By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Although the campaign trail for this June’s provincial election isn’t officially underway, Premier Kathleen Wynne was in Durham Region rallying the local troops on March 15.
Wynne appeared in support of Oshawa candidate Makini Smith and Whitby candidate Leisa Washington at a meet and greet event.
Upon arriving at The Tap and Tankard restaurant, Ontario’s first female leader was mobbed by party supporters.
She commended Smith and Washington for stepping into the realm of provincial politics.
“They have taken a risk by putting their names on a ballot because they believe it is important for government to do the things people cannot do themselves,” Wynne said. “People want the capacity to look after themselves. But the reality is we came together and created government…generations ago because we need to care for one another.”
Wynne said her government has taken steps to help Ontarians including increasing minimum wage, providing free prescription drugs to residents under 25 years of age and cost-free tuition for low-to-middle income residents.
“Everywhere I go, including walking into this room, someone says thank you for helping, thank you for putting more money into my pocket so I could look after myself and I can look after my family.”
For her, there is still much more for her party to achieve.
“We cannot afford to step back now. We cannot afford to abandon the families who are looking for mental health support for their kids. We cannot abandon the people who are still looking for a job or a training program,” Wynne says. “So that’s what our budget and our platform are going to be about, how do we make sure that the care people need and the care that people want to do for one another they are able to do.”
Smith, a first time candidate, told The Oshawa Express her biggest priority will be to engage the residents of the city.
“There are a lot of areas in Oshawa where the people need their voices heard. I grew up in a rough area in Scarborough, so I’m not afraid to go into certain areas, and I think those are people that need to be heard and their needs to be met.”
Smith says she will focus in on downtown and south Oshawa, an area she’d like to make a difference in.
“I believe there are areas there that need to be cleaned up and need to be safe for the seniors and youth there.”
To achieve this, Smith says it all goes back to engaging with residents, and recognizing different neighbourhoods have specific needs.
“I think sometimes there are people who are making the decisions, but they’re not actually in the community so they don’t know hands on what is happening,” Smith says. “They are making decisions based on their experience and perspective, but if they get in touch with people that are in South Oshawa and hear what they need and what they have to say, changes can be made effectively.”
The increase of opioid-related deaths and human trafficking are issues Smith believes need to be addressed immediately, and it will take more than just financial resources.
“You can throw money at a situation, and even if it changes it temporarily, it’s not going to change it long term,” she says, adding there needs to be a focus on the ‘personal development’ of those who have been affected.
Although recent polls indicate that Wynne’s popularity and approval ratings are low, Smith says the election is not just about the Premier.
“I’ve spoken to a few people who aren’t the biggest fans of Kathleen Wynne, but they are of the Liberals and what they’ve done for people,” she says. “Sometimes it’s getting people to understand that it’s not just about one person… if you have other people within the party that can be your voice and perhaps take away the negative light from people’s perspective, I think that will definitely help.”
In the upcoming provincial election, set for June 7, Smith will be going up against incumbent NDP candidate Jennifer French, and regional and city councillor Bob Chapman who is running as the Progressive Conservative candidate. The Green Party of Ontario have yet to declare a candidate for the Oshawa riding.