Tory candidate playing for keeps

If Cathe Hoszowski has a favourite children’s book, it’s probably the one about the little engine that could.
As the provincial election approaches—possibly as early as Sept. 25—the Progressive Conservative candidate for Kenora-Rainy River has served notice she is not merely going through the motions.
Although considered a long shot at best against the highly-favoured incumbent—NDP leader Howard Hampton—the former Atikokan municipal councillor insists she has a real shot at taking the seat Hampton has held for 16 years.
“If you had asked me six months ago, I would have told you I was hoping to make a good showing and want people to talk about the real issues facing the north, but now, since I’ve talked to people all over the district, I sense they are responding to me,” said Hoszowski.
There is no question Hoszowski has been putting in the hours. Since being nominated, she has travelled to virtually every part of the second-largest riding in the country, with the exception of the far north. That will wait until the premier drops the writ—a decision many believe could occur as early as this week.
In any case, Hoszowski says she has identified the issues and has staked out her positions. Some of her opinions are not entirely in line with the perceived official position of the government in Queen’s Park, but she insists that is all part of a healthy democratic process.
First and foremost for in her mind, is recognizing the uniqueness of northwestern Ontario—a concept she says is lost on many currently in power.
“What makes this area special is what’s right outside the window,” she explained. “We have so much natural beauty and wealth here, yet we are in danger of losing our best and brightest young people to more developed areas where the jobs are.
“The trick is to strike a balance between preserving what makes us unique and economic development,” added Hoszowski.
Another issue of concern to her is the fact the northwest is almost invisible in the centres of power in the south. That, she says, is the fault of both the government and the local member, and she intends to change that by giving her riding top priority—something, she says, Hampton has failed to do because of his commitment to his party.
“I don’t think we’ve had an MPP in this riding who understands the value of developing good relations with whatever government is in power,” she stressed. “He (Hampton) should be answerable to his constituents, not the NDP. The last thing we need right now is an MPP who is pulled to other parts of Ontario.
“I think it’s more important the who one wants to represent the area be here rather than be the leader of the third party.”
One area in which she is in agreement with Hampton and many others in the area is the new riding boundaries. She says under the new format, people in smaller communities in the Rainy River district will not be as well represented by someone from Thunder Bay as they are now, and she is committed to prevailing upon the premier not to follow the federal example and mirror the boundary changes at the provincial level.
Hoszowski admits she may find herself at odds with her leader over some issues that will likely emerge during a campaign. For instance, she is opposed to the concept of requiring municipalities to hold a referendum before raising taxes. That, she says is Toronto-centric idea that carries little validity here in the north.
“I think that (municipal referenda) makes no sense for the north,” she said. “As a councillor, I’ve seen all you need to do to find out how people feel is go down to the local coffee shop,” she explained.
“It might work down south in the bigger cities where spending might be questionable, but not up here.”
Another hot-button issue sure to emerge in the campaign is the pledge by the Eves government to ban teachers’ strikes during the school year. Here, Hoszowski admits she finds herself on uncomfortable ground. She says matters have become far more contentious than necessary and the best course of action is to tone down the rhetoric and hostility on both sides.
“I think this is a symptom of a deeper problem,” she observed. “There are people within education and the government who want to do the right thing by our kids, but over the years, working relationships have deteriorated to the issue of strikes or no strikes.
“It’s distressing the conversation centres on that one issue,” she remarked.
Ultimately, she says she would support such a ban as a last resort, if only to protect children from having their education further disrupted.
“I think there is a value to the children—particularly those who are already struggling—to guarantee an uninterrupted school year,” she stressed.
Again, Hoszowski sees this as essentially a Southern Ontario phenomenon, based upon a flawed concept—that one size fits all. That, she feels, is in need of a major fix.
“The (education) funding and delivery models were designed in Southern Ontario for a largely urban environment,” she said. “They take those models, plop them onto Northern Ontario and, low and behold, they don’t fit.
“If elected, I want the people who design and build these things to step back and take a look,” she insisted. “There has to be flexibility. We have to make sure those models fit our demographics.”
Having said that, Hoszowski still believes in her leader. Recent crises (SARS, BSE and the power blackout) have severely tested the premier and Hoszowski says he has risen to the occasion.
“These have been a good test for him (Eves) and I think he handled it well,” she said. “Furthermore, what I really like about Ernie is the way he takes his time to think and consult before he speaks.”
Whether Hoszowski will have an opportunity to see for herself how well the premiere consults and listens to dissenting opinions will be determined after the next election, which she predicts, will occur this fall.
In any case, Hoszowski has no doubts about her decision to run and says she will have no regrets if she fails to beat the odds.
“I want to be able to look back and say I made the effort,” she said.