Nuclear dominates Huron-Bruce all-candidates debate



By Barb McKay


Energy was the focal point of a two-hour-long all-candidates debate held in Port Elgin last Thursday evening.


Four provincial Huron-Bruce riding hopefuls – PC incumbent Lisa Thompson, Liberal candidate Don Matheson, NDP candidate Jan Johnstone and Libertarian candidate Ron Stephens – took part in an effort to lay out their personal and party platforms for a crowd of more than 150 people who gathered at The Plex. Nicholas Wendler of the Green Party and Gerrie Huenmoerder of the Alliance party were not in attendance.


After the candidates made their opening remarks the floor was opened for questions from the gallery and discussion quickly turned to Bruce Power, its refurbishment and the possible closing of the Pickering nuclear power plant. It did not take long for the candidates to throw off the gloves and question their political opponents’ parties’ dedication to nuclear.


“The PC party is the only party that stands unconditionally with nuclear,” Thompson said. “The Liberals pushed nuclear out of the way to make way for expensive wind and the NDP party absolutely does not support nuclear. We have such a thriving economic spinoff from Bruce Power we have to do everything we can for the region to make sure that the refurb continues on schedule.”


Jan Johnstone said she has always been a proud supporter of Bruce Power and its workforce, as is her party leader.


“There’s a history of NDP being anti-nuclear, but I know they are not. Andrea (Horwath) has actually been at the plant, and back in 2016 there is actually a picture where she states that she supported the refurbishment of Darlington and the Bruce. So I needed to come out very strong. My husband is a power worker, I had a lot of society people working on my campaign and they need to know where the NDP stands on the industry and supporting the refurbishment.”


The operating licence for OPG’s Pickering plant is set to expire on Aug. 31 and the idea of closing the nuclear generating station has become a topic of debate on the provincial campaign trail. Matheson said the NDP would shut down the plant if the lease is not renewed in August. Both the Liberal and PC parties have come out in support of OPG’s plan to operate the plant until 2024.


“If they can close Pickering that fast who is to say they couldn’t or wouldn’t close the Bruce plant?” he asked.


“There was some concern around Pickering and I believe it was misspoken,” Johnstone told media following the debate. “The position of the NDP is very much, if the licence is renewed for the Pickering station we would actually support it because they are the experts in the industry. The NDP very much wants to take out the politics in terms of energy in this province and rely on experts and go back to the long-range plan to provide energy to the people of Ontario.”


Stephens said he is pro-nuclear and in favour of the Bruce Power refurbishment. When it comes to Pickering fiscal responsibility is required, he said. If the plant has two costly to refurbish then it should be closed and replaced with a new smaller nuclear generating station.


Wind energy was another issue that caused heated debate when a constituent asked how the candidates and their parties would address concerns raised by residents who live near wind turbines.


Thompson said Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, which was designed to improve public participation on environmental decision-making, needs to be fixed and added that the PCs will work directly with persons who are impacted by wind turbines.


“I have friends who have been affected by wind turbines and the issue is with compliance,” Johnstone said, adding that if a turbine is not in compliance with provincial regulations it should be taken out of operation. She said the setback distance between turbines and homes should also be increased.


Matheson said science has yet to prove that there is a correlation between wind turbines and negative health effects.


“I know people are affected by it but I believe in the science. Until we have the scientific proof that wind turbines do affect people we have to go with the science because we can say that some people are affected by this or affected by that, but it has to be proven. I do know some people are affected by it...We have to make sure we are always in compliance. As long as they are in compliance and meet those rules. We have to follow the rules, that’s what government does.”


Stephens spoke out against wind energy.


“This whole renewable energy thing is what drove our hydro costs up and the Libertarian Party will cut anything that is subsidized,” Stephens said.


The candidates were questioned on what they would do about the Ontario sexual education curriculum that PC leader Doug Ford has pledged to abolish.


Thompson said the problem her party has with the current curriculum is a lack of consultation before it was enacted. She said the PCs would revert back to the previous sex ed curriculum and consult with experts, school boards and parents to develop a curriculum that is age-appropriate.


Johnstone said as a school board trustee she feels confident that the public was widely consulted on the curriculum and she did not receive a single complaint about it.


Matheson, a Port Elgin high school teacher, said he teaches health and the sex ed curriculum to students in grades 9-12 and said stands behind it.


Stephens said he is against the curriculum because “kids are going indoctrinated,” which did not sit well with many in the crowd.


The four candidates were also asked about what they would do to erase the provincial deficit and reduce debt.


Matheson said eliminating debt is something that will not happen overnight.


“It’s like buying a house,” he said. “You have to pay it off a little over time. We have to make sure that would social programs are taken care of first...We could fix the deficit in a few years but that would require massive tax hikes. We went through a recession that affected most of the world and Ontario came through it better than most.”


Thompson said she would listen to Ontario’s auditor general who recently reviewed government programs and found $1 billion in savings. She said her party is focused on reducing waste.


Johnstone said the NDP would increase taxes for Ontario’s wealthiest. She said her party is one of only two parties with a fully-costed platform.


Stephens said the province needs to make it financially feasible for businesses to thrive, which is currently impossible with high hydro rates and taxes. He added that citizens need to be less reliant on government.


The provincial election is slated for June 7. Advance polls are set up at the Kincardine Curling Club.