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Randy Pettapiece delivers his maiden speech in the Ontario Legislature on April 2, 2012

April 3, 2012

Mr. Randy Pettapiece: We are debating Bill 19, the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act, for one main reason: the HST. The HST, as you will recall, added costs to many services that landlords require: snow removal, now subject to HST; landscaping, now subject to HST; home improvement services, now subject to HST; hydro, in many cases, subject to HST, and the list goes on.

The PC caucus warned the government about the risks of the HST and the new costs that it would impose on landlords. The McGuinty Liberals ignored the warnings. They pushed new costs on landlords, leaving them with little choice but to raise rents. So often that seems to be this government’s attitude: Let somebody else pay. But we know that it usually doesn’t work that way, to let somebody else pay.

It’s one of the reasons I ran for office, to try to correct this attitude that the government is free to spend without restraint because, after all, somebody can pay. The people of Ontario have paid dearly for this approach.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I want to use the rest of my time during this debate to deliver my maiden speech.

It is an honour and a privilege to represent the people of Perth-Wellington. Our first and foremost responsibility is to the people of our ridings, our constituents. We’re here to serve them.

Bert Johnson knew that well. Many will remember Bert, who served as the MPP for Perth-Middlesex from 1995 to 2004, and as Deputy Speaker of the House. Like me, Bert comes from a farming background. He once remarked that when a farmer finishes plowing his field at the end of the day, he can look around and see his work. However, Bert noted that after a long day at Queen’s Park, it might not always be possible to see the plowed field.

Jean Wilson taught me the importance of public service. Mrs. Wilson was my English and civics teacher at Ridgetown College, where I graduated in 1968. Her lesson was this: No matter what you do, no matter where you go, get involved in your community. It was, for me, a very important lesson. Whether coaching hockey, serving in municipal government or volunteering, you’ll get so much out of it and, most importantly, you’ll benefit your community. That’s what I’ve tried to do as a long-time member of the Monkton Lions Club, that’s what I’ve tried to do as a member of the Monkton arena building committee, and that’s what I’ve tried to do in municipal politics.

In 2003, I was privileged to have been elected to council in the municipality of North Perth, where I served two terms. Municipal politics is something of a family tradition. My father served on council in Grey township in Huron county.

Family is important to me. I grew up on a farm in Essex county, until my family bought a dairy farm near Monkton, Ontario. For 39 years I’ve been married to my wife, Jane. Together, we’ve operated a decorating business and raised our three boys, who are now married with children of their own. I want to thank Jane, and I want to thank our entire family for their strong support along the journey to Queen’s Park. I couldn’t have done it without them. When we have free time, Jane and I like to spend it with our grandchildren. But free time can be hard to find, and I’m sure my colleagues would agree.

Public service compels us to serve our constituents to the best of our ability. It requires us to listen, to assist where possible and to act on their behalf. Before the last election, I knew it was time to act. I was disappointed with many of the policies of this government. It was spending too much and listening too little. It failed to listen to small and rural communities, in particular when it passed the so-called Green Energy Act. That legislation concentrated power in Toronto, grabbing it from municipalities and giving it to the McGuinty government. That was wrong.

From my experience on municipal council, I also knew about problems with MPAC and OMPF, for example. The government assured us that they would be fixed, but they weren’t fixed, and municipalities continue to pay the price. We couldn’t count on the government to follow through on their promises, and I thought it was time for a government that would.

Knowing that our kids were grown up and remembering that important lesson from Mrs. Wilson, I knew I needed to run. I knew I needed to make a difference where I could. It’s an honour to represent the people of the great riding of Perth-Wellington.

We are home to a thriving agricultural industry. It’s an honour to represent farmers and to stand up for their interests. We’re making progress through initiatives like business risk management, which I’ve long supported along with the PC caucus. But farmers know that now is not the time to stand still. It’s time to take a real look at red tape that is strangling too many jobs in too many rural communities.

We’re home to a thriving arts community. Perth-Wellington has two world-class theatre companies, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Drayton festival. It’s an honour to represent everyone who works in the cultural industry and everybody who appreciates its value.

Perth-Wellington is also home to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. I want to encourage all members to visit the hall of fame this summer and spend some time in beautiful St Marys.

Perth-Wellington is also home to the largest Irish festival in North America. For 35 years, Listowel has held Paddyfest, a celebration of Irish heritage and culture. Paddyfest is a celebration lasting two weeks. It features a parade, a gala fundraising event and many bowls of homemade Irish stew made by local church groups. Paddyfest raises upwards of $100,000 for charitable projects. I want to congratulate Matt Edgar, chairman of this year’s Paddyfest, and the many volunteers who made this year’s Paddyfest such a success.

We also remembered last year’s Paddyfest, when tragedy struck. Two volunteer firefighters, Ray Walter and Ken Rea, died while fighting a fire at a local store. They made the ultimate sacrifice. Shaken, the community came together. We supported the families of the fallen firefighters, and we supported all the firefighters in North Perth.

Perth-Wellington is home to a strong manufacturing base. It is an honour to represent everyone in that sector. Our local manufacturers have so much to offer and have driven so much of the prosperity that we in Perth-Wellington have historically enjoyed.

