Politicians need to campaign on local, not provincial issues

First published:
Sept 24, 2003

There is an old political adage started by the infamous American politician Tip O’Neil, a longtime speaker of the House of Representatives, that goes: all politics is local.

The trend in provincial political campaigns has steadily moved toward a centralized organization out of Toronto over the past few decades. While it may not have reached its peak this time around, it is certainly close. One reason may be that many non-partisan voters will make their decision based on the leader of each party.

Another explanation may be the major media’s fascination with covering leaders with great intensity. Another reason is the immense control of the central party organization. Many details of the campaign from handbills to web sites are under close scrutiny. The tighter the race, then the stronger the grip extends from central command.

In some cases, this is manifested in the rote recitation of party policy. At times, it seems like the candidates are mannequins repeating prepared answers for every question, not veering from the central platform. And certainly, it is important we understand these policies. Whomever we elect will be required to adhere to these promises.

However, it is also vital to have a platform that is Northumberland’s. It is interesting to note how each campaign has tried to follow Tip O’Neil’s advice.

Progressive Conservative candidate Doug Galt created an action plan called Vision 2003-2008. It is a series of promises he makes with specific goals in the areas of health, rural economic development, agriculture, regional growth, tourism, youth and seniors. It is comprehensive in the range of topics, compared to others because it provides a checklist voters can review.

It includes such items as a magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine for the new hospital, an increase in ambulance funding to extend hours to rural areas, encouraging a strategic economic development plan, creating research clusters in agri-food production, creation of a Centre of Excellence in Agriculture, a plastics industry cluster to attract similar business to the area and the branding of Northumberland as the “Gateway to Eastern Ontario”, among others.

What is unique about this document is that it is not tied directly into the larger party platform, but is Galt’s own resolutions for Northumberland.

Liberal candidate Lou Rinaldi does not have such a grand-sounding document, but he publishes a handout meant to address local goals. These are tied in quite tightly with the larger party platform. But, Rinaldi is unapologetic, saying there is a strong relationship between the party’s objectives and local ones.

He uses the example of health care, pointing to the community health centre in Brighton. The Liberal Party platform calls for more centres of this nature and Rinaldi also believes there could be similar solutions for other parts of the riding. This will also encourage doctors to come into the area to help some of the 10,000 people who do not have doctors, he said.

In the area of education, Rinaldi says he will push hard for smaller numbers of students in classrooms, admitting that this is also a goal of the party.

But he is far from being at a loss for ideas for Northumberland. He wants to see a new deal for municipalities where provincial funding would equally shared rather than downloaded. He, too, would push for rural economic development for Northumberland, similar to Quinte West, where he was chairman of the Quinte Economic Development Commission.

Murray Weppler, the NDP candidate, doesn’t have a handbill, but he does have his own plans. He wants to focus on municipal issues, helping property taxpayers who have suffered higher municipal costs due to downloading.

He proposes to take three cents per litre from the existing provincial gas tax and give it directly to municipalities to offset costs. He also wants to see the expansion of the Ontario Development Fund to assist small and medium size businesses created and expanded. He would also want hotel taxes used to promote tourism at a local level. And finally, he wants independent and small businesses compensated in downtown cores when big box stores are built.

Weppler draws his inspiration for some of the ideas from the overall party platform. The three cents of gas tax to be used by municipalities is a variation of the NDP’s proposal for fixing Toronto’s transit problems. Instead of just using the money for transit, Weppler suggests it have a broader use.

The enhancement of the Ontario Development Fund is straight from the policy handbook.

Green Party candidate Derrick Kelly is unabashed when he says he does not have a specific platform for Northumberland. He calls for protection of the watershed and underground water sources against big bottling firms in Northumberland, but acknowledges it is part of the party’s overall policies. He pushes for support of organic farmers and farming practices, saying this would bring benefits to the community, especially if produce was sold locally.

Kelly said he did not want to talk in specifics about Northumberland because the solutions will need to take place in a larger, provincial context and over an extended period of time.

None of the candidates should be chastised for trying to mold their party platforms to fit Northumberland’s circumstances. Plenty of the problems we face are similar to other places in Ontario.

But like an off the rack suit, it does not feel the same. Tailored clothing always fits better and the customer is happier. Maybe in the last days of this campaign we can push hard for a made-in-Northumberland race rather than a mirror of what Toronto-based strategists says is good for us.

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