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Schenk confident in her ability to win in rural Ontario for the Liberals

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Lisa Thompson is a one issue candidate, according to Colleen Schenk, who is running on the Liberal ticket in the Huron-Bruce riding in the June 12 election.

But Huron-Bruce isn't a one issue riding, and that's one of the reasons why Schenk is looking to unseat the incumbent and give back a voice to rural Ontario in the provincial legislature.

"I think I have the experience to bring forward speaking on behalf of rural people," Schenk said in a phone interview from the campaign trail Saturday. "I think we need someone from the rural area who can speak in the government to rural issues."

Not only is Huron-Bruce not a one issue riding, Schenk believes the current MPP is focussing entirely on the wrong issue.

"Some people are upset with turbines, but it's certainly in the minority," she said.

Thompson has spoken regularly in opposition to wind turbines since she was elected in 2011. Schenk feels her opponent has focussed too much on the wind issue, arguing there are other issues in Huron-Bruce that constituents are telling her about on a daily basis.

However, Schenk knows there have been mistakes in the way wind power has been introduced in the province, since turbines were first proposed for Ontario in the final years of the Ernie Eves government.

"(Turbines) were first introduced, of course, by the Conservatives in Ontario, with no regulations whatsoever. The Liberals came in and they started putting regulations in place," Schenk said. "But, I think it probably should have been delivered a little bit differently, and looked at a little bit differently, with more consultation, from the beginning."

Despite the controversy, the turbines, Schenk believes, play a role in one of main sectors of the Huron-Bruce economy: energy production

"Huron-Bruce is the powerhouse of the province," she said. "It's home to Bruce Power."

While the nuclear power generator has the full support of Schenk, the notion of building a deep geological repository in the riding does not. She'd rather see waste reduction initiatives further researched as to allow long-term above ground storage, as has been the scenario at the Bruce site for a number of years.

Schenk is also concerned with the divide between rural and urban concerns in Ontario, an issue on which she differs from her party leader.

When speaking to Sun Media in April, premier Kathleen Wynne said didn't buy the idea of a rural-urban divide, saying it was "a myth that has been exploited for political reasons." But the local candidate said she has seen that divide first hand, during her three year term as president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association.

It was also during that term where she first met Wynne, then serving as minister of education.

"We would sit across the table from one another and wouldn't always agree on everything 100 per cent, but we would always come to an agreement," Schenk said of the premier. "She's a straight shooter; what you see is what you get. She always impressed me. I always enjoyed working with her."

That respect for the premier helped Schenk decide to run for office in the provincial election. However, in Huron-Bruce, many would feel that Schenk, or any other candidate, would be facing an uphill battle to unseat Thompson, who won in 2011 by approximately 4,500.

The reaction she has been receiving as she's knocked on doors across the riding has been "excellent," Schenk said, adding this didn't surprise her.

"(The Liberals) have a very strong leader (in) Kathleen Wynne," Schenk said. "A lot of people like Kathleen; she's a very strong individual, a very honest individual, and that is impressing folks."

Moreover, Schenk feels the Liberals have the plan that will keep residents of Huron-Bruce content, focussing on the issues that concern them. One of those issues are the future of area hospitals.

While in Walkerton for a campaign stop, Wynne assured Schenk all the hospitals in the riding will be safe from closure.

"There's no danger of closing any of them. Our hospitals are just too far apart to close," Schenk said. "You can't regulate health care emergencies between the hours of 9 and 3.... We need to make that we have a full, operative emergency department and that we have a hospital that is there for the people."

Schenk also lauded the Liberal promise to provide a $4 per hour raise to personal support workers, as outlined in the failed 2014 Liberal budget, as a way to help people spend their final days in the comfort of their homes, as opposed to entering assisted living facilities.

While Schenk believes localized health care is the best for Huron-Bruce's residents, her experience in the education system has shown her that sometimes tough decisions need to be made to provide the be educational situation for our students.

"It's the most difficult thing you've ever had to do if you're a trustee is to close a school," she said. A recent report commissioned by the Bluewater District School Board, which has approximately a dozen schools in the Huron-Bruce riding, stated the board may have to close up to 18 schools in the next 15 years.

For Schenk, keeping a school open is not as important as students getting the best education possible.

"I would rather spend the money on good, positive classrooms and deliverance of education then on a building. It's difficult on communities, for sure... and that's not forgotten. But, ultimately, to deliver the best education in the classroom is to make sure we have the money for that. And it has to go into the classroom."

Schenk has been in public service for nearly 20 years, serving on the Avon-Maitland District School Board. She has also played a pivotal role on the board of directors for local chapters of Habitat for Humanity and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Schenk and her husband live in Wingham, where they raised their three children.

On top of her nearly two decades as a school trustee, Schenk holds a degree in landscape architecture, and previously worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources designing provincial parks.

She's confident in a Liberal victory and convinced she's going to be the one to get the concerns of Huron-Bruce heard at Queen's Park.

"I'm not a person to run away from challenges. I meet challenges head on and I intend to do that when elected."

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