Wayne Gates has nine years as a provincial politician representing the Niagara Falls riding behind him, but his involvement in the community goes back much further.
He first won the riding in a by-election in 2014 after Liberal MPP Kim Kraitor resigned, and was re-elected for the following two terms. Representing the NDP, which supported labour, was a natural choice, he says.
Before getting into politics, he had been a GM employee, and became the president of what was then the local Canadian Auto Workers 199, now Unifor, standing up for the rights of workers and advocating for decent, well-paying and safe jobs.
He has also served as the campaign chair for the United Way, as a member of the Yellow Shirt Brigade to save the Fort Erie hospital, as Project Share volunteer, and a member of the Ontario Health Coalition.
Wayne and his wife Rita live in Niagara Falls and are proud parents of three daughters, and grandparents of five grandchildren, all living in the Niagara Region.
Health care continues to be top priority, as it has been for the NDP during the pandemic, and Gates is especially concerned about nurse shortages.
“The whole health system needs nurses,” he says, including long-term care homes. “They’re under so much stress, they’re leaving in large numbers. They go to work every day, exhausted, and they see people dying, not allowed to have family members with them. It’s been so tough on them.” And yet the Conservative government’s Bill 124 continues to limit the wages of provincial employees, including nurses, to an increase lower than the rate of inflation, while health care is in crisis, he says. During COVID, the emergency department in Fort Erie was closed, and seniors were dying in long-term care, many of those deaths preventable if it weren’t for a shortage of staff and personal protective equipment.
Issues of affordability and housing are also concerns, says Gates.
“Gas prices are going through the roof. They’ll be up over $2 this weekend. We have to stop it. Oil companies are gouging us, while their profits are going up,” he said, noting their 40 per cent profits during COVID. The NDP introduced a bill to regulate gas prices, but the Conservative government voted against it.
The cost of food is also increasing, while grocery chains like Loblaws, and the owners, the Westons, are already making billions of dollars, and have also made record profits during COVID, he says.
Housing and rental prices are being driven up by speculation, he noted. The NDP is committed to building affordable housing, 1.5 million units over the next decade, and to help with down payments for those buying their first home.
All of this “is hard on our kids and grandkids. How are they going to live?”
Gates says he is protective of culture and heritage, and in the past has been successful in getting money to support the museum and the Shaw Festival, organizations which are so important to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
He is opposed to the creation of the proposed Highway 413, which Doug Ford has promised to build if his party forms the government. The NDP is committed to cancelling Highway 413, which, says Gates, “might save commuters 20 minutes, if that,” and the Bradford Bypass, for environmental reasons. “They are paving over wetlands, and unbelievable farmland. I have a lot of concern for what that might mean to our riding. We have to protect our Greenbelt.”
Gates says he’s not against development, but “we can’t let Ford develop over our community. We have farmland, wineries, grapes. We have so much that we need to protect, to make sure we can keep it.”
Over the last nine years, Gates says, “I have given every ounce of energy to this job.”
He has fought for support for the Shaw Festival, and when the Conservatives were saying no to GO, he fought to get it to Niagara. He worked to keep the Fort Erie race track open, to get the province to fund the operating costs of a new MRI machine, and to get the new Niagara Falls hospital built, “making sure we have local workers building it.”
As an MPP in opposition, “I work for the people, and I want the best for this riding. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Liberal, an NDP, a PC or member of the Green Party. I can work for everybody.
“Tell me what I haven’t done,” he adds, as a challenge. “I work hard. People respect me. And from the bottom of my heart, I love my riding, and I believe I’m being effective for my riding.”
When he goes door-to-door, he says, “I hear people appreciate how hard I work, they appreciate my passion. I’m very humbled by their support.”
He is also very concerned for the younger generation, and the challenges they’ll face. “I’m doing this for them.”