Toronto Centre candidates square off

Despite assurances from a ‘star’ Liberal candidate in this week’s provincial by-election, health care workers and residents of the Toronto Centre riding remained unconvinced that the Ontario government would step in to rescue Toronto Grace Hospital.

Former mayor of Winnipeg, and now Liberal party candidate in the race to replace former George Smitherman, Glen Murray assured a packed all-candidates’ forum Sunday that the province wouldn’t let the 101-year hospital close its doors.

“Grace Hospital is not closing, there is no threat to it,” Murray said Sunday, referring to a conversation he said he’d had with the minister of health, Deb Matthews.

By Monday morning however, health care workers remained nervous and had set up a protest outside the hospital calling for the province to guarantee it would remain open. The Salvation Army, which runs the 220-bed palliative care hospital, has said it can no longer afford to operate it.

New Democratic Party candidate and well-known downtown street nurse, Cathy Crowe, told the Sunday- night forum that her party was committed to keeping the facility open, and she took aim at the health care records of both the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, represented by Pam Taylor.

“We saw the Conservative government, Miss Taylor’s government, kill two hospitals in this riding,” Crowe said. “We lost the Wellesley hospital, we lost the Central hospital. Today we are actually facing the loss of Toronto Grace Hospital, thanks to the Liberal government. We should be up in arms about this.”

Crowe added her experience on the streets has given her a unique insight into the riding: “I’m not a politician, I’m a nurse and what I’ve been doing for the last two years is responding to people’s needs, being a witness, speaking out about it, and looking for solutions.”

Taylor shot back: “I am not a former mayor and I am not a street nurse, but I do believe that who you are is less important than what you do.

“And what I have been doing is working on the ground in this community for all the neighbourhoods that comprise Toronto Centre,” she said.

Stefan Premdas, running for the Green Party, spoke about his commitment to volunteering from an early age and his goal to help steer Ontario toward a new green economy.

“We’ve seen countries like Ireland, New Zealand, Germany elect green governments,” Premdas said. “We’ve seen in our communities apartment buildings (that) green themselves, small businesses greening themselves.

“Green is here. When you go to the polls, know that you’re voting for social justice. A green vote is a vote to help sustain those things.”

Toronto Centre voters will have their say on Thursday, when the by-election is held.