Today, however, Ontario has a manufacturing crisis. In fact, since the McGuinty government came to power, a staggering 293,700 manufacturing jobs have vanished. Meanwhile, Ontario’s overall unemployment rate has been above the national average for 62 consecutive months.

Perth-Wellington is not immune. Last year, we learned that the FRAM plant in Stratford would close, meaning the loss of 300 jobs. Just last week, our community suffered another blow: Cooper Standard in Mitchell announced 107 layoffs.

We must do better, Mr. Speaker. People expect the government to fix what isn’t working and adopt new policies that would attract and sustain our manufacturing sector. The government could start by backing off on its expensive energy experiments and return energy costs to competitive levels, but they’ve refused.

For too many constituents, this is a challenging time. Coping with the rising costs of living or, worse, a job loss is a struggle. Every day our office receives letters, emails and phone calls from across the riding and beyond. Some are calling with good news: an anniversary, a celebration of some sort. But very often people call wanting to express their concerns about a problem they face or about a problem the government is unwilling to confront.

I’ve already expressed a few of their concerns, and I want to take this opportunity to voice a few more. People are concerned about the future of their schools and hospitals. They demand high-quality care, and they need it close to home. I want to again express my support for every hospital in Perth-Wellington and the service they provide.

Last Friday, I attended the grand opening of the MRI suite at Stratford General Hospital. The Minister of Health was there too. This much-needed medical technology wouldn’t have come to Stratford without strong community support. I want to thank the hospital foundation for their outstanding work. Over 10,000 donors contributed over 30,000 gifts to the Heart and Soul campaign. They set an ambitious goal of raising $20 million, and they’ve gone way beyond it.

I am also looking forward to attending the grand opening of the Fisher Family Primary Care Centre in Listowel. This innovative approach to family medicine is an asset to our community, but we still face challenges in health care. Too many are still without a family doctor. Too many in Perth-Wellington, especially in Stratford, don’t have one, and we’re asking the Minister of Health for help. Many of our constituents remain concerned about the future of emergency care at St. Marys Memorial Hospital. They’re asking for the emergency department to remain open 24/7.

Our highway infrastructure is also on the minds of many constituents, and here’s what we need from the Minister of Transportation: Many people from Stratford to the outskirts of New Hamburg have expressed concerns about the future of Highways 7 and 8. The ministry has selected a route to rebuild the highway, but many people have concerns, including the impact of a new highway on local agriculture. And many are concerned about the safety on the existing route. I plan to help ensure that the ministry hears all of my constituents’ values.

My constituents are also expressing their views about this government’s changes to the Ontario Trillium benefit, changes that have left some of our most vulnerable citizens without the refunds they had rightly expected. From a government running a $16-billion deficit, they’re being told that they can’t manage their own money. That’s incredible.

On March 14, I hosted a public wind energy town hall meeting. I am grateful to the member from Nipissing and the member from Huron-Bruce for their support and participation in that community event. People came from across the riding to express their sincere and very serious concerns about the McGuinty government’s wind-power-at-any-cost policy. They believe the McGuinty government is ignoring them, and I believe they’re right.

I’ve already spoken about another group that matters to me-my grandchildren. I’m concerned about the mountain of debt they will inherit and I’m concerned that the present government has no credible plan to pay it down. We’re already borrowing $1.8 million every hour to cover the Liberals’ deficit. Worse yet, the Liberals still appear to be on track to double the deficit to $30 billion.

We in Perth-Wellington recognize the important values of personal responsibility and living within your means. We understand that principle as it applies to our households and our businesses. We don’t understand it when a government tells us that somehow it shouldn’t apply to them.

When the government doesn’t live within its means, when taxes go up, our economy is threatened. When the cost of energy goes up, jobs disappear. For me, that’s the lesson of the past eight years.

It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when Ontario was the economic engine of Canada. I refuse to believe that those days are over and that we should give up hope. Our leader and our caucus have advanced ideas, including reducing red tape, reforming the apprenticeship system and lowering energy costs. These policies would help rebuild Ontario’s economy. They would help ensure that the future can be brighter than the past.

Whatever our party and whatever our background, we should always look for ways to build strong communities: large and small, urban and rural. I’ve already mentioned a few examples of people doing just that. They’re doing it in the arts community. They’re doing it in health care, in business and in our community festivals.

In the time I have left, I want to mention just a few more.

Gary Fizell was a good friend of mine and a leader on the Monkton Wildcats hockey team. He suffered from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. When Gary’s health declined, he and his family had to move into a more accessible home. The community came to their aid, raising money for a new home that could accommodate Gary. Sadly, after a 10-year battle, Gary passed away. To this day, the community holds a fundraiser in his honour. All proceeds are donated to ALS research.

Harvest for Hunger is another example of service to the community. One hundred and twenty combines took the field to set a world record for harvesting 160 acres of soybeans. They narrowly missed the mark, but finished in just 11 minutes and 49 seconds. More important, they did it to raise awareness and raise funds to fight hunger. In total, they raised over $1 million.

To conclude, Mr. Speaker, we should all look for ways to keep the focus where it belongs: on service to the community. We should support it and we should lead it, whenever and wherever there is a need. We should promote its value at every opportunity and encourage that spirit in others.

As MPP for Perth-Wellington, keeping in mind Jean Wilson’s belief in the importance of public service, I intend to do my part.