This Q&A was first published by FlamboroughToday, Village Media's newest local news website.
Donna Skelly, a journalist-turned-politician, says she prefers to push people’s buttons by asking them questions rather than to be on the receiving end.
Nevertheless, the Flamborough–Glanbrook MPP agreed to an interview with The Trillium about her role at Queen’s Park and what to expect from provincial politics in 2024.
Skelly, a Progressive Conservative, was first elected to the legislature in 2018 after two unsuccessful runs at the Liberal incumbent, Ted McMeekin, and a short stint on Hamilton City Council.
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.
Right now, the legislature isn’t sitting. It’s on winter break until late February. What can you tell readers about what we can expect from the next sitting?
I think you're going to expect more of the same — a focus on making life more affordable for Ontarians, which is the number-one issue I hear about. Kids, young people, are struggling to save money to purchase a home. Seniors are struggling to stay in their home. We have to do everything possible to ensure that they can continue to provide for themselves and their families and live and stay where they choose to in Ontario.
We're at a special time of year at Queen's Park. It's pre-budget season and everybody's asking for money for their priorities. I don't expect you to give away any budget secrets, but what can you tell us about what's going on right now?
One of the committees travels across Ontario to hear from constituents about what they would like to see in the budget, and the government side has hosted numerous regional meetings with stakeholders with residents to hear what they want to see in the budget.
My personal effort in my riding is to get more schools and more daycare spaces. I've been really lobbying hard. Many of my colleagues are looking as well for schools but my riding is one of the fastest-growing in Ontario and we need more schools and I'm going to be pushing for that.
Let’s talk about health care. What is your message to Flamborough residents who may be concerned about emergency department waits or the lack of a family doctor?
We inherited a health-care system that was broken and we're doing everything possible. It's going to take time. There is no magic bullet, or that would have been used. If there was anything that we could have done to fix this mess overnight, we would have done it, but the reality is in order to have more nurses we have to train more nurses. We are doing everything we can to expand the credentials of our nurses, of our PSWs and of our physicians so that we can have more health-care workers working right across Ontario.
People are living longer and we knew that the grey tsunami was going to impact us. It's not just in Ontario, but globally and now we have to find people to fill the jobs that are vacated by people who are retiring, as well as working with people who are living longer and longer. So it's not going to be an easy fix but it is something that we are laser focused on.
You mentioned your community is growing and the need for new schools and childcare spaces. I know Hamilton's housing target for the next decade is 47,000. Can you talk about what this means for Flamborough and how you expect it to grow?
I'd say most of the growth for young families is in my riding — Flamborough–Glanbrook — so that is Waterdown, Mount Hope, Binbrook and Upper Stoney Creek. That is where most of the growth is. While the city is focusing on establishing more one- and one-and-a-half-bedroom condo units in the downtown core, the people that I'm speaking to want homes where they can raise their family — perhaps have a car, pull it into a driveway, a postage stamp backyard.
That's why I’m doing everything possible to work with developers and to work with my mayor. Mayor Andrea Horwath and I have a very very good relationship. We talk to each other frequently on many issues. We may have different ideologies, but the reality is we both want to build homes and do what's best for our community and we put our politics aside and work towards that.
And I'm also working with Housing Minister Paul Calandra. I'm bringing him here. I want to show him where the growth could be and what we can do to bring in more affordable housing. I have two companies in Hamilton, one is in my riding, that build modular homes. This is the type of outside-the-box project that we have to look at in order to give the next generation the same opportunity that I had.
That’s interesting. I know we’ve never had an associate minister for modular housing before, but we do now — Rob Flack. What’s the government doing on modular housing?
It’s more affordable. Their material is still the same price but because their timeline is so much faster, they’re saving on labour so the cost of the actual unit is significantly lower, and those are the types of projects we have to consider when we’re building homes in Ontario.
In my riding, there are a number of communities that have modular housing. So, you wouldn't have a basement but you would have a really nice two-, three-bedroom, one-bedroom modular home with your own driveway and tiny backyard. Some of them back onto man-made ponds and they have community centres, etc. But they're in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. You don't own the land, you lease the land, but for most homeowners, so what? Lease the land. They have a community and it's an affordable way of getting into the housing market. So it's very, very unique, but I think it's going to present a tremendous opportunity.
You're also Deputy Speaker. Can you tell us a little bit about what that role is, and what your routine is like when the house is sitting?
I absolutely love and feel so blessed to be Deputy Speaker. It's a different perspective — when you sit in the chair, you have to become non-partisan. It can be challenging because of course I am still a member of the government and I may know what's going on. As Deputy Speaker, I still attend caucus meetings, etc., so I understand a lot of the background about why people are debating the way they are and the messaging that they're bringing forth, but my job is to recognize that that has to be put aside. I have to be extremely fair and give all sides an opportunity to be recognized and to debate. And I think for the most part, I have been.
I'm also very cognizant of the fact that emotions can get very heated. We went through a very difficult time when we were talking about the censoring of MPP Sarah Jama from Hamilton Centre. Sometimes it's just a cautionary message to members on both sides: step back, take a deep breath, really compose yourself and then come back into the Chamber, or then raise your hand to speak. Then I think that it's a more productive debate, a more productive conversation. Sometimes it's my job, I feel, to just remind people that there is a decorum we have to adhere to.
Can we turn to politics? We’ve got a relatively new Liberal leader in Bonnie Crombie. The election’s still two years out. What do you expect from the political battle over the next little while?
I don't think much will change until the new leader has a seat.
We will still be pushing forward our objective. Our goals have not shifted whatsoever — we are going to talk about making life affordable. One of the biggest issues is the carbon tax.
We've got to fight this carbon tax because it's driving up the price of just about everything. I meet with farmers — I have a huge rural component in my riding — and I've met with farmers who say it's adding thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to their operating costs, which are just passed on to the consumer. And that means the price of food is getting heavier for something that is doing absolutely nothing.
So, there is a new leader. She is certainly going to, in many ways, unify the Liberal members and perhaps bring a little bit more — what can I say — attention to the Liberal party over the next two years, but it's not going to change how we function as a government, where our priorities are to make life more affordable for residents, and that we will be re-elected in two years.
You were a journalist, and now you're a politician, and I'm always curious about people who've made that transition. What do you like better: asking the questions or answering them?
Because I can push the buttons. I got into politics because I had a show I co-anchored called Square Off with Mark Hebscher. The hot issue of the day was the green energy legislation and the more I learned about it, the more I worried that it was destroying Ontario.
The cost of electricity at the time was a big issue. We were seeing jobs and people leaving companies leaving Ontario because they simply could not compete with their American counterparts.
I felt at the time — I really, really genuinely believed — that somebody had to do something to stop the Liberal government and that's why I threw my hat in.
What else would you like our readers to know?
I feel very blessed to represent a diverse community. It's growing, but I still have the charming rural communities mixed in with these booming suburbs and villages like Waterdown, Binbrook, Mount Hope.
And that next session at Queen's Park, we're going to be focused on improving health care, delivering education and again, building homes, which is really one of my passions right now. I want to do everything possible to ensure that the next generation can. My kids, for example, they're in their 20s, they want to buy a house. I paid $125,000 For my first house and that's what they need now for a down payment. It's just not sustainable. So somebody has to do something and they can count on me that I will do everything possible to ensure that they have the same opportunity I did.