Pettapiece prepares to say goodbye as June election draws closer

  • Council   Friday, May 13, 2022   Matthew Harris

In the decade-plus that Randy Pettapiece has been the Member of Provincial Parliament for this area, he’s seen how provincial government works from both sides of the aisle. There have been frustrations to go with celebrations, missed opportunities to offset milestone accomplishments.

And as he enters his final days as the MPP for Perth-Wellington, Pettapiece took a look back at how everything unfolded and how, for his part, it played out pretty much the way it had to.

“Picking out my most significant achievements as MPP for this riding … that’s kind of a difficult question because there have been things from back then and things recently that have been big,” he said. “If you look back to when I was first elected, you look at the wind turbine issue which pretty much helped me get elected in the first place during my first term. There was a lot of resistance to that and the way government worked at that time with the Green Energy Act … being in opposition meant we had no say. But the communities across North Perth jumped in and it took a lot of effort but we got those projects stopped.”

One of his other achievements was his work on long-term care homes, work that got started when Hillside Nursing Home made news for its scheduled closure which meant beds would be moved out of the area. While that issue hasn’t been totally resolved, Pettapiece believes he’s done his best to preserve long-term care in the riding.

“The government of the day kept coming back saying that we had too many beds here and we could never understand that – we had a backlog of people and we still do, trying to find places in nursing homes,” he said. “With baby boomers coming along, it was just going to increase that pressure. So the previous government to us, they only created 670 beds over 15 years. But once again, with a lot of community support, we got involved and we made a recent announcement to build a new nursing home complex in Perth County. That was quite a win for the riding.”

Pettapiece also took the opportunity to point that his work to get the Rea and Walter Act (Truss and Lightweight Construction Identification) – a bill change parts of the building code in the wake of the deaths of firefighters Ken Rea and Ray Walter of Listowel – was passed after a lot of work. When asked if there was anything on the other side of the ledger that he just had to live with even if he didn’t approve, Pettapiece couldn’t help but crack a joke.

“Well, you know we had 72 MPPs so we had a pretty big majority … but you can’t always get 72 MPPs to agree on everything,” he laughed. “We would hold caucus meetings every Tuesday, and I think I’ve tried to look at both sides of the story. Certainly there were things I didn’t agree with fully, but after it was explained to me, if I was able to look at the other wise and say, ‘you know, maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be’, then it wasn’t so bad. I can’t name any specific bills that were like that, but it’s a different story when you’re in government or in opposition. And for six years, I was part of the minority and there were some frustrating times.”

Taking a look at the whole riding and how it is sometimes seen as a house divided (Conservative support in the more rural areas, while Liberal and NDP backers tend to reside in urban centres), Pettapiece had to ponder the question of whether or not the riding is in a better place now than when he first assumed office in 2011.

“We had just come through a recent recession, which didn’t do anybody any good at all – in this riding, in Ontario and around the world,” he said. “But now we find ourselves in a position that sees record numbers of manufacturers and businesses in need of employees. We have to find ways to attract people to the trades, to attract drivers and farm workers and whatever else. It’s a neat position to be in because that means our industries and our businesses are enjoying better times than they were back then.”

Whichever party forms the next government in Queen’s Park will have their hands full – inflation, farming/land issues, health care, home ownership are just a small sample of what’s waiting. But Pettapiece believes the province is in good shape to handle whatever is coming, pointing out that province’s chief financial officer is saying Ontario is on track to eliminate its deficit in a few years. That, Pettapiece says, gives him hope.

“This is a person who is not a member of a government party – he just crunches numbers and he believes we’re ahead of what we have projected,” Pettapiece said. “He thinks the way we are going right now will get us to (deficit elimination) in a couple of years. Another reason I have hope is that industries are coming back to Ontario that had left in the past years because of different issues. Just look at the auto industry – GM, Daimler Chrysler and Ford all went through some issues and they pulled out of Ontario and went elsewhere, but they’re coming back. They’re seeing Ontario as a place to invest in again.”

In wrapping up his thoughts, Pettapiece was asked if he felt he was leaving anything on the table unfinished. There’s always something to be done, he said, which is true of any job. But in making the decision to step away and let someone else take up the charge – that someone being former assistant Matthew Rae – Pettapiece knew it was the right time to go.

“I want to retire and I want to do some other things,” he said. “As far as being satisfied with my work, I’ll let somebody else judge that. I think we’ve done a fairly good job since we’ve been here – my staff has been incredible in helping me through things and keeping me out of trouble. But I look at that first election where I won by only 210 votes. And in my last election, I was between 8,000-9,000 votes ahead. That gives me some satisfaction, being trusted for three elections.”