The event, organized by the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, brought together Sly Castaldi of the Liberal Party, the PC Party‘s Ray Ferraro, New Democrat Aggie Mlynarz, and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner.
It was the second debate of the campaign, but unlike the first, candidates were given the chance to respond to their opponents.
The candidates touched on a variety of topics impacting Guelph, including water protection, the shortage of affordable housing, public transportation and hospital wait times.
However, one of the most contentious topics surrounded the province’s sexual education curriculum, with Ferraro saying his party was totally against it and would scrap it if they were voted into power.
“This is not something the teachers should teach my children or somebody’s children. This is a parent’s responsibility,” he said. “This is getting really weird, where the government wants to take your children and raise them for you.”
Both Castaldi and Mlynarz used their rebuttals to retaliate against Ferraro’s comments.
“I don’t understand why anybody would campaign on this particular issue,” Castaldi said. “You have rape crisis centres across this province who see kids every day, who are victims of sexual harassment and violence.”
“I really don’t understand why we would put kids in this province in jeopardy by not having this curriculum.”
“This is a serious issue,” Mlynarz echoed. “We need to be talking about sexual health and sexual education. Kids can get hurt.”
Mlynarz appeared to be the most outspoken candidate out of the four and also targeted Schreiner’s Green Party platform and the Liberals’ health care plans.
After, she said in an interview that she is willing to call out candidates and their promises.
“I feel I was willing to ask for clarification in parts of the platform that I was concerned with for all of the parties, so I overall I feel that was an important side of myself to show to the voters.”
While the majority of the debate stuck to issues surrounding the entire province, there were points when the candidates were focused on the issues impacting Guelph.
When asked about one of the biggest issues, protecting Guelph’s water supply, Schreiner said the rules in Ontario are broken.
“They don’t prioritize water for communities and people first,” he said. “I believe government has a sacred responsibility to manage water in the public trust as a public resource with everyone having a human right to access clean drinking water.”
Castaldi called the issue heated and complicated, and pledged to do everything to protect the quality and quantity of Guelph’s water, but she also defended the laws already in place.
“Currently Ontario has some of the strongest water-taking protections in Canada,” she explained. “There is a moratorium a new bottled-water facilities and we’re increasing the fees when it comes to taking the water.”
In an odd twist for a candidates debate, Ferraro actually defended the Liberals and what they have done so far when it comes to protecting the water supply from the Dolime Quarry outside of Guelph and Nestle’s operation in Aberfoyle.
“They’ve had no problems for 15 years, they have an insurance policy for people whose wells might go dry,” he said. “If there was a problem with the water, it would be addressed quickly, but so far, there has not been.”
Mlynarz said the New Democrats would look over expired permits and mentioned the local advocacy group, the Wellington Water Watchers, actually sat down with party leader Andrea Horwath to develop a water strategy.
“We need to prioritize issues such as water and how our unique population will grow in the next 10 years and how our water systems will be affected by that,” she said.
Candidates representing the Libertarian Party, Communist Party, None of the Above Party and the Ontario Party were not invited to the debate.
At least two more debates are scheduled before the June 7 election.