By Stephen Petrick
The work of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly is still on pause, after being dissolved in May for the spring provincial election, but Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock’s Member of Provincial Parliament was called to Queen’s Park recently to perform a special duty.
Laurie Scott was asked to offer insights at an orientation session for a group of newly-elected MPPs, representing all major parties. She spent Wednesday, June 15 participating in the sessions where new MPPs were given advice on how to set up constituency offices, manage staff and handle the responsibility of representing a region.
“It was fun,” said Scott. “They were all very appreciative.”
Scott is a suitable choice to give guidance to newcomers, because few are as experienced in provincial politics as the Kinmount native. Scott, a Progressive Conservative, was elected to a sixth term as MPP for the vast rural riding on June 2. By earning 25,594 votes, her total eclipsed all of her six other competitors combined. She’ll now continue in a role she’s held since 2011 and be a veteran that Doug Ford can lean on as he begins a second term as premier.
In an interview to discuss plans for the new term, Scott acknowledged that, as an experienced MPP, she’ll need to provide leadership. The orientation, she said, was a nice non-partisan event to participate in, as it allowed new members of the Queen’s Park family to get to know one another on a personal level.
When it comes to the more partisan work, Scott has a role to play, too. She said, within the Conservative caucus, MPPs are “buddied up” so newer MPPs can work and learn from more experienced ones. Eventually, Ford will need to choose new cabinet ministers and Scott is no stranger to working in those roles.
Last term, she served as Minister of Labour and then, after a shuffle, took on the role of Minister of Infrastructure. She said she’d be happy to take on whatever role is chosen for her this time around.
Whatever happens, though, she suspects she’ll spend much of the new term working on hot-button issues, such as the drive to improve health care services, lowering the cost of living in general and improving access to high-speed internet in rural areas.
Scott has devoted much of her time in recent years to addressing gaps in internet service, given that high-speed internet is widely believed to be a key to improving rural economies.
Scott said the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, a group working to improve access to high-speed Internet, recently awarded a contract to Rogers to add infrastructure that will close some gaps, but some work remains. She plans to continue working with mayors and other community leaders to see how the province, municipalities, the federal government and network providers can work together to close out the last remaining gaps.
“In my riding, there’s some improvement, but there’s at least 20,000 people who will not have high-speed, or not adequate internet, or none at all. Some of those gaps are being built out, but the plan is to (have high speed internet) for everyone.”
The good news for Scott and her colleagues is that, with a PC majority government in place, any motion that the party wants to pass will.
Scott believes Ontarians were comfortable with handing Ford a resounding majority government because he listened to Ontarians’ concerns and has a get-it-done attitude that ensures bureaucracy won’t spoil a good idea.
As an example, she said that when she was Minister of Labour, she went to Ford to address concerns over a law that prevented professional firefighters, who worked for municipalities outside of their own homes, from volunteering in their home communities. “He listened and said, ‘that’s not right. You have my permission to do what you need to do to fix this.’”
That attitude, she said, is leading to the PCs passing budgets with big investments in health care and infrastructure, with little opposition.
On health care, specifically, the PCs plan to add 30,000 new long-term care beds in the province by 2028. Only 611 new beds were added to the provincial system between 2011 and 2018, the PCs say.
“We’ve been through two tough years in the pandemic,” she said. “We’ve made some great announcements in the riding. (It’s about) continuing to work with our health care providers to advance their needs.”
When not working at Queen’s Park, Scott will continue to get out and about in the riding as much as possible. She’s conscious of the fact that Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock residents have shown incredible trust in her; so she tries to show her appreciation back and ensure that trust remains.
“I try to be in my community as much as I can be,” she said. “I like being with people at their events and community celebrations. I genuinely do care about my community and I try my best to help — I think people see that.”