Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com
HUNTSVILLE — Andrew Scheer is “an honourable man” and Justin Trudeau is “a classic rich kid.”
“Canada needs to be a leader on climate change.”
“People are free to actualize as they see fit.”
“This constant debt and deficit financing is what threatens the very programs that Canadians need and enjoy today.”
That’s a quick takeaway from an interview with Scott Aitchison, the Conservative Party of Canada candidate in the federal election, called yesterday.
The Huntsville mayor, on leave the next five weeks, took about 20 minutes Monday to chat with MuskokaTODAY.com, while his supporters cooked real beef burgers at the opening of his campaign office at the old train station in town.
He said affordability and the environment are top of mind for him, along with housing, making life more affordable for young Canadians, and stronger representation for rural Canada in Ottawa.
He said same sex attacks on his party leader are “not fair at all,” and the Liberal carbon tax will make life more expensive for Canadians.
MT: So, what is the No. 1 issue nationally?
“From what I’m hearing at the doors — what is indicative of what’s going on in the country — is affordability. Life is expensive and taxes have creeped up. There’s new taxes.
“The carbon tax is a really great example. Canadians are concerned about the environment; they want to do their part. But this Liberal carbon tax is an incremental thing that is going to make life more expensive. And people, particularly in rural communities like ours, don’t have the choice of hopping on the TTC to get to work.
“So, I think people are struggling to get by. There’s an awful lot of people in our communities that are. And so that affordability piece, the implications are real when it comes to housing, which I have dealt with as mayor for a long time. Trying to get more housing options constructed, affordable options, rental options. There’s a huge need, an economic need.”
MT: So what can Conservatives do to help people?
“There’s lots of things they can do. The first thing is stop ignoring rural communities like ours. This past Liberal government has invested a few billion dollars through CMHC to get more housing constructed, particularly affordable units. But it’s all been spent in big cities. This is one of the things I keep reminding people when I’m knocking on doors, and at events, we need to make sure we have a member of Parliament that is not going to get ignored in Ottawa. We’ve got to make sure that they know, as I’ve done as mayor the last five years at Queen’s Park and Ottawa, that we don’t all live in big cities.
“So the Conservatives have talked about making changes to the mortgage stress test, so it’s a little easier for young families starting out to buy a house. They are talking about making maternity leave benefits tax free. There’s lots of little things that they’re doing that have an incremental effect. And actually matter to people in their day-to-day lives. So that’ the kind of programs I believe in.”
MT: What are the local issues this time?
“Housing is still a very big issue. It’s important to me to make sure that we are doing everything we can to incentivise the private sector to build more and to build more affordable rental options as well.
“Health care is still a major issue in our communities, and I’m pleased that the Conservative party and Andrew Scheer have committed to maintaining the health and social transfers to the provinces, with an inflationary increase every year, which is good news. Because we need those services (like doctor recruitment incentives for rural medicine).
“And the environment still remains an important issue; climate change and how we manage that and how we address the issue. We need practical solutions that don’t just cripple our economy, but actually have an impact and then we can market whatever tools and products we can develop in this country and the world, because it’s a global issue and we need to be global leaders on climate change.”
MT: So, are Conservatives pro environment?
“It’s absolutely true. You look back, Brian Mulroney was one of the greatest prime ministers in history. Thanks to Stan Darling, right here locally, he let the prime minister know precisely what acid rain was, and that it was an issue we had to deal with. We couldn’t ignore it. And the prime minister, because he listened to his caucus, made it an issue in his relation with president (Ronald) Reagan. Reagan didn’t know what it was. But because we had a treaty, we solved that problem.
“Conservatives like to find practical solutions to problems.
“The Liberals have pandered about everything, from Indigenous relations to the environment and not actually solved anything. Conservatives like to find solutions.”
MT: Is there anything wrong with addressing Indigenous issues or the climate change?
“No. You have to. Absolutely.”
MT: The Conservatives have taken some heat over same sex issues. Is that fair?
“I don’t think it’s fair at all. Andrew Scheer has made it very clear that a Conservative government would not reopen issues related to same sex, and we would do everything to protect individual rights of all Canadians, whether they identify as gay or queer or anything else. It doesn’t really matter.”
