CORNWALL, Ontario – Elaine MacDonald is no stranger to the labour landscape in Cornwall and the surrounding area.
So to hear the local NDP candidate talk in the days counting down to Thursday's election that raising the minimum wage for what she considers the most vulnerable in the labour pool should be music to the ears of those looking to scratch out more of a living.
" When the price of bread goes up, wages have to too," she said in an interview. "Minimum wage workers are the most vulnerable in the labour force because they can’t put a little away every paycheck for hard times. A wage hike is only fair. And it should be indexed to inflation."
Critics, though, have suggested businesses can’t afford to shell out more for their employees, and an increase in the minimum wage will do more harm than good.
Not so, according to MacDonald.
"(Provincial NDP leader) Andrea Horwath will raise the minimum wage to $12 over two years and will ensure small businesses won’t be hurt by the hike," she said. "She will lower the small business tax rate from 4.5 to three per cent gradually over two years. As the wage goes up, the tax burden will come down."
While provincial polling data suggests the Ontario Liberals and Progressive-Conservatives appear to be tied headed into the final days of the election, with the NDP a distant third, MacDonald said the message she's hearing from local voters suggests it's the NDP and Tories who are neck-and neck.
"People are discouraged by the Liberal scandals, the sheer waste of money that didn’t bring any benefit and beside that, we have the Conservatives who have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the government to fall," she said. "Everywhere I go, people say we need change. People who say they’ve never voted NDP say they are going to this time. The government has let them down, time and time again and Hudak’s extremism is scaring them."
MacDonald has been able to gain steam locally, especially during public events where she is challenged by voters and her opponents.
"People have seen my performance at all-candidates’ meetings and tell me they want me pushing their issues in Queens park," she said. "And I will. I will bring a formidable set of communications skills to Queens Park."
But it won't be easy.
Incumbent Progressive-Conservative Jim McDonell has been strong at debates as well, and his team has created media events around issues like job creation and the Drive Clean program in an effort to draw awareness and potentially votes to the Tory cause.
MacDonald counters that she is offering something her opponents cannot.
"Competence and stability," she said. "We’re going to make life more affordable and ensure the services people need are there for them: day care, child care, home care, and long-term care.
"We’ll take the HST off hydro and reduce auto insurance rates and freeze university tuition so they can keep more of what they earn and not lose it to hidden charges and user fees for services that their tax dollars are already paying for."
The provincial election is Thursday, with local polls opening at 9 a.m. and closing 12 hours later.