Elaine MacDonald is a Cornwall City Councillor, Chair of the Cornwall & District Labour Council, Chair of the Cornwall Health Coalition, a former school teacher, and a community volunteer. She has previously run in this riding as the NDP candidate, and she will seek the provincial nomination again on March 27th 2013.
Elaine MacDonald answers five questions for the Seeker. This interview was conducted by Jason Setnyk.
1. You are currently a City Councillor and represent the municipal government of Cornwall. Why do you want to run again provincially in hopes of becoming MPP of the SDSG riding? Why should the voters of SDSG consider voting for you?
Municipalities constitute the level of government with the most severe limitations. We are creatures of the provinces rather than of the BNA Act. One hundred and forty-six yearslater, cities and towns are still struggling for recognition of the roles we’ve acquired or inherited and for the resources and support to carry out the responsibilities that go with them. As a municipal politician, I am acutely aware that the balance of resources and responsibilities between the province or Queen’s Park and the municipalities is seriously skewed. The province constrains us, sometimes downloads its responsibilities to us and leaves people falling through the cracks. I want to fix that. The province needs to do better and I’m running for a chance to make that happen.
I will work with other parties to advance the well-being of people across the province, but my first responsibility will be to the people in SDSG. We need good-paying jobs, youth employment, access to higher education, healthcare we can count on, greater affordability for everyday people and a fairer tax system, one that will pay for essential services and help the province balance its books. I’m running for the opportunity to work for these conditions.
2. During the last provincial election you had the best showing of any provincial NDP candidate in this riding since George Samis, and almost finished in second. What would an NDP campaign in SDSG need to do to fair better, especially in the Counties where the Conservative Party is popular?
As a party we have realized that we need to spend more time in the rural areas of the province, to get to know the people and their concerns. We also have to let more people get to know us and see what the NDP stands for. At the end of the day, the things the province delivers, like healthcare, education, social services to which we are committed are as important in the counties as they are in the cities and towns, maybe even more so because of distance challenges and isolation. Rural communities struggle to sustain their schools, their hospitals or health clinics and we have policies to facilitate that process. Geography aside, showing oneself to be a responsible and consistently responsive politician, whether in an urban or rural municipality is the best way to gain people’s confidence in one’s ability to serve at the provincial level. Building a relationship based on knowledge and trust is key.
3. A hot topic lately has been the issue of long term health care in this community. There has been debates about what to do with the General Hospital site, and concerned citizens have been emailing and communicating with Long Term Health Care Minister Deb Matthews. First what is your opinion on the long term health care needs of SDSG and how can they be best addressed? Secondly what could a provincial NDP government offer in regards to long term health care that the other parties do not?
I commend the citizen’s group that is pressing the provincial government for information and support. Your question points to a real lack of ready information on current and projected needs and appropriately allocated resources that we’re all struggling with. The longterm care needs of any part of Ontario are not and cannot ever be a matter of opinion; except insofar as that opinion is informed and based on information. We need that information from the province, we’ve asked for that information, and adopting a position before we get it could be counter-productive.
Current evidence coming from the Ontario Health Coalition, though, which has a reputation for solid fact-finding and of which I am an active member, points to an urgent, immediate and overdue need for expansion of homecare availability. The NDP has made that our priority. Sufficient capacity of longterm care facilities is important, but the ideal longterm care facility is one’s own home, and sadly, unless the critical shortage of homecare staff and systems is addressed that ideal will remain beyond the reach of most people. Most people would rather age and die at home with the appropriate support, than in an institution. We want to make that choice possible for Ontarians.
The NDP has a position on record regarding homecare, and that is that no one should have to wait longer than 5 days for prescribed homecare. And we’re not waiting to be government to advance this policy; in fact, it’s one of the conditions Andrea Horwath has made for supporting the spring budget in 2013. The most desirable form of longterm care is what’s delivered in the home and we’re committed to making it a reality. The second priority is increasing the availability of longterm care beds for those who can no longer stay at home and we are committed to expanding capacity in this area too.
4. You are currently on your second term as a Cornwall City Councillor. What has been your biggest accomplishment as a Councillor, and in your opinion what has been the toughest issue for this Municipal Council and what does it need to address this challenge? How would your experiences as a City Councillor prepare you for the challenges of being MPP?
I think our greatest ongoing success is Cornwall Transit, a program that is frequently under fire from those who would see property taxes frozen or reduced. The council before our first term cut staff and service and moved to a 40-minute schedule. It all but destroyed the system. We reinvested, rebuilt the service to a 30-minute schedule and continue to monitor it closely. Transit serves the community environmentally, socially and economically, quietly running in the background, like our drinking water system which for the fifth straight year has earned a perfect rating from the Ministry of the Environment. Some accomplishments like the hugely popular Benson Centre garner more attention but systems like transit and water and our new wastewater treatment plant, soon to come online,provide the services that enable us to achieve sustainability into the future.
Our toughest challenge is training our focus on long term vs short term goals. Our budget constraints and current immediate needs don’t provide us the resources to invest adequately in a sustainable future and this is a challenge and a worry. For example, in budget talks this year, we balked at taking the next step toward increasing our waste diversion rate. Last year, we went to weekly blue box pickup with good results, but to move the file forward now we have to increase staff at the landfill site by one person. We failed to, so our abysmally inadequate ratio of waste to recycled material won’t improve in the near future. This failure is a short term saving but a long term loss. Environmental degradation isn’t the sole purview of unregulated industry; municipalities have a responsibility too.
Municipal government is a classroom or laboratory for collaboration, networking, co-operation and getting things done. Every day brings opportunities and exercises in compromise and outreach that move all our communities forward. Municipal politics is a great training ground. You put your ideas forward, you listen to others’ views and together you hammer out a middle way. We might espouse different political principles but we work outside of party structures so we are freer to improvise and compromise.
5. Ontario has its first woman Premier when Dalton McGuinty stepped down and Kathleen Wynne became the new leader of the Provincial Liberal Party. What are your impressions of Wynne versus the NDP leader Andrea Horwath? Furthermore how important is it to have more female politicians in any level of government? Is there a pragmatic and realistic way to get more women involved in politics?
Leadership gets a lot of press when leaders change but before, during, and after the change of leaders, party members line up along the enduring fault lines of party values and policies. I was NDP before Andrea Horwath and Kathleen Wynne were elected leaders and expect to continue to be after they are replaced by their successors. Leaders are temporary but party values and priorities are constant. That being said, I celebrate Kathleen Wynne’s election as good news for us all. Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath are dynamic, forceful, courageous and committed women. That’s cause for celebration for everyone. Furthermore, with Wynne’s election we have effectively reached gender parity at the provincial and territorial premiership level, with 6 out of 13 premierships held by women. We have had women as party leaders and as premiers before, but what we see now is different. It’s a groundswell, with an accelerated pace of change. We have a long way to go still though; women hold very few seats on the boards of FP500 companies and when we go beyond gender to race and culture, we see we’ve barely begun to achieve diversity at the leadership level in Canada. An equitable society is diverse and inclusive and open to everyone. Having role models we can identify with and emulate is essential to diversifying our power structures. We have work to do and we won’t have real responsible government until we succeed in diversifying government, corporate Canada and all the other sectors of Canadian society.
Thank you Elaine MacDonald. The Seeker would like to wish you the best.