Ontario Liberal Party leadership hopeful Eric Hoskins says he knows first-hand the issues faced by rural and small communities in Ontario.
"Spending my first 18 years growing up in Simcoe, that never leaves you," Hoskins said. "It's in my heart and in my blood. I transplanted to Toronto, but I think I have an ability to understand some of the challenges and opportunities that rural Ontario faces."
Hoskins said he believes that sets him apart from other provincial Liberal leadership candidates.
"I lived in rural Ontario, I worked on a farm through high school and those connections are very important to me," he said.
Hoskins, who is a family doctor, MPP for the Toronto riding of St. Paul's and former minister of children and youth services, stopped in Brantford on Thursday night to make a speech at the Best Western Brant Park Inn.
Hoskins said Brantford offers an example of the situation Ontarians are facing.
"Brantford changed a lot over the years," Hoskins said. "It's an important part of the economy of this province. In some respects, its a microcosm of the hope and opportunity that this province has had, but also the challenges we're experiencing right now.
"It is tough times. There are a lot of people that expected there wouldn't be a lot of people in the (leadership) race because of the challenges ahead."
Hoskins said his leadership run proves he isn't shying away from the fiscal and economic woes Ontario is facing.
"The reason why I'm doing it is because we are in such difficult times," Hoskins said. "We're faced with this fiscal challenge that we need to meet and conquer, but we need to do it in a way which is true to our Liberal values.
"I'm here to listen. I'm here to connect and get a better understanding of the priorities of the people that live in and around Brantford."
Hoskins said he's ready to get back to work at Queen's Park after party delegates choose a new leader in late January.
"I'm very anxious to get the legislature working again," Hoskins said. "The opposition may have already decided to force an election. But I will work with the parties in a minority government situation for as long as possible."
The six other candidates vying for the job of Ontario Liberal leader are Harinder Takhar, Kathleen Wynne, Glenn Murray, Charles Sousa, Sandra Pupatello and Gerard Kennedy.
As a doctor and former president of War Child Canada, Hoskins said the not-for-profit sector is a vital part of the province's economy.
"I have lived and worked in 25 different countries," Hoskins said. "My whole life has been spent in the not-for-profit community. A million Ontarians, out of 13 million, work in the not-for-profit sector and that sector contributes more than the auto industry and the manufacturing industry combined to the economy of this province. It's that experience that the other candidates don't have.
"I believe the evidence of my commitment to Liberal values and ideals is the last 25 years of my life – how I've lived it and the work that I've done. What I bring is that balance: the fiscal responsibility together with the balanced, measured, fair, equitable and compassionate approach to growing the economy."