St. Marys native Stephen McCotter is pretty well-known around this part of the riding, as the owner of the Westover Inn, former St. Marys municipal councillor, and man in charge at the St. Marys-based McCotter Law Office. As the local federal candidate for the Liberal Party, McCotter is now spending most of his time trying to become as well-known around the entire riding of Perth-Wellington as he is here.
What led you to becoming a candidate in this federal election?
In my 30s I became more interested in paying more attention to politics both nationally and here in the riding. So, about five or six years ago, knowing I someday wanted to run for federal politics, I thought first I should get a crack at municipal politics to understand what it’s like to be part of a government. I ran in 2010 here in St. Marys and was fortunate enough to get on the council where I spent four years. With about a year left I saw an opportunity to seek the nomination; I went after it and was fortunate enough to get that. So, it was kind of a 10-year plan with getting to understand the riding and the country, and then a five-year plan learning on town council and then seeking the nomination.
From an education perspective, I went to Western when I was 18 and got a degree in finance and economics. Then I ran my small business, the Westover Inn here in town, for about 15 years. My wife and I got married and had a son and I realized I needed a day job, so to speak, so I went back to law school at Western and did my three-year law degree there. That was also part of my plan to hopefully someday play a role in national government. I felt a legal degree was very important to understand just how laws are made and how the government functions. So I finished my degree in London, then I articled in Toronto with Miller-Thomson. After that, I had to decide whether I would stay in Toronto or return to St. Marys. St. Marys is my home, and it doesn’t matter what I do for a living, I want to live here in St. Marys. So, I came back here and moved in next to Mr. White. The town was so supportive right off the hop. I was able to get a thriving law practice going in a very short period of time.
Why do you think Perth-Wellington needs a Liberal Party representative in Ottawa?
I chose the Liberal Party because they’re the party I think has the best plan for the country. I don’t think Perth-Wellington necessarily needs the Liberal Party; they need someone who will be their voice in Ottawa. Not someone that is going to be the Prime Minister’s voice here in Perth-Wellington. I think this riding has just been ignored for 10 years. We need to get someone up in parliament that’s going to stand up and say, ‘where is Perth-Wellington’s fair share?’ I think I’m a person that’s able to do that.
What issues in Perth-Wellington do you feel deserve attention in Ottawa, and how would you make sure they received that attention?
In my law practice, I see day in, day out, that people are struggling. You can paint the employment numbers however you like, but the bottom line is, the jobs are, for the most part, part-time, precarious and low-paying. People’s debt levels are going up; the cost of everything is going up. So, my highest priority would be bringing some investment to the riding. Some stimulus spending, some investment in infrastructure. Certainly, the municipalities are under a great deal of pressure as far as infrastructure. Justin Trudeau has pledged that under him the federal government would work more closely with the municipalities and establish a steady, reliable stream of funding for municipalities to help with infrastructure. Those are the type of jobs that are good-paying jobs. Those are the jobs that help people pay down their debt, pay down their mortgage, take their family on vacation, register their kids in sports. A lot of them are struggling right now to do that. Travelling around the riding, you see the downtown small business owners are struggling. I think that’s because the middle class has less and less disposable income. Part of our plan is to tax the top one percent and shift that money to give a cut to the middle class to put more money in their pockets. That’s how we think you build an economy, not through raising taxes on corporations, or giving tax cuts to the wealthiest. We think you have to put more money in the middle class pockets. They’ll spend it, and that’s how an economy is strengthened.
Rural transportation is a big issue. And not just with VIA – although it is hugely disappointing to have these train tracks going through our town and a beautiful train station, to think that we won’t have rail service here much longer, in my opinion. But it’s not just that. It’s connectivity. There’s no way to get from Palmerston to Kitchener unless you have a car. So, if you’re living in Palmerston and you want to work in Kitchener, you can’t do it unless you have a car. Not everybody can afford a car and gas and insurance and repairs. So, without buses and trains, these small towns continue to get choked off and shrink, and businesses will continue to struggle and down towns will continue to empty out.
How would you characterize the government’s performance on health care? How would you like the government’s health care policies to change or develop?
It’s disgraceful. The health accord signed in 2004 provided for a six percent accelerator in funding to the provinces. This current government has cut that to three percent next year, and then after that it will be linked to a combination of inflation and economic growth. We’re now entering our sixth month of economic decline. That means no increase in healthcare spending. You have an aging population that’s going to need bigger transfers, and here we have a government that’s cutting them. In addition, they’re changing the modelling of health care funding to a per capita basis whereas we would immediately reverse that and change it to a needs-based analysis. So, for example, Alberta received the biggest increase in health care transfers. Why was that? Because they had this population boom of young people who don’t need the health care system. So, here you have more money going to Alberta than places that need it where there are high elderly populations.
We recently announced our changes to the compassionate care E.I. leave. We think that’s a really solid piece of legislation we would bring in. Right now, if you want to go on E.I. to care for a sick elderly family member, you need a letter from a doctor saying your loved one is going to die in six months. Who wants to go to a doctor and ask for a letter saying your mom’s going to die within six months? We’re going to change that so that the threshold is “they need more care than can be provided in the evenings and weekends.” We think that will really make it easier for people to take time off from their work and care for the elderly. In addition, you can take the six months over a year, so you can take it in blocks, and you can also split it between family members, so three siblings could each take two months off so people don’t feel they have to lose their job to care for a sick, elderly relative. We think those are a couple big changes.
How would you like to use the natural and agricultural strengths of Perth-Wellington to improve the region’s economy?
From an agricultural perspective, we need to protect it, not enhance it. Right now, it’s under attack from the T.P.P. The Conservative government are negotiating this TPP in a secretive fashion. We have no idea what’s on the table. Justin Trudeau has committed to me that he’s 100 percent behind supply management. So, we need to ensure that our dairy and poultry farmers don’t take a step backward and get hurt by these negotiations. We’ve entered into trade deals and not had to give up supply management. It’s a system that works and should continue to work. I also think tourism is a big industry, not just with the Stratford Festival, but for the whole riding. As I travel around the riding, I see so many gems from a landscape perspective where you could definitely build on the tourism. The current government has cut the tourism funding by 30 percent. $24 million they pulled out. So, we need to work on increased funding for tourism in the riding.