Ontario Politicians Face off for CARP Vote

September 27th 2011

Members of each major party faced off at a remarkably civilized and substantive CARP Debate™ today in hopes of swaying your vote.  The CARP Debate™ has become a mandatory stop in any election campaign. There is no other major forum that requires participants to focus exclusively on the issues that are particularly relevant to the ageing population.   To watch a video of the debate, click here

The high wattage panel of debaters were: Deb Matthews, the Ontario Minister of Health, Michael Prue, MPP and NDP disability critic, Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Ontario Green Party as well as Christine Elliott, Deputy Leader and Health Critic.  The CARP Debate™ is the only one of the major debates in which the Green Party was able to square off against senior members of the other three parties.

The level of discussion was comprehensive and intelligent.  Instead of wasting their allotted time taking shots at the other parties, the debaters all focused on the issues.  Since most debates cover a tremendously wide range of issues, politicians don’t usually have the time to cover any particular topic in depth. Often, they simply deliver memorized “sound bites” rather than engaging in real debate.  Although this gives people a superficial understanding of what the parties stand for and of what they might do, there is little opportunity to really mine any particular policy issue. Not so for the CARP debate. We heard competing in-depth perspectives on what we see as key issues this election: cost of living, energy costs and the environment and of course, healthcare, especially home care.

Here are some highlights:


The exercise delivered more than a great exchange of views. Susan Eng, CARP VP of Advocacy, asked all of the debaters if their parties would support an increase to the Provincial income support program for seniors (also known as “GAINS”) and each of the debaters said yes.

“Great!  We’ll look forward to receiving your cheque in the mail,” half-joked Susan. All pleasantries aside, this was the first time that all-party support was expressed for this measure despite years of advocacy groups calling for better income supports to the most needy seniors.  This means that no matter the outcome of the election, we’ll expect a motion to that effect when the new House reconvenes!

Susan Eng hosts Debate


The debate started with a question by physician and prominent health policy analyst, Dr. Michael Rachlis:

“There is a lot of high quality evidence demonstrating that health promotion and home care can improve health and reduce the need for hospitals and long term care institutions. Denmark provides various housing options and such effective community care that they haven’t built a nursing home in over 25 years. And, studies from Canada show that even a little bit of health promotion and help with meals or cleaning can reduce deaths and nursing home admissions by 40%.

But, all three parties when they have been in power in this province have failed to shift our system to keeping seniors healthy. And we continue to build more long term care institutions even though very few seniors want to live in them.

What would your party do to ensure that Ontario seniors can get the community care they need to maintain their independence?”

Christine Elliott (PC):
·     Immediately invest in 5,000 new Long Term Care beds and renovate existing beds and increase investment in home care (no specific commitment).

·     Provide full rehab and services for seniors to restore them to active, healthy lives so that we transition to a system based on wellness rather than illness.

·     We need ehealth records.

Michael Prue (NDP) :
·    Despite the fact that there are 10,000 seniors wait-listed for Long Term Care, CCACs in Ontario have only spent $45 million out of $1.1 billion they have been given for home care. The NDP would put an additional 100 million hours into home care, and 7.5 million hours into additional at-home support services so that people can stay in their own homes, where they are happier and healthier. The money should be spent where the need is greatest.

·    We need more multidisciplinary clinics so that seniors get all the services they need in one place.

Deb Matthews (Liberal)
·    We are developing an active ageing strategy, because just doing what we’ve done in the past isn’t good enough. We know that 30% of people in Long Term Care don’t need that intensive kind of support. We are adding three million hours of Personal Service Work and eight weeks of protected leave from work·    We’re also offering seniors a $1,500 tax credit to help renovate their homes so that they can continue to live in them.

·     Our plan provides for someone at the hospital to guide frail seniors through the process and to get home safely

Mike Schreiner (Green)
·    We need to provide a true continuum of care. There is a lack of creativity at Queens Park. Ontario spends only $7 per person on preventive health care, compared to $21 in B.C. We need a comprehensive planning exercise for our ageing population so that we can target budgets strategically. Only $45 million of the ageing at home strategy money actually went into home care in 2010.

