Annual MP/MPP luncheon a time to talk politics, policy and priorities

By Jennifer Bieman, St. Thomas Times-Journal

 

 Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio and MPP Jeff Yurek took a break from their legislative duties to grab lunch with 200 of their constituents Tuesday. The annual MP and MPP midday meet-up, organized by the St. Thomas and District Chamber of Commerce, gave the gathering a glimpse into life as a legislator and each politician’s biggest priorities.
Karen Vecchio
Elgin-Middlesex-London MP
The Details:
The first-term MP made her debut at the legislator luncheon, talking everything from the assisted dying bill to affordable housing and Lyme disease prevention in Elgin-St. Thomas. Vecchio, also the Conservative critic for Families, Children and Social Development, chatted about life on the hill, the tasks she’s tackling and the accomplishments she’s most proud of to date.

Highlight Reel:
Though she’s less than a year into the job, Vecchio already has a lengthy list of accomplishments. This spring, Vecchio led a delegation of local leaders to Port Stanley to discuss the harbour divestiture program with London West MP Kate Young who is also the parliamentary secretary of transport.

On a national scale, the Families, Children and Social Development critic, alongside her ministerial counterpart Jean-Yves Duclos, were invited to speak at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference in Winnipeg at the beginning of June. The gathering was a pivotal moment for the new MP, who is working to build a strong relationship with her counterpart across the aisle.

“It had been the first time one of the opposition member critics was there with the minister,” said Vecchio.

“The minister that I work with, we have been very close in recognizing that there’s no way we’re moving forward if I’m just going to sit there and tell him what he’s doing wrong.”

What’s Next:
Soon Vecchio will be hitting the road to talk affordable housing for seniors and families. The Elgin-Middlesex-London MP is part of a task force that wants to find ways to help individuals and families access affordable housing and address ballooning costs of home ownership in many areas.

“I’ve received a lot of that information and my job is to now look at it and go on the road to find out more about it,” she said.

Closer to home, Vecchio said she’s working to support Elgin St. Thomas Public Health and Health Canada in their efforts to control the spread of tick-borne Lyme disease throughout Southwestern Ontario.

But it doesn’t end there for the multi-tasking MP. Vecchio is also planning a couple local round-table events to discuss the sharing economy and defense policy in the coming months.

Jeff Yurek
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP 

The Details:

The MP and MPP Luncheon wasn’t Yurek’s first rodeo. The two-term MPP, who’s spoken many times before at the meet-up, answered questions and concerns from the audience on everything from job skills to job-killing policies. Though public speeches are old hat for Yurek, he took the podium this year boasting a new hat of sorts – that of Ontario PC health critic.

Highlight Reel:
Yurek is celebrating the success of his private member’s bill Ryan’s Law, which passed into law this spring. The legislation guarantees school-aged children can keep their asthma medication with them at all times and prompts school boards to create asthma-friendly policies.

“I was quite proud that we were able to achieve that goal,” said Yurek, who worked for years trying to make the bill into law.

“I know it’s been slow to be implemented, but the school systems or regions that have implemented it, it’s going quite well.”

What’s Next:

On a provincial level, Yurek is keeping busy as the co-chairman of the PC Party’s health policy development committee. The party is gathering feedback from the public to help shape its health care platform as it gears up for the 2018 provincial election.

Back at home in Elgin-Middlesex-London, Yurek is tackling wind turbines in Dutton-Dunwich.

“We’re working with the residents of Dutton-Dunwich and the municipality to try and overturn the government’s placement of the turbines,” said Yurek, adding the municipality declared themselves an unwilling host but was targeted for turbines anyways.

“Hopefully the government realizes that we need to return autonomy back to our municipalities and let them have a say on what’s going on within their boundaries.”

Yurek is also continuing to fight for the so-called farmer’s freeway, the Glanworth Dr. 401 overpass often used to move heavy agricultural machinery. The overpass is slated for demolition by the Ministry of Transportation as part of their plan to revitalize the Colonel Talbot Rd. interchange.

“These are vehicles that take up the whole road. We don’t want them on Hwy. 4, we don’t want them on Wonderland Rd., we don’t want them on Wellington Rd. due to safety – and the farmers don’t want them there either,” he said.

“We need to ensure that they have their infrastructure and transportation needs met.”

Questions and Answers


What’s your take on the recently announced expansion to Canadian Pension Plan and the uncertain future of the proposed Ontario Pension Plan?

Vecchio: “To me, (CPP expansions) are the greater of two evils. Anytime we’re dealing with pensions, we need to recognize that yes, people need to save for their own future, but should we give them the option rather than making mandatory deductions … It’s a taxation to businesses and it’s less money in the pockets of consumers. That is going to be a huge concern.”

Yurek: “I’m glad they’re backing off on the Ontario Pension Plan,” said Yurek, who is concerned about the bureaucracy that’s already been created to handle the obsolete program. “We want a breakdown of the true costs of how much was spent and how much it’s going to cost us to get out of the Ontario Pension Plan. I think, for a provincial government, the best way to help people save for pensions is to try to reduce the cost of living so they have money at the end of the month to put away.”


What are your biggest concerns about Ontario’s Cap and Trade program and environmental policies in general?


Vecchio
: “The problem that we’re having here is they’ve got some huge urban ideas for all of Canada, and we have to recognize we’re one big country and we can’t just look at Vancouver and Toronto. We need to look at places like St. Thomas and West Elgin, places in Nunavut. People do need their automobiles, people do need to be able to manufacture goods, and they’re coming up with policies that are really good for downtown Toronto, downtown Ottawa and Vancouver, but just have no presence here. We have to make sure we speak loud and clear for rural Canada.”

Yurek: “Our main concern is the fact there’s no separate pot of money that this is going to sit in that can be accountable and transparent. All the monies and revenues from Cap and Trade is going into general revenue with a line item,” said Yurek, adding high electricity costs and concerns over the future of natural gas in Ontario are also worrisome. “Living a greener lifestyle, that’s great, we support that. But we don’t support, number one, taking people’s freedoms away and, number two, making it harder and harder and putting more people into poverty in order to achieve that.”

What keeps you up at night?

Vecchio: “For me, the hardest thing in this term of parliament was Bill C-14 (legislation on medical assistance in dying) … That’s what keeps me up at night. Just making sure I’m making the right decisions and hearing from the people.”

Yurek: “Going into work and there’s some horrific news that something is being cut or lost in our riding and how to deal with that. That would be the main thing I worry about at night, sitting around thinking. I definitely look at the big picture of Ontario, but my thoughts are always with what’s going on in my riding and what I can do to make it better.”