Interview with Sheila Wood – NDP

It’s been a long time since a provincial NDP candidate wasn’t Dave Nickle. Who are you and what new ideas do you bring to the table?

I’ve lived in the community for over 24 years, I’m a mother of three, a grandmother of three, and my daughter Katherine Fife is also a candidate in Kitchener-Waterloo. She won the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election in 2012. When I was first approached about running for the NDP last March, as a long time NDP member and supported, I thought “oh this could be interesting, but first I better ask Katherine and see what she thinks.” Usually the kids follow in their parents’ footsteps, but here’s the mother following in the daughter’s footsteps. It’s kind of an interesting situation, and if we were to both win we would be the first mother and daughter in the legislature.

I’ve been active in the community for a while, as the general manager of the DBIA for 11 and a half years, then (after a contract in Toronto) I started my own marketing and consulting business, and I’ve volunteered with various organizations. I enjoy working in the community and helping out. What I’ve noticed is the disconnect between the government at Queen’s Park and our riding locally. The issues that bothered me were things like putting a casino in the downtown—I was on the protest line back in January—and it bothered me because I thought “this is not consulting with your riding.” Even though it’s municipal it is a revenue tool for the provincial government. And the horse racing industry is huge for our area. There was that, there were the 250 lay-offs at General Electric that were supposed to be temporary, but I didn’t see any sort of words about “we’re going to work on this” or “we’re going to help you.”

Thirdly, when I kept seeing our unemployment rate going up and up and up I thought “this government is not working.” It’s not. All the money you throw out there in no-strings-attached corporate give-aways, like here’s $50 million, create a few jobs and we’ll come back for a photo-op. It just wasn’t there. Those three issues really bother me. My grandchildren come to me and say “nanny, what’s our life going to be like?” Two are teenagers and are going to university in two to three years. So I put all of this together and said I would like to run in this riding, I’m known for being someone who has no fear, I speak out for people, and I thought I would make a good candidate, and be a strong voice for local issues, and bring it back to our riding.

You mentioned the casino deal that’s been going on, and you’ve been involved with No Casino Peterborough. A lot of local politicians make it seem like a casino is our best option for job creation. What are some alternatives you would work for if elected?

I believe our plan, put out by Andrea Horwath, is the best job creating plan that has been presented.  What we’re saying to small-to-medium sized businesses is “create a job, get a tax credit.” Don’t create a job, don’t get a credit. We’re not handing out the money and we’re not saying to corporations “here we’re going to cut your taxes 30%,” neither would we ever say we’re going to cut 100,000 jobs because that’s how you create jobs. That doesn’t make sense.

We also have a tax credit for manufacturers who invest in their companies by buying equipment or upgrades, as opposed to just saying to them “here’s some money, we hope it keeps you here.” Everyone has to be part of the solution, including businesses and employers. To me it’s a win-win because the employer gets a steady employee and that employee goes from two or three part-time jobs to one job, which has to be 30 hours a week with on-the-job training.

We’re going to take the HST off hydro bills because hydro rates are another killer for us. Without going into all the scandals and the money thrown away, which was started in the Harris/Hudak years and has been continued in the McGuinty/Wynne years, there are four different agencies. We would put those under one agency, and create a Minister of Savings to find savings and put them back into communities like Peterborough.

For students and young people we’re going to freeze postsecondary tuition at 2014 levels, and make provincial student loans interest-free. That will help people who are already into university or college to budget their lives a little bit better. The other thing that ties in with that is we’re going to start a student achievement program to help students succeed. That’s an investment in 1000 or more educational assistants so all kids can get the help they need to succeed in the classroom. Currently there’s something like 35,000 young people waiting for special education help, and we don’t have enough teachers to do that. Mr. Hudak is cutting all this. I think it’s pretty clear to most people what the PC platform is—it’s about privatization—and that’s not how the NDP works. We don’t believe in that.

The NDP has faced criticism this election saying that you have moved more toward the centre. Not towards privatization or anything, but more to …

More of a balanced look at our party. How I like to put it is the NDP has very deep roots in all social areas of the province. We are the only party that has really pushed for that for many years, and people know that. However, we’re also a party that is not afraid to grow more branches, to go with a tree metaphor. We’re rooted, but at the same time we want to have a balanced approach. We’re the party that’s inclusive. We don’t separate anyone out, and I think that’s a good thing. You can’t please everyone all the time, but you do what you think is needed.

One of the criticisms has been that lower-income people might be left out by some of your programs designed to help the middle-class. So what are some things you’re doing for the lowest income people in the community?

I think one of the best things we’re going to do is look at social programs, like the Ontario Disability Support Program. These people are on ODSP and they want to work, but when they do they get a claw-back. So we want to look at that, because it’s like you want to be part of society and you want to feel included, but at the same time if you’re working and you’re getting clawed back that’s not a good thing. We would look at that.

The other thing is: poverty is about jobs. If you don’t have a good job you do not have a chance of a good lifestyle. You can’t get the food and clothes you need, and you can’t pay for accommodations. You’re paying probably half of what you’re getting from social programs on rent, and that’s not right. We would like to see more geared-to-income housing. Some people might call it “social housing,” but our party would like to have the conversation be about geared-to-income. There are places all over the city where they’re asking $600-700. Where are people going to get that kind of money when they’re on fixed incomes?

We also want to invest in retraining programs for workers over the age of 55. There’ve been a lot of people who lost their jobs in the last recession, and now you see in Tim Horton’s young people working alongside seniors. We want to make sure there are programs to increase older workers’ ability to find employment.

What I think is very important is we’re going to invest $15 million into nutritional programs at school. This ties in with our rural area because we want to use local food from our farmers. Students who are undernourished do not learn well, and their chances of absorbing all the information in the classroom when they’re thinking about how they’re hungry are not good.

The three key issues of our plan are job creation, making life more affordable, and stopping the waste of this past government. If we stop the waste that’s been spent on severance pays and CEOs salaries we could save up to $600 million a year, which would go into other programs.

Let’s talk about education. A major part of the platform is a tuition freeze. This is great for students, but it does mean a loss of income for universities if there isn’t something else to supplement them. What do you have in mind?

How we see it is all of that should be a broader conversation with universities and the students. People think governments just do things and that’s it, but it shouldn’t be like that—there should be a broader conversation. I think there are savings to be found in education, but you have to work together to do that. But we’ve set aside that money and we believe it can be done, and the students I’ve talked to say well that’s great. There’s money there if we find efficiencies [through the proposed Minister of Savings] in what’s been going on in the current government, then we will have that money to help higher education. I think it’s a broader conversation, but definitely, to me, freezing tuition is a good thing. If we find that money, then we’re not struggling and universities are not raising their fees. I think we have a great platform, we just have to make sure we win the election.*

Now on a personal view, I believe who you vote for is the person who you believe will bring your voice to Queen’s Park. I’m the type of person who has no fear. When I was with the DBIA I fought big box stores over and over. People say, like the casino, “well, those are jobs.” No, those are low-paying, not unionized jobs with 4-hour shifts, that displace other jobs in our community. I fought against them because I believed at the time that our municipality didn’t give a fair shake to the downtown, to the Moms and Pops who are the base and pay the highest taxes. And look at now, if you go to these big box stores there aren’t 600 people in them. It’s a myth. It’s pixie dust.

* – the jump in topics between these two paragraphs is so stark thanks to a brief recorder malfunction.
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.