By Cecilia Nasmith
Within three weeks of being named Ontario's Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini has begun making his mark with a 20-minute address at Queen's Park last week calling for an end to the long-running York University strike.
New Premier Doug Ford is making his mark too, Piccini said in an interview the following day, already keeping a number of campaign promises and reconvening provincial parliament in support of that effort.
“We will not have a government that is indecisive,” he stated.
“We will be decisisve. We will act. We will get back to work.”
At 513 Division St. in Cobourg, the office is up and running, the case files are being worked on, people and their concerns are being supported.
And Piccini is making the rounds of the riding as time permits. He has met with many of its mayors, and has been in touch with all of them.
“This is not a government that is top-down but bottom-up,” he said.
Piccini was named to his cabinet position June 29, and considers himself a strong choice for this spot.
“I am one of 13 Millennial candidates we have in caucus, young professionals,” he said.
“I am quite aware of the realities in our universities and colleges, and that will serve me well.”
Piccini's background included a few years in the public service, specifically foreign affairs. His achievements include work for the Federal government on a strategy to increase the number of international students in Canada through increasing the number of research partnerships.
Of particular inspiration was former Governor-General David Johnston's call for more people-to-people ties that put Canada in an advantageous position on the world stage when it comes to research and innovation. In that way, Piccini said, companies looking to invest will be more disposed to invest in Canada.
He has more recently been working with Canada's Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in their international portfolio.
“I led a trade mission into the Gulf Region in the Middle East – into Asia and Africa – and worked very closely with universities and colleges, and developed a number of close ties,” he said.
“We have a number of clinical fellows in Canada who pursue specialty and sub-specialty training. They perform clinical care in Canda, free of charge to the Canadian taxpayer, which is very valuable.
“Those research partnerships lead to some cutting-edge developments regarding cancer care, aging and dementia.
“In a globalized world, as we see isolationist tendencies, we need to be a Canada that competes on the global stage and innovates and job-creates. Our academic institutions are in the forefront of that,” he said.
The situation at York University cries out for action, he said, and he intends to see that this happens.
“I spoke 20 minutes on right-to-work to get rid of the strike at York. After over four months and two dozen meetings, its students have lost 750 learning hours and over 136 days.
“We will not sit by idly and watch our young people's futures mortgaged. We will ensure they get the education they have paid for.
“It's Canada's third-largest univrsity, the second-largest in Ontario,” he pointed out.
The demographics of York's student body encompass an amazing variety of ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions and nationalities, he said.
“More so than anywhere, it's reflective of the multicultural nature of Ontario, and very much indicative of the cadre of students that work hard and depend on financial assistance. We will not stand by and jeopardize them and leave them in limbo.”
Having had the opportunity for a personal look at the students' side, Piccini recalled a distressing conversation with a nursing student who said the strike is preventing her from getting in her clinical hours. Not only is her education in peril, he said, but this is particularly troublesome in a province that needs more nurses.
“As MPPs, we talk about being for the people,” he said.
“It's not just a slogan. It really is reflective of 15 years – certainly over the last few years – where they have felt they were working harder and getting less, where access to government and getting the truth from government was tough and decisions were made in the interests of insiders.
“Doug said, 'You will be held to a very high account – promises made, promises kept.'
“It's actually having government that is doing precisely what we said we would do. What I'm hearing from folks is that it's certainly refreshing.
“We have wasted no time in getting to work for our constituents, whether it's looking into rolling back the green-energy contracts and saving $790-million or looking at much more.
“We are working with some groups locally on some additional projects already, whether it was one of a number of issues of young people, people on fixed incomes, low-income families, farmers.”
Piccini recalled farmers who spoke with him during the election, hydro bills in hand, wondering what to do.
One thing the new government is doing for these people is removing the chief hydro executive and a board that, as Piccini put it, meets monthly and receives the equivalent of a median salary in Northumberland County per meeting.
“For me, it's a question of the dignity of the people in our community who literally choose between heating and eating, and the insiders in Toronto who were getting rich at the taxpayers' expense. Within two weeks, we managed to do it and it cost the taxpayers nothing.”
Piccini grew up in Port Hope, the son of renowned architect Rino Piccini.
“He's well-respected, hard-working – I learned a lot from my father. I learned a lot from both my parents - my mother is in education.
“I grew up in this community, and I'm proud to live in this community.
“I have friends I went to Dr. Powers with and played hockey with, and many of them have left because there are not those jobs here. I want those people to be able to stay around.
“It's a nice community to retire to, and I fully plan to, but we are not just a bedroom community of the GTA. We will have a robust economy. We are open for business again.”
Government does not create jobs, Piccini said, but it can create the conditions in which jobs can flourish.
“We will be creating those conditions by reducing the small-business tax, creating a competitive environment for businesses to thrive and introducing a consumer-friendly environment,” he listed.
“I love this community, and I think there's a lot of really exciting things happening. And I look forward to our government creating those conditions for job growth and local opportunity, and supporting the businesses that are very much the lifeblood of the community.”