·     Case managers and ehealth records are essential to help people navigate through the healthcare system.

Carol Libman, from our National Office asked:
We get a lot of calls in the CARP office from people who can’t make ends meet. They are paying more for home heating than they can afford, they can’t afford property tax increases which drive them out of their homes, they can’t afford the assisted living facilities they need when they must leave their homes and they can’t afford to live on income supplements which have not kept up with the cost of living.

We’ve come a long way in Canada towards eliminating poverty among older Canadians. But it still persists. Single seniors, especially women, face poverty in greater numbers than those in couples. And many of those who do not yet qualify for Old Age Security and public drug coverage have to make choices about whether to buy needed medicines or pay the rent.

Most of our members say they are doing alright in retirement but they want a government that is committed to helping people help themselves, especially the most vulnerable.

What will your party do to relieve the financial burden on low and fixed income seniors?

Christine Elliott (PC)
·     Make staying at home more affordable by immediately revoking the provincial portion of the HST on home heating and hydro and removing the debt retirement charge. That would save about $275 per year per senior.

·     Reduce income taxes by about $5 for the first $75,000 of income.

·     Introduce income splitting for couples with up to $50,000 of income

Michael Prue (NDP)
·     Remove the provincial portion of the HST from home heating and electricity, stop the gouging at the gas pumps.

·     Ontarians pay the highest amount of property taxes and that is because responsibilities have been downloaded to municipalities and they don’t have other forms of revenue.  We would start on municipal tax reforms and give grants to every municipality that has a transit system.  This election is all about affordability.

Deb Matthews (Liberal)
·     To fund its program, the Conservatives have $14 billion in “unspecified” program cuts—that’s twice as much as Mike Harris cut and they’re not telling us which services they are going to cut.  We are making targeted choices to make life more affordable for seniors and we’ve made a choice to invest in healthcare.

·     86% of seniors are better off after the tax changes of the HST: there’s a $500 property tax credit, sales tax credits, 10% off your energy bill, which is more than your provincial portion of the HST, we’ve reduced taxes for many and taken 90,000 people off the tax rolls entirely.

·    We will allow for people to defer property tax increases to when the house is sold.

Mike Schreiner (Green)
·     Affordability is an extremely important issue but so is sustainability.  That 10% off your hydro bill costs us $1.2 billion, the HST is going to cost us more and subsidizing energy costs benefits the biggest users. Let’s target relief for people in rural areas who are most affected by rising energy costs.

·     We have a program that delivers long-term sustainable savings. We need to find new ways of doing things.  The old way of doing it was building housing we couldn’t afford and we had no way of maintaining it. Why don’t we partner up with the private sector and say you have to offer affordable housing as part of the approval process?

Christine Elliott (PC)
·     It’s a myth that our platform has a $14 billion hole in it. It’s a matter of value for money. You’re spending a lot of your tax dollars on healthcare and we’re dead last internationally in VFM indexes.

Questions: Janet Grey, CARP Ottawa Chapter Chair: What will you do to ensure that everyone has access to assisted living and assisted housing?

Michael Prue (NDP)
·    Every time housing developments are built in a municipality, the developer must commit to providing a certain amount of affordable housing.

Deb Matthews (Liberal)
·    Our strategy empowers municipalities to understand their market; we’re going to explore the Ontario Housing Benefit.

Mike Schreiner (Green)
·    We have to ensure that housing is built to a high quality standard. We know that with rising energy prices, we have to have affordable housing that is not too expensive to operate.  We need to also ramp it up and make it inclusionary.

Christine Elliott (PC)
·    Housing is a basic need and a basic right, and is right at the centre of a holistic approach. We would work with the municipalities and the federal government to provide a range of housing in their communities.

Energy Costs and Renewable Energy

Electricity rates are rising dramatically. Time of use meters make it more expensive especially for those who are home all day or have medical equipment plugged in. The added HST makes it even more costly.

Some of you have promised to remove HST and other charges from electricity bills. But where will you get the money?

Some argue that the price of energy needs to rise to its real cost to encourage conservation.  We need new renewable energy sources for the future, but these are costly to develop.

How does your party plan to reconcile these competing demands?

