NORTH SIMCOE – It has been a little more than a year since Patrick Brown was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and MPP for Simcoe North. With the next provincial election scheduled for 2018, Brown sat down with Simcoe.com to discuss some of the biggest issues facing the province.
A lot of people have commented on your decision to run in the new riding of Barrie–Springwater–Oro-Medonte rather than Simcoe North, and may be a little disappointed after having voted for you in last year’s byelection. What do you have to say to them?
"I’m always going to be a Simcoe County guy. My family’s been here since the 1940s. With redistribution, a new riding is going to be created that will take in parts of Simcoe North, Simcoe-Grey and Barrie. I live in Oro-Medonte, which will be part of the new riding, and I think it’s important to run where you live.
"Nothing is going to change the fact that I will be robust in my defence and promotion of Simcoe North while I serve as its MPP."
Doug Downey has announced his intention to seek the Simcoe North PC nomination. Will you be endorsing him?
"No, I’m not endorsing any candidate. I think five or six people have approached me saying they have interest in seeking the nomination. I think we’ll have one of the biggest nominations we’ve ever seen in Simcoe North."
What is your plan for health care?
"I’m really concerned about the crisis in small-town, rural hospitals. In Orillia and Midland, huge cuts have had to happen due to operating deficits, which were caused by the provincial funding formula. The government is making cuts to make up for its own waste and mismanagement, such as the billion dollars they blew on eHealth.
"People are in the hospitals waiting for a long-term-care bed, which is clogging up our hospitals. They just have a culture of waste at Queen’s Park that needs to be addressed."
A lot of people remember the Mike Harris years, when there was a lot of strain and constraints in the health-care system, and the Liberals will undoubtedly bring that up. What would you say to that?
"When the Liberals do things like that, it’s an act of desperation. I want them to be accountable for their own record. I wasn’t even old enough to vote when Mike Harris was first elected premier."
What is your plan for energy?
"When Dalton McGuinty became premier, we had competitive energy prices, and now we’re the laughingstock of North America. The reality is the fire sale of Hydro One is going to cause rates to go up further.
"We’re actually paying foreign jurisdictions to take our surplus energy. We’ve signed foreign renewable contracts that we have to buy regardless of whether or not we need it, and then we have to give the energy away.
"I am pleading with the premier not to proceed with a sale of majority control. Once you lose majority control, you lose future control of energy rates."
Climate change has become an issue of concern for many. What is your plan for the environment?
"I believe climate change is a threat. It’s man-made and we need to address it. I’m not some conservative who’s disinterested in the environment – I take environmental issues very seriously. We’re going to tackle it in a way that protects Ontario. Right now, Kathleen Wynne has signed on to cap-and-trade, where we trade emissions credits with places like California. Her approach may make you feel like you’re protecting the environment when really you’re just subsidizing Beverly Hills.
"My approach is a revenue-neutral carbon price, where anything raised in Ontario stays in Ontario. Under Kathleen Wynne’s plan, the government gets $1.9 billion more in revenue, which means bigger government. I don’t want to take a cent in the name of the environment to justify more spending. Anything raised will be given back to the people in terms of tax relief."
Ontario is currently facing significant levels of deficit and debt, which has led to it being considered the most indebted sub-federal government in North America. What’s your plan to get the books back in order?
"The auditor general says the government’s deficit numbers are $1.5 billion off, and the debt numbers are $11 billion off. Clearly, the government is misleading the public on the numbers. The situation is a lot worse than they’re trying to present.
"I want an attitude change at Queen’s Park, where every dollar we spend has to be considered in a thoughtful manner."
Does that mean cutbacks? Rightly or wrongly, people often equate the PC Party with cuts.
"My plan is not cut, cut, cut. I have four pillars of economic development: cut red tape, invest in infrastructure to get more products to the marketplace, have competitive energy prices and evolve our education system to meet the skills gap. I think, if you fix those four issues, you make Ontario more competitive."
What is your stance on sex education?
"I support an updated curriculum. I think a lot of the fears that people had were not borne out. I do think the government did do a bad job communicating. The number of complaints and petitions show the government did not engage parents and educators in the process."
The letter that was issued in your name on sex education during the Scarborough byelection caught a lot of people’s attention. Can people trust you on this issue?
"Most politicians are unwilling to admit when a mistake is made. When a letter was sent out using an autopen under my name that I didn’t agree with, I immediately wrote an op-ed in The Toronto Star, and what I got at the doors afterwards was, 'We’re not used to this. We’re not used to a politician who actually apologizes and admitted their mistakes.'
"The fact that we won the Scarborough byelection by such a significant margin shows that people actually really admired the approach I took."
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