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Health care top issue for new NDP candidate

Rick Morelli, a family man and “dispensary entrepreneur”, says Vaughan is ailing and would improve its health by filling the prescription offered by the NDP.

The 41-year-old Vaughan candidate will take up the NDP banner and take on incumbent Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara in the Oct. 10 provincial election. Other challengers are Gayani Weerasinghe of the Progressive Conservatives and Russell Korus of the Green Party.

“I’d just like to try to help make Vaughan a better place to live for my family and for all the other families in the city,” Morelli said in a phone interview from his Woodbridge drug store, one of several he owns. “I think an NDP government would certainly be more sensitive to the needs of working families here.”

Fittingly for a man of his profession, health care sits high on his priority list for Vaughan, including the much discussed hospital.

“We need to establish a facility here in Vaughan that can take care of its residents,” said Morelli, a nine-year resident. “It’s sorely needed because we continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and having to drive into other communities to access simple medial services isn’t reasonable.”

The downloading of services to municipalities, which Morelli traced back to the Mike Harris government, has forced property taxes to rise to levels that are unfair to all homeowners, but especially to seniors, he said.

“It’s created a nightmare out there,” he said. “The boom in real estate hasn’t helped because houses are worth a hell of a lot more than they should be and that‘s led to higher property taxes.

“Seniors are now at a point where they’re screaming about having to pay $4,000 a year or so in property taxes in this area.”

Improving public transportation in a suburban city addicted to the automobile – mostly by poor design – stands out as another major area of concern for Morelli and forms a plank in his campaign platform.

“We have some access to GO Transit, thank God, but the community is in desperate need of a reliable, more local mode of rapid transit,” he said. “If we want to make a real attempt at getting cars off the street, we need to make rapid transit a priority – bring it closer to people’s homes.”

Citing Toronto’s threat to close the Sheppard subway line for lack of funds, Morelli remains wary of the Liberal government’s plan to extend the subway into Vaughan. A ride on Chicago’s el during a recent family trip got him thinking about more economical, above-ground options, he says.

“We need to be looking ahead and seeing how best we can spend money,” he said. “If you’re going to put five or 10 billion dollars into a subway system, you’re going to get a hell of a lot more of a network built if you look at putting it above ground instead of burying it.”

The rising cost of higher education in Ontario is a concern of several of his pharmacy’s staff and is something that an NDP government would reign in, Morelli said.

“Here in my store, I’ve got seven or eight students that work for me, half of which are in university,” he said. “Obviously for them tuition is still an important issue.”

Like the Green Party, Morelli and his NDP are supporting the referendum option of reforming Ontario’s electoral system by bringing in a mixed member proportional representation system.

Under the proposed change, each party would submit an ordered list of candidates before an election. Voters would then pick both a local riding representative and a political party.

Additional MPPs would be selected from that submitted list, resulting in a legislature more closely matching the popular vote.

“Obviously it would benefit our party because we always get a larger percentage of the vote than we get seats,” he said. “But I think it’s something that would benefit all citizens, to have a more representative government working for them.”

Morelli is optimistic about his party’s chances, but he did temper his expectations somewhat.

“I don’t want to paint a picture that we’re planning the world’s greatest victory party,” he said. “But I think that we can make significant gains in this community, just in terms of exposure on certain issues.”

Morelli grew up in Downsview, where he was elected to office as a trustee in Toronto’s Catholic school board in 1988. He now lives in the Hwy. 27 and Rutherford Rd. neighbourhood with wife Carmela, 6-year-old Julian Francis and 3-year-old Claudio Michael.

He holds a degree in political science from York University and is close to completing a business degree.

Vaughan Today 
Friday, August 24, 2007 
Page: 2 
Byline: Philip Alves