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Whig Standard October 2 2007

Tempers flare at debate

By Brock Harrison

An all-candidates debate at city hall yesterday didn't attract much of a crowd, but it did draw out some nastiness between the combatants as they kicked off the final full week of the campaign.

The afternoon debate, held by the Kingston Council on Aging to explore issues involving senior citizens, attracted less than 30 people to the cavernous Memorial Hall, where a week earlier more than 300 people jammed in for a health care debate.

Liberal candidate John Gerretsen and New Democrat candidate Rick Downes clashed several times over a series of accusations Downes has levelled at Gerretsen throughout the campaign.

Downes, as he's done several times during the last few weeks, blamed Gerretsen for allowing Kingston city councillors to spend money earmarked for roads and bridges, like the third crossing, on the downtown arena.

An angry Gerretsen interrupted Downes, who had the floor, saying, "Not true, not true, not true. Get your facts straight." He was reprimanded by the moderator.

Downes retorted, "I can understand why the sitting member is so sensitive about the issue."

On the doctor shortage, Downes again returned to a theme of his campaign against Gerretsen, accusing him of watching idly as the number of Kingstonians without a family doctor rose.

"I take great exception to the suggestion that myself and my staff in my constituency aren't working hard," Gerretsen said.

Gerretsen also fought back on the MPP pay hike issue that Downes brought up. The former councillor and mayoral candidate has used the pay hike, which increased the premier's salary by $39,000 and the salaries of cabinet ministers such as Gerretsen by $31,000, to portray the Liberals as greedy.

"If you want to talk about accountability, I don't seem to recall any NDP members rejecting the pay hike," Gerretsen said.

Downes shouted back, "They gave it to charity. They gave it to charity," to which Gerretsen said, "So they say."

The candidates sparred over Kingston's yet-to-be-launched bid to have the region designated as under-serviced when it comes to family doctors.

Green party candidate Bridget Doherty said the ratio that determines what constitutes an "underserviced" region needs to be changed. She also suggested offering rent-free clinics to Queen's University medical school graduates as an incentive to keep them in town.

All four candidates pledged support for a plan to transform the third floor of the Confederation Place Hotel into a respite care centre.

On dental care, Tory candidate Dr. John Rapin said proper dental care is more important than prescription drugs, which are covered by the province. He said dental care should be covered.

"We're not talking about million-dollar smiles here, we're talking about basic care," Rapin said.

Doherty said her party would support public dental care as a means of preventative health care. Downes touted his party's $100-million Ontario Smiles plan. Gerretsen said his party is committed to a dental plan that's "not quite as rich as the NDP plan."