Interview with Jeff Leal – Liberal Party

You recently said “if one person is looking for a job in Peterborough that’s one person too many,” but the unemployment rate in Peterborough is the highest in the country, and it’s continued to rise since the recession, so I was wondering what your plans are to decrease that number.

We will continue to work with businesses in our community as we have for the last number of years, such as through strategic investments in  Flying Colours, Siemens, Savage Arms, among others. We’ll continue that approach to foster good partnerships with our business sector, and to make important investments in infrastructure, like the Kawartha Skills and Technology Centre at Fleming College, and the Highway 407 extension. One of the quickest ways we can create jobs is through infrastructure investment, and we’re going to continue in that vein, including investments we made in Trent University.

I also read a document posted on your website, just a general Liberal Party press release, but one I hope you’ll comment on, regarding the auto sector, specifically Toyota, praising them for job creation.

Toyota is now producing their hybrid model, which is quite a coup because it is the only place outside of Japan where Toyota is producing that model.

Well I’m skeptical of that sector because, as I mentioned the recession, the auto sector was notorious for lay-offs during that time, specifically the Big Three [Chrysler, Ford, GM] in Detroit.

Yes, in fact if we had not invested in Chrysler and General Motors that would have affected 460,000 families across Ontario. And you’ve got to keep in mind that the same supply chain that supplies GM and Chrysler also supplies the new domestics like Honda and Toyota, so if you damage the supply chain for the Big Three you damage the rest of them, which could be very problematic.

I’m also wondering what that sector brings to Peterborough, if anything.

Several companies, such as Venture Plastics and Merit Precision, are part of the automotive supply chain, and there are several tool and die makers that are also part of that chain. Plus we have a significant number of General Motors retirees in the area.

Moving to the public sector, you’ve been critical of the Progressive Conservative plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs …

I was a city councillor in Peterborough, and I saw that movie already back in the 1990s.

Well, despite that, it’s definitely something that would help as far as balancing the books is concerned …

Yes, they want to balance the books a year before what we’re proposing, but create havoc to Ontario at the same time.

Well I was wondering what your plan to balance the books was.

By 2017-18. We laid it out in our May 1 budget.

Okay. Back to jobs, Ontario often gets compared to Alberta regarding jobs, insofar as Alberta has lots of job creation going on while Ontario’s isn’t as good. But Alberta’s economy is based heavily on the Tar Sands and environmentally destructive projects. To me it’s ethically questionable but it’s economically very good. What are your thoughts on this sort of resource extraction economy?

One of the things we want to do in Ontario is develop the Ring of Fire. Our budget proposes $1 million to build an all-weather road to get the opportunity to extract those resources. We have already reached agreements with the First Nations communities around that area, which is an important priority in order to move forward.

Now let’s talk education. When I first came to Trent in 2009 tuition was around $6000. In 2013 it was about $7300 for new students. I noticed there hasn’t been a lot said about post-secondary education this election. What will a re-elected Liberal government do to make education more affordable?

Well first of all we brought in the 30% tuition grant, which is still significant. We’ve broadened that somewhat. We’re very concerned because Tim Hudak said he’s going to eliminate that. Andrea Horwath said the NDP would freeze tuition fees. The challenge with that is you’ve got to back fill all that revenue from somewhere. We believe we’ll keep doing strategic investments with both our college and university sectors and maintain that 30% tuition grant.

A criticism of that grant is it only applies to students in their first four years after high school, though now it’s been extended to some students in their fifth year …

Yes, and we continuously look at options to see how we can best maximize that and to improve accessibility.

Will there be any changes to the grant?

I know the college and university sectors have been mulling this over, along with the ministry, but we have broadened the base, and there may be the option to broaden it even more.

You briefly mentioned freezing tuition; is that something that would ever be a possibility for the Liberal government?

Well you have to look at the total funding envelope for universities and colleges. In order to maintain a good infrastructure—up-to-date labs and other equipment—it’s something you should proceed with with great caution to understand what the unintended consequences might be.

There’s been a lot of talk about how enrollment-based funding is not a sustainable system for universities. Since then there has been a new process—the differentiation process.

Yes, and we’re optimistic that Trent will be one of four universities that will actually benefit from this review.

Oh excellent, that’s very good to hear, and we can definitely use the money. But the criticism is that it might work well for universities like Waterloo that are already more focused on certain programs, but hurt more broadly based liberal arts institutions. The burden then falls on students, through increased fees, to cover the cost. How will the Liberal government, if elected, monitor this to minimize the negative impact on universities and students?

Well it’s something we want to monitor very carefully. I know the Ministry of Colleges, Training, and Universities has been working very closely with institutions on this particular file because it is one of the great foundations of a successful economy.

Some administrators have said this process is a threat to institutional autonomy and that the Ontario government is overstepping their bounds since they’re essentially rewarding or punishing universities based on the programs they offer …

One of the things, of course, anytime you move forward with a review or new initiative you always have a diversity of opinion.

So do you agree or disagree with that assessment?

It certainly hasn’t been brought to my attention. I deal with Trent University and Fleming, but I can’t speak of universities or community colleges beyond those two.

About Pat Reddick 85 Articles
Pat was co-editor of Volume 49, along with Matt Rappolt. He's primarily interested in arts coverage, often editorializing on arts issues. He graduated from Trent with a Bachelor's degree in English Lit. Pat hosts or co-hosts several programs at Trent Radio, such as Media Are Plural. You can follow him on Twitter, or watch him eat through his kitchen window. In his spare time Pat reads a lot (q.v. English major), plays video games, and writes fiction. He has a blog or something but I couldn't find out too much about that.