Mike Schreiner (Green)
·     We have to go after low-cost options. Both the Liberals and PCs prioritize high-cost options that don’t focus on energy conservation and savings. Unfortunately, the energy conservation program was allowed to expire. The Green Party would implement a Green Building program for $1.4 billion in savings because there will be less need to build.

·     No nuclear facility has ever come in on budget or on time. We have a debt retirement charge because we are still paying for old nuclear cost overruns. Let’s reduce demand first.

·     Hydro is a cheaper way to provide base load power. Stop wasting natural gas and continue rolling out renewable energy, but do it in a way that puts communities first. Provide economic development opportunities so that benefits stay in communities.

Christine Elliott (PC)
·     There are two parts to this question: energy relief and energy policy.

·     Energy relief: for seniors and people on fixed incomes, take the provincial part of the HST off, and cancel the debt retirement charge. It was paid off years ago and is now just a cash cow for the McGuinty government.

·     End the mandatory time of use for smart meters and make it optional.

·     Energy policy: support a balanced mix of energy–hydro, gas, nuclear, biomass, wind, solar, etc. We don’t have a balance now. We need a reliable and affordable mix of energy to attract business, or we will be bypassed as a jurisdiction of choice for investment. We need to continue to invest in renewables of course, but you can’t power General Motors with wind power right now.

Michael Prue (NDP)
·     The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use. If you can cut back on the use of energy and make us more like Europeans and less like Americans, the cost will go down.

·     Retrofit buildings, put solar panels on roofs, heat hot water on roofs. You’ll pay almost nothing for natural gas that way except in winter.

·     Nuclear cost overruns are enormous; Germany and Japan are not building new nukes. We don’t know why the Liberals and Conservatives go on and on about technology that we can’t afford.

·     The NDP is the only party with the guts to tell you we won’t reduce corporate taxes. They’re fine now. We’re not going to reduce them except for tax credits when you create a job. The only way to get goods and services is to pay appropriate taxes. Seniors pay enough now; it’s time for corporations to pay their fair share.

Deb Matthews (Liberal)
·     We need reliable sources of energy. Remember that in 2002-2003, electricity was not reliable.  Under the PCs, energy demand increased by 8% and supply decreased by 6%. We had to spend $1 billion to import U.S. energy.

·     When we came to office we implemented a billion-dollar plan to fix this.

·     We see a bright future in renewable energy. We’ve already got 20,000 jobs in green energy and we know there are tens of thousands more. Ontario can become a world leader in green energy. The price of fossil fuels will only increase.

·     We’ve had no smog days this year because coal plants are shutting down. 90% of the coal fire plants are now shut down; under the Conservatives, they had doubled.

Mike Schreiner (Green)
·     We don’t even have to reach the energy efficiency of Europe. If we could use the same per capita as people in New York State–they have iPods and big-screen TVs too–we would be so energy efficient. You can retrofit 1.6 million homes and save the same amount of energy that you would get from a nuclear plant and create 20 times more jobs. You can create more jobs, and it’s better for the environment and for our future.

Question by Dale Goldhawk: We have been investigating this situation for more than a year…Is new research needed to study health problems caused by living close to wind turbines?

Deb Matthews (Liberal)
·     We have looked closely at this. The Chief Medical Officer of Health looked at 42 studies and found no link. There is always more research happening and we will always look at new research. We’re the party that banned the cosmetic use of pesticides and now there are far fewer toxins in our water.

Mike Schreiner (Green)
·     We absolutely need to do new epidemiological research on all sources of energy–coal, gas, oil, wind, solar–and how they all affect our health to make the best decisions.

Christine Elliott (PC)
·     We do need a full study of the effects of wind on human health, on setbacks and what’s appropriate. We have called for a moratorium on new development of wind until we have appropriate independent studies here in Ontario.

Michael Prue (NDP)
·     We welcome new research. When I was a kid, everybody thought smoking was all right. For wind turbines, this government took away the right of every single municipality to comment on new energy: nuclear, wind, natural gas. Municipalities like Oakville and Mississauga need to be in the mix to comment.

 Photography by Jeff Higgins