Kitchener Centre candidates weigh in on affordable housing, how to help students with learning loss

Kitchener Centre is a riding that faces a number of challenges, including a rise in homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, the need to address climate change and students in the area who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Five people are running in the Kitchener Centre riding in this Ontario election. They are, alphabetically:

  • Peter Beimers, New Blue Party.
  • Laura Mae Lindo, incumbent, New Democratic Party.
  • Wayne Mak, Green Party.
  • Jim Schmidt, Progressive Conservative Party.
  • Kelly Steiss, Liberal Party.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo invited the candidates from the four major parties to take part in a panel discussion. The panel was held Monday at Catalyst 137 in Kitchener. Lindo, Mak and Steiss attended.

Schmidt declined to take part in the panel and also declined CBC’s offer of a one-on-one interview. CBC emailed him the questions asked to the other major party candidates and Schmidt provided a written response on May 18. His answers have been included below.

The full audio of the panel is available below.

Housing a growing concern

A growing encampment near downtown Kitchener beside the train station is a visible reminder that some in the riding are experiencing homelessness and there’s a lack of affordable housing options.

Lindo said housing needs to be addressed through an anti-poverty strategy.

“There’s been a lot of talk from all of the parties about the need to increase the housing stock, and that’s really important,” Lindo said.

She said while serving as the member of provincial parliament for the last four years, her office heard repeatedly about people who got into housing, and then lost it because they couldn’t keep up with the bills.

“If we don’t provide the tools for people to hold on to those houses, whether it’s the mental health supports, understanding the importance of deeply affordable housing, ensuring that people have access to addictions, supports and specialists, that they need mental health supports, then people aren’t going to be able to remain in their homes.”

Lindo said many were relying on funding from the municipality or the province, but the funding came late in the month, past when rent was due.

“We were making phone calls to landlords trying to make sure that they weren’t going to actually evict tenants because the problem wasn’t the tenant,” Lindo said. “The problem was the system and the structure around [them] that didn’t quite understand how to ensure that people had what they needed in a timely fashion.”

Mak said housing is a top issue he hears when he knocks on doors.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a single one-size catch-all solution to this.”

He said when he is out canvassing, he’s been “appalled” by the “sheer amount of empty, vacant homes.”

“I’m not talking about people who go on vacation, but like, there’s no furniture inside and … they’re taking up lost spaces in our communities where people could actually have a lively part of their communities there.”

He’d like to see a vacant home tax implemented. But, he added, more homes need to be built, including homes by non-profits who will keep things affordable.

Steiss said she has two adult children who still live with her.

“I love them dearly, but their opportunity to get out and start their life in their new home … doesn’t seem like an attainable option for them,” she said.

She said the next government needs to look at increasing housing stock and offer supports to young people to buy their first home.

She said rent needs to be affordable, too, and so some control measures need to be put in place to address rising costs.

“Housing is a human right,” she said. “We really need to make sure that is the vision that we are working towards.”

She said the government needs to recognize there are many reasons some people are finding themselves without a home and may be living in a shelter or encampment. 

“We have some fabulous community partners that are equipped and ready to work with the province to address homelessness, to address the needs of shelter care that talk about the complex and diverse needs of people who are not housed at this time.”

Schmidt said in an emailed statement that the Progressive Conservatives see the biggest issue in the housing crisis as “not enough homes.”

He wrote the PCs would “remove barriers and help build new homes across Ontario.” Those houses will be “homes that people can afford and make life more affordable.”

Disrupted education

Students have been impacted by the teachers’ strikes in early 2020, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw many learn from home as schools switched to remote learning. School boards have acknowledged the pandemic led to learning loss in students.

Mak said investments are needed in education to help students catch up.

“Online learning just doesn’t substitute real in-person instruction,” he said. “The system during COVID forced teachers to do a hybrid system. It’s just the worst of all worlds. So we need to invest back in education.”

Steiss said the pandemic made clear that most teachers care deeply for their students. 

“We need to invest in our teachers, and in our education system and in the supports around education,” she said, adding the Liberals would put $10 billion into eliminating the repair backlog in schools.

She said she’s heard from educators there wasn’t “meaningful investment” during the pandemic, but rather “stopgap measures” such as portable HEPA filters in classrooms.

Steiss also mentioned the Liberal promise to bring back Grade 13 so that students, who may already do a second year of Grade 12 — sometimes called a “victory lap” — won’t feel like they’re “diverting the system.”

Steiss also said her party would look to cap class sizes at 20 students and end Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) testing, which is done in Grades 3 and 6.

“We might even save a bit more money there because there was a whole minister of EQAO and if we didn’t have that anymore, we probably wouldn’t need to be funding that position,” she said. 

Lindo said the NDP advocated to cap class sizes before the pandemic “and we were advocating for it because there was learning loss that was happening there with these large class sizes.” They were also calling on the government to make physical improvements to schools that needed repairs, she said.

During the pandemic, some students stopped attending school because they weren’t able to do remote learning, Lindo said. 

“If we’re going to invest in kids, we’ve got to also find all of those kids and make sure that they have what they need to get back in, which also means that within our education system, we need to invest in mental health.

“I think having a better understanding of what that means to these kids, what that learning loss means to their own development as people in this world when they’re starting to feel that they can’t attain whatever their dreams are because they’re not doing as well at reading or writing or even social engagement.”

Schmidt’s emailed statement did not address education.

Voting day is June 2.

LISTEN | The candidates were also asked what they would do to advocate for climate change at Queen’s Park, what can be done to address the rising cost of living and what they want voters to know about them. Those answers can be heard in the full audio of the panel below:

The Morning Edition – K-W31:50Ontario Votes 2022: Kitchener Centre candidates on housing, climate change and education

Three Kitchener Centre candidates attended a panel discussion hosted by CBC Kitchener-Waterloo’s Craig Norris to talk about top issues in the provincial election. In attendance were: Laura Mae Lindo of the NDP, Wayne Mak of the Green party and Kelly Steiss of the Liberals. Progressive Conservative candidate Jim Schmidt declined the invitation. Also running in this riding is Peter Beimers of the New Blue Party.