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Kathleen Wynne Rallies Liberal Troops During Stratford Visit

Premier Hopes to Win Back Rural Riding with Farm Candidate

By Amanda Brodhagen,

STRATFORD, Ont. -- Premier Kathleen Wynne has her sights set on winning back seats in rural Ontario. One of those ridings is Perth-Wellington, which the Liberals lost in an upset to Progressive Conservative candidate Randy Pettapeice. Pettapeice narrowly defeated then Liberal MPP John Wilkinson by 210 votes.

Wynne was the keynote speaker at the Perth-Wellington Liberal Association fundraiser for candidate Stewart Skinner, Friday. Skinner represents the sixth generation of farmers in his family and would be considered an asset to the Liberal caucus, which currently lacks representatives from rural ridings.

The harvest-themed dinner, which featured food sourced from the riding, including pork from the candidate’s farm, played to Skinner’s strength – agriculture and food. “I have a very strong connection to agriculture…my family has been farming here for a very long time,” explained Skinner.

While addressing the crowed, Skinner touted the important role that agriculture plays in the riding. “Perth-Wellington is the most prosperous agricultural riding in the province,” he said. “Agriculture is well positioned to drive this province forward,” said Skinner, making reference to Wynne’s challenge to the agri-food sector to double growth over the next seven years.

Skinner gave high praise to Premier Wynne in her dual role as minister of agriculture and food. “I’m excited to have a premier that cares about agriculture… when has agriculture ever had a spotlight like it has had right now.” Skinner also said he is bothered by opponents who suggest that Wynne is only a “part-time” agriculture minister, making the case that there is nothing part-time about her job.

Wynne’s visit was aimed at giving Skinner a leg up in the pre-writ period of an election; it did just that. The sold-out fundraiser filled the room held at the Army Navy and Air Force Veterans Banquet Hall. A total of 175 people were in attendance, at $150 a pop. “We need this riding back and we need Stewart at Queen’s Park,” Wynne told a crowed of supporters.

In her address, Wynne spoke about the relationship between different regions in the province, noting that she isn’t sold on the widely held belief that there is a divide between rural and urban communities, “we have the same aspirations for the province,” she said. Acknowledging the past, Wynne said she is working hard to address the mistakes of her predecessor, including issues around wind energy. “We are not going to back away from renewable energy. But I will say that we need better processes in place...,” said Wynne.

(Perth-Wellington Liberal candidate Stewart Skinner’s campaign sign propped up at fundraising dinner.)

Wind Turbines Remain a Turbulent Issue in Perth-Wellington

In anticipation of the premier’s visit, about a dozen wind turbine protestors gathered outside the Army Navy and Air Force Veterans Banquet Hall to ‘greet’ her with anti-wind turbine signs. The concerned citizens were largely from the North Perth area, which just so happens to be Skinner’s territory.

Spokesperson for the group, Listowel area dairy farmer Tim Martin said he hopes that their presence will remind the premier that many rural communities aren’t happy about the Liberal’s wind energy policies. “We’re just hoping to get the premier’s attention,” he said. There are about 73 municipalities and community groups who have declared themselves as not willing hosts of industrial wind turbines.

Once the premier arrived, she made a point to briefly address the protestors, where she acknowledged there are “strong feelings” about the subject. “There are strong feelings on both sides,” she said. “If we could roll back time and have a better process up front I would do that.” After addressing the group, Wynne met privately with Martin and another concerned citizen.

Martin admits that he has voted Liberal in the past, but likely won’t next time around. He became concerned about the wind turbine issue about two years ago. “I started to become alarmed after seeing people being forced from their homes,” he said. Martin is calling for setbacks of at least 2,500 feet or more. Currently regulation allows wind turbines to be 500 meters away from dwellings. Rural residences are largely the ones who have objections to wind energy, mainly because wind turbines are built in rural areas in the province, away from urban centres.

Key issues of concern include:

• Health issues  - noise and shadow flicker
• Property value decrease
• Viability - wind turbine inefficiency
• Environmental impacts – loss of farmland, pose risk to birds and bats

If anti-wind groups have any sway in the next election, it will be an uphill battle for Skinner, as it could end in defeat just like his predecessor. Skinner’s opponent, Pettapeice, who also has farming-roots and, has been critical of wind farm development, and has called for a moratorium on future projects.

(Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne briefly meets with wind turbine protesters in Stratford on Friday, Nov. 8.)

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