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Bay of Quinte candidates debate infrastructure in Belleville

At the all-candidates debate Wednesday night, discussions were entirely controlled by the moderator, a different approach to debates held recently. This forced certain candidates to answer questions about issues that their party may not give as much attention to. Photo by Allen Steinberg, QNet News

By Allen Steinberg [1]

BELLEVILLE – Conservative candidate Tim Durkin rolled his eyes towards Neil Ellis as he discussed the Liberal Party’s plan for funding local infrastructure.

He waited until Ellis stopped speaking, looked his way, and spoke out against him. It was not Durkin’s turn to speak.

“The province has approved it!” Durkin said in rebuttal after Ellis claimed he is still waiting for Ontario’s approval to fund projects such as bringing Costco to Belleville.

“This riding was supposed to have infrastructure money,” said PC candidate Tim Durkin, the only candidate to leave his seat and stand up during the at all-candidates debate Wednesday evening at the Empire Theatre. Photo by Allen Steinberg, QNet News

In an otherwise orderly discussion, issues regarding infrastructure took the spotlight at the all-candidates debate Wednesday evening at the Empire Theatre. The Belleville Chamber of Commerce hosted the debate which was moderated by chamber president John Tuer. Unlike local debates held throughout the last two weeks, audience members did not have the chance to ask their own questions, and questions asked by the moderator were randomly directed at specific candidates.

Durkin continued to spend time criticizing the Liberal government’s focus, or lack thereof, on infrastructure funds to help grow the city of Belleville. “The fact is that the government has not yet stepped up the plate on this. They’ve had lots of time, and I’d like to see some money announced,” he said.

Neil Ellis defended his party’s progress during his time in the local riding, saying the Liberals are the first party since 1990s to support any infrastructure funding to the Quinte region at all.

Infrastructure in the form of affordable housing was also continuously brought up. Green Party’s Danny Celovsky kicked off the topic by stating that in the eyes of his party, affordable housing is a need for everyone in the city. “Everybody deserves to have a comfortable, affordable home. Without a home, how can you have a life at all? I believe it to be a basic human right,” he said.

Tim Durkin followed Celovsky by zeroing in on a prominent issue at Loyalist College [2] –  the lack of housing for international students [3]. “For 600 international students at Loyalist College, there is not enough supply. It is simple supply and demand,” he said.

To combat the lack of affordable housing in the Bay of Quinte, all parties agreed that the area needs more workers in the trades so that homes can be built. For this to happen, Durkin said that his party would bring in skilled immigrants. “When we talk about skills development and trades, these are some of the biggest problems our area is dealing with right now…The Conservative party is pro-immigration and we need to bring people in,” said Durkin.

Liberal candidate Neil Ellis also took the time to direct his platform’s focus on students at Loyalist College. “I see some students here tonight, and they’re asking me what I’m going to do for students… Students are our next leaders. In order to keep students here, we need to do better. We are going to increase student loans up to $1,200,” he said. Ellis also said he would increase grace periods so that students can find jobs in their fields easier.

The candidates will have a chance to speak to more Loyalist students’ concerns next Tuesday at the “So You Think I Should Vote?” [4] event, an all-candidates meeting held at Loyalist College.

The climate emergency that has dominated discussions at the all-candidate debates so far was brought up a few times, but Green candidate Danny Celovsky was not given many opportunities to speak on this. On climate change, PPC’s Paul Bordonaro simply said “We will get rid of carbon tax.” Tim Durkin also supports getting rid of the carbon tax and instead vows to refocus that money into technology. Stephanie Bell stressed her NDP party’s Green New Deal, and how it not only combats climate change, but social justice issues at large including the need for diversity. “I’m here because I wanted to make sure there were diverse candidates. I couldn’t stand knowing that possibly there wouldn’t be a female candidate up here,” she said during her opening remarks.

Candidates will be able to pinpoint how their party plans on dealing with the ongoing climate emergency Thursday night at the 100 Debates on Environment [5] meeting at Centennial Secondary School [6]. Belleville is one of a hundred locations across the country hosting this debate on the environment. Tim Durkin is the only candidate not attending.