MT: And you’re on the same page?
“Absolutely. I believe fundamentally in individual Canadians rights to live their lives and self actualize as they see fit. But Andrew Scheer said he doesn’t want to reopen any of those issues and he wouldn’t support any — it’s right there in our policy documents we wouldn’t reopen it.
“But what you see, of course, is a Liberal party that pretends to care about those issues that, you know, because they have got a really terrible track record, they’re trying to make Andrew Scheer look bad, because he doesn’t march in a gay Pride parade. I think that the Liberals are doing a true disservice to people in this country who are concerned about those issues, because they are not issues.
“They’re not issues to Conservatives. They’re not issues, really, for people who just want to live their lives. But the Liberals are using these sensitive issues to pander to people and try to sow doubts about a really honourable man, who has stood up and said ‘these decisions have been made and we will defend Canadians rights to live their lives the way they want.”
MT: What do you think of the competition, like the Green’s Gord Miller?
“Gord’s run for election in a number of different places. So, obviously I want to welcome him to Bracebridge, he’s building a house. That’s nice to have people moving into our community, that’s part of our growth. And that’s great.
“I think the Green party platform has some positive elements to it, but I don’t think it’s a comprehensive plan. And I think they’re focus would actually do some significant damage to our economy. And there’s got be a balanced approach, that I don’t think they have.
“I just talked to him on the phone briefly. I’ve invited all the candidates to the Mayor’s Golf Tournament dinner on (Thursday) the 12th here in Huntsville. I haven’t met all of them. So I wanted to meet them, just show them that we can all be good sports about this. We don’t have to be nasty to each other. I look forward to meeting him.”
MT: How do you feel about your chances?
(2015 results: Conservative Tony Clement: 23,206; Liberal Cowie 19,937; NDP Matthew McCarthy 5,183; Green Glen Hodgson 3,704)
“You know, Mark, I feel good about the reception I’m getting at the doors. I don’t think anything’s decided until Oct. 21st, and you gotta work hard. And that’s what me and my team have been doing and we’re going to continue to do right to the end.”
MT: How do think the Liberals have done?
“I don’t know the ins and outs of it precisely, but it seems to me they’ve made lots of promises, they haven’t followed through on them. It’s evident to me that, maybe, that’s why they don’t followed through on those promise is so they can have those extra billions of dollars to try to buy Canadians votes. They’ve made over 4,000 spending promises this summer alone amounting to over $12 billion. So, to me, that is what is so offensive about this government, and it’s what I think people find so annoying about politics and politicians in general. They’re gonna borrow against your children’s and grandchildren’s future to try to buy your vote today — and it’s offensive.”
MT: But doesn’t that mean they’re going to spend that $12 billion, in tax dollars, back into the economy?
“It’s not tax dollars. They’re mortgaging our future on projects that may well be important. But at the end of the day, you and I both know that you can’t do everything all at once; and borrow money that we’re going to be paying off for literally generations. It’s irresponsible. And it’s wasteful.”
MT: You know as a municipal politician you must have some debt. And as long as you can service it….
“Absolutely. There’s good debt and there’s bad debt. When you’re borrowing money to pay the hydro bill, that’s a problem. When you’re investing money to improve your deck or redo your roof, that’s a good investment. And municipalities are responsible to live within their means. There are rules about how much money we can borrow. There are rules about how we finance our operations. And those are good things. Municipalities are doing great things without going into massive debt.
“As the mayor of Huntsville, I committed to bringing down our debt and getting focused on those things that we were created for in the first place. So we’ve cut our debt by $3 million and taken on no new debt. We’ve dramatically increased our spending on transportation infrastructure. When I took office we were spending $1.6 million on roads, today we’re spending $4 million. We’ve gotten rid of buildings and assets that were costing us a fortune.
“Huntsville is a thriving, booming community. It’s doing very well. We’ve prioritized projects and investments across the community. And we haven’t been able to do everything all at once and it’s not perfect. But we’ve been able to operate like all levels of governments should, within our means and responsibility to taxpayers dollars.”
MT: If things are so good, why switch now? Was it busy on the main street this summer?
