also about which leader has the experience to keep the country safe and the economy growing.

“The NDP and Liberals promise risk, not change.”

Watson said the Liberals and NDP both feel Canada has “no role to play” in combating ISIS and would bring in higher taxes that could potentially drive out jobs.

Canada has a balanced budget, said Watson, adding “there is no other major economy in the world that can boast that.”

The Conservatives have a “low tax approach,” and has an “enviable” record of job creation. Canada has created 1.3 million new jobs since the last recession, he said. Farmers have experienced the best years of revenue the last two years, low income seniors have been assisted. On the environment, local accomplishments include establishing a priority natural area in Essex County. A permanent home tax credit and improving benefits for veterans are among the planks of the party platform, he added.

Watson, who is adopted, said he has championed the issue in Ottawa starting with a motion in 2008, a report on the motion in 2012 and three straight federal budgets assisting families.

“All of these areas are to help Canadians step forward and adopt the 30,000 Canadian children waiting for adoption,” he said.

Watson said he has stood strong for Essex.

“Windsor, with two NDP MPs, has a loud voice but has delivered zero results,” he said. “I’ve had a credible and influential voice that has delivered billions to Essex County. Essex County has, in me, a strong and influential voice in Ottawa.”