From being a radio journalist in Stratford to working radar with the Canadian Armed Forces on the east coast, Perth-Wellington NDP candidate Ethan Rabidoux said his broad range of life experiences make him the ideal candidate for the riding in the coming federal election. The Stratford native and United Way Perth-Huron Transportation task force coordinator spoke to the Independent this week about why he’s running and what he thinks are the key issues for Perth-Wellington in 2015 and beyond.
What led you to becoming a candidate in this federal election?
Working at the radio station, it enabled me to travel around the riding, meet people, get to know the issues, and talk to local residents. Now I’m running to try to fix some of those issues. The other experience I had at the radio station was watching an independent, locally-owned corporation go from that, to being owned by vulture capitalists. That experience really gave me a new perspective on economics, which definitely shaped my views on how best to grow a local economy, what policies are needed and what needs to be done. I just got married on Aug. 8, so I’m relatively newlywed and hoping to start a family here in Perth-Wellington. Therefore, I want to make it the best riding it possibly can be.
Why do you think Perth-Wellington needs an NDP representative in Ottawa?
Let’s take what we’re hearing at the doorstep for starters. People talk to me all the time about the cost of living. It’s going up all the time, whether in child care, health care, you name it. It’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet. We need good jobs in Perth-Wellington. Not just employment, but good employment that can actually sustain families and build communities. For the last 30 years we’ve seen failed policies that have not produced that for local residents. We need a change. The other thing I’m hearing at the doorstep is that people want that change. They see what’s going on in Ottawa and the two old parties are offering the same old stale policies; the status quo. It didn’t work in the past; it’s not going to work going forward. That’s why Perth-Wellington needs it.
What issues in Perth-Wellington do you feel deserve attention in Ottawa, and how would you make sure they received that attention?
To localize things, here in St. Marys, there’s VIA Rail. It’s been cut back, mismanaged and bungled by 30 years of successive Liberal and Conservative governments. If you keep doing the same thing and expect a different result – that’s the definition of insanity. VIA Rail is a huge issue in the south end of the riding.
Jobs and the employment issue are also huge. We’ve got a very low unemployment rate in the area, but you have to look a little bit deeper. Food bank usage is going up. The fastest growing segment of food bank users are workers and that’s just a sin. One of the most basic social contracts in our society should be that if you work hard full-time you should be able to get ahead. That goes back to what I was saying about good employment, lowering the cost of living and childcare. That’s why we’re trying to bring in $15-a-day child care and create a million new spaces. Those are all ways that we can start to alleviate the cost for working families in Perth-Wellington and across the country.
Other local issues which are huge are in the agricultural field. Tom Mulcair was in Brunner at the end of July to announce the NDP’s agricultural policy on the Slits Dairy Farm. Defending supply management for our local farmers is a huge issue in Perth-Wellington. The Dairy Farmers of Ontario told me that Perth-Wellington has got more dairy farmers than any other riding in the entire country. So, believe me, they’re nervous right now. Supply management is an excellent system. Not perfect, but it’s excellent and the issues with it can be fixed. The problem we’re having right now with regards to trade negotiations is that the government is being very vague and very evasive about what’s going to happen to our dairy, poultry and egg farmers. We need to defend them. Farm debt has gone through the roof. We’ve lost thousands of family farms in the last 10 years. The NDP has got policies to help the rural area as well.
The last point I would make is infrastructure. It’s a huge issue. Talk to Al Strathdee here in St. Marys and he’ll tell you that. I talked to Dan Mathieson in Stratford as well. I was up in Arthur recently and talked to Mary Schmidt who is an executive on the chamber of commerce, and she said Arthur has been approached by two separate home builders in the last few years to build houses up there, but the problem is that the home builders have said to them, “we want to build here, you’re well-positioned, but you need new sewage and water treatment plants to sustain the growth.” They can’t afford it. That’s an important point. Arthur does not need income-splitting and higher TFSA contribution limits. It needs investment in infrastructure to grow. Those are the big issues locally.
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?
Health care has been underfunded and mismanaged for about 40 years now. When Medicare was created by the NDP, brought in, and then it moved federal, it was supposed to be split 50/50 between Ottawa and the provinces. Right now, the provincial/federal contribution is about 80/20, not quite as bad as it was in the late ‘90s when the federal portion of the Liberals was about eight percent, but it’s still not where it needs to be. One of the issues we’ve had is that Stephen Harper has not met with the premiers as a group, as a federation, to come up with national policies on anything, never mind health care. We need to renegotiate the Canadian Health Accord. We need to continue to try to close that gap so that the federal government is actually playing a role in health care, and we need to beat back privatization, which is a huge threat. It’s ballooned under Liberals and Conservatives. It doesn’t save money. It’s not more efficient. That’s why the Americans spend more on health care per capita than we do. So, we need to beat back private health care and start increasing the federal government’s role in health care. That won’t happen over night. Medicare wasn’t built in a day, it wasn’t cut back in a day, and it won’t be rebuilt in a day. But we need to start moving the federal government in that direction.
How would you like to use the natural and agricultural strengths of Perth-Wellington to improve the region’s economy?
Tom Mulcair came to Brunner in the end of July and talked exactly about this issue. My father-in-law is a pig farmer. Farmers know how to farm. They know what they’re doing. What’s needed is a bit of support to back them up and get them moving. That’s why defending supply management is very important for dairy, poultry and egg farmers. So is ensuring risk management programs are there for even the non-supply management sectors, so that if there’s a drought or a bad season it doesn’t wipe out the family farm. Those are all things the federal government can do to support them. I think that’s an important point here. Our agriculture sectors are very innovative. It’s quite brilliant. I think sometimes people from the city have an ‘Old McDonald’ image of agriculture, and it’s absolutely not true. It’s very sophisticated. It’s very advanced, and all that’s needed is support and federal leadership to make sure that our family farms can grow and prosper.
Tourism is a huge industry and an economic driver in Perth-Wellington and the NDP is committed to support it. In Niagara Falls recently, Tom Mulcair announced $30 million to promote Canadian tourism to Americans. That’s part of the commitment, to definitely get more tourists to come, support downtown cores. That’s a priority for the NDP.