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Dunlop's absence at debate 'speaks volumes,' foes say (6 photos)

'Leadership has been absent,' says NDP candidate in reference to Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, who did not show up for Wednesday's event

The absence of Simcoe North’s MPP sparked a lot of debate at a candidates meeting at Creative Nomad Studios in downtown Orillia on Wednesday night.

Progressive Conservative MPP Jill Dunlop, who is seeking re-election, Ontario New Blue Party candidate Mark Douris and Ontario Libertarian Party candidate William Joslin did not show up for the event.

According to moderator Carey Moran, the candidates cited other priorities and a lack of time for their absences.

Ontario Party candidate Aaron MacDonald said Dunlop’s absence “speaks volumes for how the past four years have been.”

Green Party candidate Krystal Brooks agreed, saying Dunlop’s absence at the debate was “unacceptable.”

“I know very little about small businesses,” she said, referring to the debate’s theme, ‘Lets get real about small business.’ “I don’t know if anyone has noticed that I am really, really nervous tonight ... I still showed up.”

NDP candidate Elizabeth Van Houtte says the Dunlop’s absence reflects the way she has acted as MPP for the past four years.

“Leadership has been absent,” she said. “Presence, leadership and visibility is what a really good politician is about.”

Liberal candidate Aaron Cayden Hiltz says it’s important for politicians to be accountable.

“This is my first time running and I’m meeting with people, taking phone calls, and getting Instagram messages about vaccines,” he said. “I’m trying my best to respond to everybody and providing information, even if it’s inconvenient for me … because it’s part of the job.”

The first topic of the night was small-business recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability of small businesses to compete with corporations because of taxes and pandemic-related loans.

McDonald said his party would ensure small businesses would be able to stay open and he promised there would be no more lockdowns.

“If large corporations are essential, so are our small businesses,” he said.

As MPP, he said he would advocate for small and medium-sized businesses to have access to the same grants and loans corporations are afforded. He would also press the government to forgive pandemic-related business loans and to review tax burdens that are currently put on small businesses.

Cayden Hiltz says small businesses “were screwed by unfair closures” during the pandemic and that his party wants to cut the corporate tax rates for businesses that are most impacted by COVID-19. The party also wants to remove fees for new businesses.

“We all know that local business is the heart of our local economy,” he said. “Dollars spent in local businesses often stay in the community.”

Van Houtte says the small-business community has experienced a lack of leadership during the pandemic.

“The fact that people are expected to pay grants back already when their business isn’t full-grown is unacceptable,” she said.

In terms of COVID-19 loans, Van Houtte says there needs to be a moratorium on tax increases. She also said her party is working on a small-business recovery grant.

Brooks said she feels many people have lost trust and faith in their government.

“Many businesses are six figures in debt right now and they can’t pay back those loans,” she said.

She says there need to be tax cuts, more grants, and more investment in small businesses.

The only heated exchange among politicians during the event was when Brooks questioned MacDonald about scrapping the current carbon tax in its entirety. Brooks says it would make more sense to tax carbon polluters in our society.

“I’m not saying we don’t penalize the people who are producing the most carbon,” MacDonald said. “The tax is not directed at corporations; it’s directed at everybody.”

Brooks says the tax is being misdirected and needs to be put on corporations. MacDonald seemed to agree the tax was being misdirected but he remained firm that his party would like to axe it all together.

Other topics discussed included the impact of local women-owned businesses and the difficulties and hurdles they are facing, senior care, and costs that are making it difficult for small businesses to operate.

To watch the full debate, click here.

The Orillia District Chamber of Commerce is hosting a debate this evening from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Orillia City Centre.

The election is June 2.