“Yeah, it was very busy here in Huntsville. It was busy all over Parry Sound-Muskoka. My point is that this constant debt and deficit financing is what threatens the very programs that Canadians need and enjoy today. Every dollar you’re spending servicing debt is a dollar you’re not spending on social services, on health care. These are programs that Canadians — as we age — are gong to need more and more and more.
“I don’t think we’re changing course in Parry Sound-Muskoka. We’ve had great representation with Tony Clement. I obviously want to do the same kind of thing. I want to be engaged and responsive and an active person all over Parry Sound-Muskoka.
“But I also want to make sure we have a very clear and strong voice in Ottawa, to make sure that we are not forgotten in the mix of things. And to make sure there is a strong voice arguing against mortgaging our grandchildren’s future to buy votes today.”
MT: Is Clement helping your campaign?
“He’s been available. He’s helped out a little bit, for sure. He’s obviously planning the next phase of his life, which I’m happy for him to do that. Tony’s been super supportive and helpful.”
MT: Andrew Scheer, have you met him yet?
“No. I understand there’s a couple of rallies coming up in the province. And so I may try to get to one of those. I just got an email about one in Woodbridge (Sept. 11, the day election was called). I don’t know if I’ll get down to that one or not.”
MT: What about jobs and the economy, the top issues in 2015? Or is the Green party setting the election agenda with the environment and climate change?
“Yeah. I think Canadians can walk and chew gum at the same time. They’re concerned about a number of different things. The environment’s one of them. Affordability of life in general is another. Jobs are still an issue, quality jobs. There’s lots of people working in our communities, but a lot of them are working two, three part-time jobs, just to make ends meet. And a carbon tax is just going to make their lives a lot more difficult.”
MT: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says you’ll get more back than you spend on the carbon tax?
“That’s a classic rich kid line. He’s never had to worry about whether he’s gonna have enough money that week to put gas in the tank of his car. He’s never had to worry who’s gonna make the rent payment that month. That’s great that you get that (rebate) back at the end of the year. But there are people in our communities who are literally living hand-to-mouth. And every incremental increase in taxes by this tax-and-spend Liberal government threatens their livelihood.
“And someone needs to fight for those people; and I certainly don’t think this current government is doing that. And I want to.”
MT: What do you offer personally that the other candidates don’t?
“I’m sure they’re all very good people. I know Trish fairly well, I like Trish.
“What I offer to constituents is 25 years of experience in municipal office. I’ve got a proven track record of being a real leader. I’m responsive, people can engage with me. I deal with issues. I haven’t solved every problem in Muskoka or in Huntsville. But people in this community know I’m committed to working for people and helping them. And that’s the kind of commitment and experience that we need, not only in the riding, but also in Ottawa.”
MT: Do you think a rural backbencher can have the ear of a busy prime minister — or a PMO staff?
“I think you’ll notice there are probably a lot more Conservatives get elected in rural communities, because rural communities want to get noticed. They’re probably more likely to, because there are rural members of Parliament that come from the Conservative caucus.”
MT: What about women, they are more likely to get elected in urban ridings?
“We need more women in politics at all levels. When I got elected as mayor in the last election I obviously tried to promote all the women candidates, except for the one running against me, of course.
MT: You have a woman replacing you as interim mayor the next two months during the campaign.
“I’m proud of my record as a mayor. The deputy Mayor Karen Terziano is amazing. She has been my deputy mayor from the very beginning. And the chair of our planning and economic development committee, which is one of the most important (committees) is Nancy Alcock. I’m proud of the work she’s been doing helping move this community forward.”
MT: What else would you like to say to voters? It’s going to be a tight race. (The Conservatives won 43.30 % of the vote the last time; the Liberals 38.88 %; the NDP 10.11 %; and the Greens 7.2 %)
“The ultimate message for me is we need somebody in Ottawa who has experience, who’s not afraid to be heard. I have that experience. I’m dedicated. I’ve been doing this. And I know what I’m doing. When it comes to making sure that people are heard, I’m responsive. I have the experience and track record to show I’ve done it. And I want to do that for all Parry Sound-Muskoka.
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