Local Issue. Provincial Significance

The future of our community may be decided this week.

Ontario’s provincial election is Thursday October 6th. The riding of Chatham-Kent Essex has four candidates vying to become our next Member of Provincial Parliament, replacing veteran Pat Hoy who retired after 15 years in office. Whoever wins on Thursday will inherit political responsibility for Rondeau Provincial Park.

Chatham-Kent Essex candidates are Rick Nicholls (PC), Paul Watson (Liberal), Aleksandra Navarro (NDP). Holly Sullivan (Green) has not participated in the campaign process.

The RCA has been diligent keeping Rondeau front-and-centre in local Q&A sessions and debates. In order to encourage “educated voting” we have collated all the Rondeau-related responses from all candidates and present them below…

C-K Chamber of Commerce Debate…

How do you think the province should handle Rondeau Provincial Park, its cottagers and the 2017 lease expiry date?

Rick Nicholls, Progressive Conservative candidate

There is not a simple, quick-fix answer to this question. Discussions involving federal and provincial governments has been going on for more than a decade with no clear direction or resolution. When elected, I will meet with all parties involved, learn the detailed facts with the intention of resolving this sensitive issue.

Paul Watson, Liberal candidate

I support the cottagers 100 per cent and am the only candidate to state that publicly. I have camped at and visited Rondeau many times over the years, and am well versed on the issues, having dealt with them as a Chatham-Kent councillor. I will work closely with the cottagers in revising the recent lease extension proposal with the Minister of Natural Resources.

Aleksandra Navarro, NDP candidate

The cottages on Rondeau Bay bring in a significant amount of revenue to our community, as well as our province, as many of the cottage owners are in fact Americans. It’s a contentious local issue, and one that I’d like to sit down with all stakeholders and discuss, so that I can evaluate the issue in light of what’s best for our community as a whole, and bring that local message to Queens Park.

Note: The RCA is not aware of any federal responsibility for Rondeau Provincial Park. It is solely & exclusively provincial jurisdiction.

Village of Highgate Debate…

Paragraph courtesy The Chatham-Kent Daily Post written by Greg Holden.

“Once the preliminaries were over the real politics began when the voters got their chance to ask questions. The first interesting moment is when all 3 candidates were asked if they support long-term leases at Rondeau Park. Liberal Paul Watson was the only candidate to say yes. Conservative Rick Nicholls said he would sit down to get the full picture. The NDPs Aleksandra Navarro said she would meet with the community on the issue.”

CFCO Radio Debate…

The following question was submitted to the producers of the CFCO radio debate, however it was dropped from the broadcast due to time constraints…

“The Chatham-Kent Essex riding contains Rondeau Provincial Park, and Rondeau Provincial Park contains a unique community of nearly 300 cottages. These cottages are all privately owned but they sit on leased land. The leases are administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and they all expire on December 31, 2017. The provincial government plans to demolish all the cottages when their leases expire in barely six years. This will represent the unprecedented destruction of an entire community, the loss of over $60 million in property value, as well as a significant loss of annual revenue to the Province of Ontario. Are you in favour of demolishing Rondeau Provincial Park’s cottages, or are you in favour of long-term tenure for the community? Please explain what you would do as the MPP responsible for Rondeau to achieve that goal.”

Political Points to Ponder

Thoughts by Brian K. French, RCA Vice-President

The PC & Liberal candidates have run carefully-crafted campaigns this time around. Their intent appears to have been to concentrate only on the larger “provincial” topics, tow the party lines, and avoid contentious “local” issues at all costs. There is absolutely nothing local on the websites of either Rick Nicholls or Paul Watson. Both candidates have avoided making direct comments on local issues. Asking for their own specific thoughts on such topics often elicited only memorized off-topic quotes from published party policy. The result has been insipid campaigning leaving precious little personality or content for the voters to chew on.

Specific questions regarding Rondeau fell into this category.

There is no doubt that Liberal candidate Paul Watson is the most vocally supportive for our community. As a long-time municipal councillor he has been kept “in the loop” on our struggle with the MNR for years. As he said during one Q&A session, he is the only candidate to state his unqualified support publicly during this election campaign.

The video clip and media coverage of Rick Nicholls above may cause many voters to NOT vote PC. However we must wonder: Why isn’t Mr Nicholls more supportive? Is he only following provincial party orders to avoid getting bogged-down in local issues?

Well, before Mr Nicholls went to PC Candidate School he sang a much more encouraging tune about Rondeau…

It is unfortunate that voters have to delve deep into email archives to learn how a candidate feels about the impending destruction of an entire community in his riding.

But if Mr Nicholls is in fact following provincial party orders to remain mum on “local issues”, we must be concerned with what their party leader, Tim Hudak, knows about Rondeau.

On March 15th a delegation of RCA Directors had our first meeting with Rick Nicholls at a campaign luncheon.  Provincial PC leader Tim Hudak was the Guest of Honour.  Mr Nicholls got us a brief meeting with Mr Hudak where Dr Dave was able to deliver his eloquent “elevator pitch” summarizing our ongoing lease extension issues.  We found he was already well aware of our situation;  although he made no commitments, he gave us more “face time” than any other provincial party leader ever has.

Added as a point of interest:  The following statement regarding the MNR appears in the PC Party’s Northern Ontario policy document.  Tim Hudak has quoted this at public meetings and it is a remarkably bold thing for any politician to say…

“The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has lost touch with its core mandate. It has become another example of Queen’s Park creating red tape and bureaucracy that only irritates and interferes with the people it’s supposed to serve. This sort of meddlesome bureaucracy costs jobs. The MNR needs change.”

Rondeau’s political influence is not strictly limited to its own Chatham-Kent Essex riding.  The RCA has met with numerous Cabinet Ministers and MPP’s over the past year as a result of the McGuinty government’s “2038 Proposal” and other issues.

Neighbouring Ridings

We have found incumbent Liberal Cabinet Ministers Deb Matthews & Chris Bentley to be extremely supportive of our community’s future.  Liberal Cabinet Ministers Dwight Duncan &  John Wilkinson have met with RCA delegations and have been very willing to learn about our past, present, and future.

On the other hand, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex incumbent MPP Maria VanBommel has not been at all supportive and is not deserving of your vote.

At the Ballot Box

It is not the mandate of the RCA to direct our members whom to vote for. That must always be an individual choice, weighing everyone’s relevant issues in totality. However it is the RCA’s intent to educate our membership so everyone can have a clear picture of where each candidate stands on our primary concern — the future of our cottage community.

Please, review and consider all the information provided above. Get to know your local candidates in your own riding. Read the published platforms for each party, and each party leader.

And when you vote, make sure it’s a vote for Rondeau’s future.

I’ll see you at the ballot box on October 6th.