David Shanahan: I was wondering if it’s different running against a sitting member of the government.
Josh Bennett: Steve Clarke is a member of Cabinet, he’s a minister in the cabinet of Doug Ford. He cannot divorce himself from anything Doug Ford has done. But more so, I mean, Steve Clarke has been Doug Ford’s right hand man, using Ministerial Zoning Orders all over Ontario to pave over farmland, to pave over parks, to put up big high rises that benefitted Doug Ford’s developer buddies. So, you know, he is fully on board with everything the government has done.
David Shanahan: It was interesting to see the Liberal Party come out with a definite policy opposing that to some extent. Maybe you can elaborate on that?
Josh Bennett: And this is one of the issues, it’s not the only issue, but it’s one of the issues that really propelled me to run. There’s so many levels to this. First, he didn’t consult any of the community. You know, North Grenville had a strategic plan that involved that land. It was a good plan that had a lot of community involvement, a lot of community consultation. Steve Clarke was fully aware of that plan and then suddenly announced he’s putting it up and, you know, on prime farmland at the old Agricultural College. And he didn’t even make the announcement in Kemptville. He made the announcement in Brockville. And then when some citizens groups popped up and said, you know, we’re opposed to this – one is the Jail Opposition Group, JOG, and then there’s CAPP. And then Steve Clarke tried to weaponize Elections Ontario and complain and say, oh, they’re a third party advertising, you should fine them. And luckily, Elections Ontario said no, these are legitimate protest groups. But it was shameful, I thought, that Steve Clarke would do that. And then he promised to meet with the groups six months ago, and still hasn’t met with them. And he doesn’t show up in Kemptville for much anymore. So that is something that I think is wrong. A jail? And, you know, for one thing, we really, I think, we as Ontario, we need to really think about how many more jails do we really need? Is this a wise investment with public funds? But why on prime farmland? And why Kemptville? He hasn’t released any documentation, saying why Kemptville was selected as a site for a security establishment like a jail. There’s no courthouse, there are no shelters, there’s no public transit. And it’s on prime farmland. It just doesn’t make any sense as to why a jail here.
Full Interview …
David Shanahan: Would the party’s approach then be to simply cancel the project, or to reboot, get restarted with consultation and so on?
Josh Bennett: I mean, right now there’s my position and there’s the party’s position. My personal position is that I’m against this jail. I want to see it stopped. I think it’s the wrong thing for North Grenville. But the prudent thing to do, and this is our party’s position, is to put a pause on it. We’re going to place a moratorium on this entire project. We’re going to release documents to say why Kemptville was selected, and have robust consultation with the locals, with the constituents and the people of North Grenville to really decide as a community, is this something we want? And if the community says and again, you know what, yes, we think this will be good for our economy, and hey, if this is what the community want, then, you know, I’ll back it. I don’t think it’s what the community wants. You know, when I knock on doors in Kemptville, I see a lot of No Jail signs. So to me, I think this is something that shouldn’t happen.
David Shanahan: And in terms of that, what would be the alternative in terms of Liberal investment in the community?
Josh Bennett: Great question, because that’s the thing like, you know, the cost of the jail is going to be massive. And I would rather see that money go towards upgrading our schools. You know, money going towards things like what should we do with that land? I mean, I would love to see some form of agriculture education happening with that land. This is prime farmland we have across Ontario. There is only 5% of Ontario that’s arable farmland. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You know, we need farmland for our food security. I don’t think we’ll bring back an agriculture college. You know, if that could happen, I would be completely all for it. But at the same time, some sort of education, some sort of community way to have some fresh produce, teach young people. I also think we need to start teaching agriculture in schools again. You know, that agriculture is a viable career option.
David Shanahan: One of the issues that North Grenville and Merrickville-Wolford in this part of the world are most concerned with is that we want growth, but at the same time we want to keep that rural identity, small town feel and so on. To what extent can the Liberal Party encourage the rural side of the community, while at the same time not interfering with a proper and directly directed growth?
Josh Bennett: Great, great question. I’ll tell you another reason why I started to run, and it ties in with this, is that about a year and a half ago, the Liberal Party of Ontario started asking me if I would be a candidate and I was, I’ll think about it. But then they said, there’s one other thing we want you to do. We want you to sit on a committee to advise the Ontario Liberal Party on rural policy. And they admitted this to me that, when they were in government, after 15 years, they had stopped listening to the grassroots, and they admitted that we need to start really taking rural Ontario seriously. And we want rural Ontario to have a seat at the table, to be decision makers. And we want rural Ontario to help guide what we should be doing in rural Ontario. And so part of that is preserving farmland. We are going to preserve farmland. We are going to help farmers. We’re going to give them a break, for example, on their carbon tax, because carbon tax, on a grand scale, it helps reduce our emissions. But farmers are taking the brunt of that, they get hit harder than anybody else. They need a break because we need our food security. And so, where does that play in with the rural identity is that we can’t keep building houses on farmland. So we need to focus on smarter and better density where there are houses currently. And I think that can really help with that community feeling that, we’re losing ground. But we’re a mix of urban and rural, you know, 60% rural, 40% identify or live in a more urban setting. And I think that’s a good balance, so that when you live in an urban setting, like Brockville, or the town of Kemptville, you still have that rural sense because it’s so easy to get out and go and walk the trails and you see farmland everywhere. This is what we need to hold on to. And so, I’m committed to working with our municipalities to have the growth we want, but at the same time, protect our green lands, protect our farmlands, protect our waterways. You know, this is important for our area.
I want to see more public transit across our entire riding. And that’s part of the Liberal platform as well. That with Buck-A- Ride also comes huge, unprecedented investment in building public transit. I would like to see some public transit here in Kemptville for a dollar, and that’s going to be a dollar no matter where you are in Ontario, no matter how far you’re going. There’s a bus that runs along the river front, basically between Cornwall and Brockville. And that’s a great start. I want to see that expanded, because this is another way we need to keep ourselves connected. You know, there are people, for example, who struggle to get to doctor’s appointments, who live in rural communities, because there is no public transit, struggle to get to some of the mental health professionals, they need help because there’s no public transit. So this is the kind of infrastructure we need to build up to help see our rural area grow.