Lanark–Frontenac–Kingston voters ponder life after Randy Hillier
Long-serving MPP's decision not to seek re-election paves way for change, voters say
Rob Eady points to himself as proof that easy access to mental health services is lacking in his corner of rural Ontario.
The Lanark, Ont., resident says he's been waiting for about a year for a video conference with a doctor to change or tweak his prescription.
"We don't have a lot of psychologists in the community. It's basically out of Ottawa or Brockville," he said, each about 80 kilometres away. "Waiting a year, it kind of puts my life on hold in certain ways."
Eady feels that way about his provincial riding of Lanark–Frontenac–Kingston, too.
For the past 15 years, the area has been held by controversial MPP Randy Hillier, who is not running for re-election and faces several criminal charges from protests against COVID-19 rules.
Eady said Hillier neglected local issues such as the need for more economic development.
"I think the biggest issue that's up for grabs by the incoming politicians for our riding is how are they going to ensure that our community catches up," Eady said.
MPP of 15 years
Hillier, who declined to be interviewed for this story, was first elected in the riding as a Progressive Conservative in 2007 after emerging as an outspoken activist for rural property rights. He went on to serve under four party leaders and was re-elected three times.
In March 2019, Hillier was kicked out of caucus.
In recent years, he has served as an Independent MPP and aligned himself with politicians such as Ontario Party Leader Derek Sloan and People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier. They say COVID-19 is not as dangerous as it's being made out to be and believe the government didn't have to intrude so much into people's lives.
This past March, shortly before Ottawa police announced they had charged him in connection with his role in the Freedom Convoy protests, Hillier said he would not be seeking another term.
The charges, none proven in court, include assaulting a peace or public officer.
Michelle Staines said Hillier's behaviour by the end of his time as MPP was "extremely disappointing."
"I didn't vote for him to start with, so obviously I wasn't a huge fan," said Staines, who lives just outside Perth, Ont., and attends the town's Algonquin College campus as a mature student.
"There are some people, locals, who feel like he's done a good job. I feel like somebody could do better."
The issue of affordability hits close to home for Staines. She and her husband sold their house in the centre of town for less than they had hoped.
"We just got our asking price, so now our options of buying another home are obviously very much affected by that because we do not have the excess of money to go put a down payment on these homes that city people are coming and outbidding us [on]," she said.
"I don't even really know what you could do, but if there was some way they could cap how things are … it's just getting so expensive."
Cost of gas adding up
Longtime Perth resident Bob Schofield, who is on a fixed income, agreed the cost of living has gone up.
"I have a small minivan and it used to cost $60 to fill up," he said. "It costs $100 now and I fill up once a week. That's a lot of money out of my pocket."
The cost of groceries is also of concern, Schofield added.
As for Hillier? "He's entitled to his opinion, whether I agree with it or not," he said, noting that the Perth area has reported high vaccination rates relative to other areas of Ontario.
Husband in hospital with COVID
Like Schofield, fellow Perth resident Ruth Buckland still had a mask on hand as she walked her dog in the town's picturesque Stewart Park last week.
Buckland's husband was recently in the hospital, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19 — "a nasty thing," she said.
While her husband had three vaccine doses and did not have to go on a ventilator, Buckland said the experience underscored how COVID-19 remains "a very serious issue" and "so easily spreadable."
"We're all tired of it. But it's not going away any time soon," she said, while also noting that hospitals could use more doctors and nurses.
"They're working very hard, but there definitely needs to be a re-evaluation of the health-care system."