Jeff Leal served as MPP for Peterborough-Kawartha from 2003-2018 representing the Liberal Party of Ontario. While in the legislature, he served in Cabinet, holding the portfolios of Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Services as well as Minister of Small Business. Before entering provincial politics, Mr. Leal served as Otonabee Ward Councillor from 1985-2003. He is Peterborough born and raised and attended Kenner College and Trent University.
Mr. Leal’s platform is summarised in the slogan “Building our Tomorrow Together.” His plan has four pillars: Providing effective government; Developing additional affordable housing; Investing in community infrastructure; and fostering Peterborough as THE place to invest, work, live and play.
When I interviewed Mr. Leal for this profile, I had already written a portion of the lead for this piece. When I opened our conversation, I was somewhat stunned when he recited back to me almost verbatim what I had already written, and what now appears in this article.
But perhaps I shouldn’t have been. I reminded myself that I was speaking with a man with over 30 years of political experience behind him and that by this point in the campaign, and in his career, there was probably nothing a very junior editor and journalist could do to get under that well-established political front.
He began by discussing his children, and his belief that a priority for those in public life should be ensuring that future generations are able to make their own positive contributions to their communities. For Mr. Leal, this means having the option of attaining a quality education and being able to find meaningful employment.
Attracting talent and ensuring that people stay in Peterborough following graduation is essential to many of Leal’s initiatives that he plans to launch should he be elected Mayor.
“It’s important to remind ourselves by having positive growth that it generates the kind of revenue we need to attack homelessness in our community, to fund programs related to climate change, and to make those strategic investments that makes Peterborough a destination of choice,” he told me before adding that his focus is also on international talents.
“Diversity has helped many other communities grow in the province of Ontario. We can think of Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge as good examples of where diversity is a big strength in driving and driving those communities forward.”
Of course, part of ensuring that students are coming to and staying in Peterborough and the surrounding area is the amount of affordable and safe housing, both during their time as students and after. Unlike other candidates who suggested the answer would come in the form of Trent and Fleming building more student residences, and putting students up in the extra rooms of empty nesters and seniors around the city, Mr. Leal began his answer with what the city can do to incentivize developers to quickly build the stock of housing in the area what would be affordable and available to students.
“We need to create what I call Service Peterborough for housing, a one stop multifaceted centre for developers to apply process and expedite approvals in the planning department to to get more stock built in the community. We also believe we can build additional affordable homes by leveraging the equity of the city’s current social housing stock, which we will be required to do with some of the new federal programs,” he told me during our conversation.
“I also believe that to the two agencies [Peterborough Housing Corporation, and a new entity called the Government Business Enterprise] that we appoint individuals who have experience in housing,” adding too that he would like to see “an opportunity for student representation from both Trent and Fleming to be part of that going forward to make sure that perspective is also brought to the table, which from time to time can be different from other housing advocates.”
The prospect of student involvement in city committee and organisation work, and the recognition that students have a particular point of view, was a novel one amongst the candidates I interviewed. Mr. Leal has stated in previous interviews with local media that he would be interested in the creation of citizen committees to find solutions to the problems affecting the city, such as the downtown, the opioid crisis, the lack of an employment land deal with Cavan and homelessness.
Later in our conversation, Mr. Leal confirmed that students would be encouraged to sit on and be a part of city committees. “You need all voices,” he said. “You know, the best government in the world is the government that has multiple voices.”
Mr. Leal also feels that his experience in both city council and in the provincial legislature has given him a unique perspective that allows him to understand how different levels of government can come together to solve problems. He reminded me that as an MPP in 2009, he announced that the GO bus would be coming to Peterborough and that it was operational by September of that same year.
On transit issues affecting the residents of Peterborough, Mr. Leal related that “all options need to be put on the table” including, he said, the potential for free transit services in order to boost ridership and create trust in the system.
“Nobody has a monopoly on a good idea,” Mr. Leal told me before talking about his experiences representing Ontario at the 2015 Trans Pacific Partnership and how he had to reach across the isle multiple times as a Minister.
There is little doubt that Mr. Leal has the background and experience for the Mayor’s office. His answers to my questions demonstrated a certain polish which could only come from years of saying what you think someone wants to hear in order for them to get off your back. For every novel notion, there was a classic pull back from the edge before making any real statement.
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