December 8, 2023

Piccini On The Hot Seat

Candidates take it to the incumbent

Article & images by Valerie MacDonald

Above image: (L-R)Lisa Francis, Jeff Kawzenuk, Kim McArthur-Jackson, Dave Piccini

Jeff Kawzenuk

Seeking re-election as the MPP for the riding Northumberland-Peterborough, incumbent PC David Piccini had a real fight on his hands during the recent Sustainability-themed all-candidates meeting in Cobourg.

Hosts — Sustainable Cobourg, Blue Dot and other environmental groups  — asked questions that, right from the get-go, called into question decisions made by the government of PC Premier Doug Ford. Questions like the elimination of the separate, autonomous office of Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner as well as the use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) – provincial decisions that override local planning.

This put Piccini on the hot seat most of the time defending his PC Governments’ record over the past four years.

David Piccini

One question posed by May 20 night’s moderator, Tony Walker, was about the Provincial Government overriding the Municipality of Port Hope’s purchase of Wesleyvile from Ontario Hydro. After several years of negotiations, the decision negating it came at the “11th hour,” the crowd of about 50 heard. That was before all of the candidates were asked if they were elected MPP, “how would you advocate on matters such as this.”

Piccini said that through Bill 84 passed late last year, his Government wanted to handle the sale of Wesleyville in an open and transparent manner as had occurred with the Brookside facility in Cobourg. Bill 84 governs organizations such as agencies, boards and commissions, the incumbent MPP said. He also noted Port Hope was getting funding from the provincial for the sale.

Lisa Francis

“We have to start listening to the people,” countered Green Party Candidate Lisa Francis predicting that the halting of the Wesleyville sale would end up in some special deal involving friends of the Government.

Local riding Liberal candidate Jeff Kawzenuk noted that Piccini used the word “transparency” three times in his response on the matter which included the reference to Brookside. Nothing could be further from the truth, he said. There is no Centre for Realty Excellence when you google it (a reference to Bill 84) and like Francis said, Wesleyville will more likely go to one of Ford’s developer supporters.

“It’s the timing,” Kim McArthur-Jackson, local riding NDP candidate stressed, noting the deal was scuttled within 72 hours of the closing which would have  expanded the Municipality of Port Hope.

Kawzenuk chimed in again saying the Brookside facility closing was anything but transparent as he had worked there as an educator. Northing was said about it with the young inmates taken out “in the middle of the night” and staff were left without any way of even getting their belongings out, he said.

Piccini countered with allegations of past Liberal “sketchy” actions related to energy, before the moderator indicated it was time to move on to another issue.

Kim McArthur-Jackson

As it related to MZOs (the accelerator planning tool in Bill 109) to fast forward the planning process over the local level planning, McArthur-Jackson characterized it as bypassing democracy, and said she wanted all environmental factors examined. Piccini said it doesn’t bypass anything and that’s why he supports it.  Francis said she would want to work more closely with municipalities and Kawzenuk said the whole process must “start with collaboration” of all parties, in his view.

In a yes or no question put to candidates, Piccini said he supported the abolishment of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario while all three of the other candidates either wanted to renew it or research it first.

Other topics with broad environmental impacts were discussed. The incumbent said he supports recent amendments to the Ontario Endangered Species Act because it puts decisions in the hands of scientists and experts. He also told the crowd at the Venture Centre (and those listening virtually) that the expansion to the Greenbelt is the largest such expansion ever, plus a new provincial park was created during the past four years of the PCs being in power.

Kawzenuk reiterated his party leader’s opposition to the Highway 413 project impacting farm land and saying it would only save drivers just 30 seconds – and that MZOs have to be repealed.

McArthur-Jackson wants to renew the conservation role of Conservation Authorities and wants all environmental factors reviewed with regard to development.

And Francis promoted smaller development, the protection of farmland, and supported farm-to-table technology.

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