Newly-elected MPP Greg Rickford is eager to serve the people of Kenora-Rainy River and turn issues into opportunities.
“All too often up here in Northern Ontario we say we've got issues,” Rickford said during a media scrum at his election night headquarters in Kenora on Thursday after topping local NDP candidate Glen Archer by almost 2,200 votes.
“We've got way more opportunities than we have issues.”
Rickford cited examples such as making hydro rates more affordable and continuing to create jobs in forestry, mining, and infrastructure across the region.
“The lens I'm looking at this from, these are all opportunities if you get up close and look at them,” he reasoned.
Rickford cruised to victory in Thursday's provincial election, garnering 9,693 votes to capture the riding over Archer (7,503), Liberal candidate Karen Kejick (2,118), and Ember McKillop of the Green Party (721).
With the win, Rickford ended a 31-year NDP reign locally, which began with Howard Hampton's first election win in 1987 when the riding was just Rainy River before being joined with Kenora in 1999.
Rickford, a former MP for Kenora who served two terms under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, also was the only PC candidate to win a seat in Northern Ontario.
Whether that translates into a cabinet position remains to be seen.
Rickford said he'll let Premier-designate Doug Ford sort that out as his “obligation is to the constituents to Kenora-Rainy River.”
“I serve at the pleasure of them and I now serve at the pleasure of the premier,” he remarked.
Archer, meanwhile, said he was disappointed by Thursday's results but could look back positively on his campaign.
“We had a lot of support," he noted. "Probably the biggest thing that I heard was the validating of our platform.”
Archer added the people of Kenora-Rainy River are “absolutely disappointed” with the health-care system and the highways.
“[I hope that] Mr. Rickford does know that 40 percent of the voters still want health care, they still want pharmacare, they still want dental care, they still want their roads to be safe and we'll go from there,” he remarked.
“Andrea Horwath and a whole bunch of NDPs are going to be there [at Queen's Park] and they will certainly push for change for the better,” Archer stressed.
For her part, Kejick said there still was some uncertainty in leadership and strategy in the north.
“There's a lot of people that are worried and as a [community] leader, I have to think about next steps,” she noted.
Kejick now will be looking to the new government and how it will handle items such as recommendations regarding missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, a proposal to twin Highway 17, and housing in the region.
“I think there's definitely a meeting that needs to happen with First Nations' leaders, with municipalities, with the provincial government,” she said.
During his victory speech Thursday night, Rickford took a moment to thank his political opponents.
“We're all here with the best of intentions and ideas to make Ontario and Kenora-Rainy River a better place,” he said.
“We may have significantly different views on how that would happen but candidates make personal, financial, and family sacrifices and I appreciate all of them tonight.”
Rickford then had a “special comment” for Kejick.
“I was impressed with her throughout this campaign," he said. ”I see a thoughtful, graceful, powerful indigenous woman who should be a part of the political landscape for this region.
“She took on a tough job in a tough election, and I thank her for her important role and her results tonight,” he added.
Ron Malashewski, president of the Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce, said many of the challenges that face Northern Ontarians are universal for the province, such as hydro rates, fuel prices, health care, and a lack of doctors.
“At least with Greg, he was a nurse before,” he noted.
“He's worked in the community so it'll be interesting to see how that comes through for us here.”
Both Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis and Mark Caron, president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, agreed having an MPP who is a sitting member of the majority party could change how the people are represented at Queen's Park.
“We don't want to feel neglected in this end of Ontario,” said Caron.
“I think . . . having Greg as our MPP should be good for our area because now we'll have a voice.”
Caron and Malashewski agreed the government should look after local and small businesses, which make up a majority of the riding.
Malashewski added the new government should continue to look at energy prices, minimum wage increases, and job vacancies in Kenora.
“The irony of all that is if you look around Kenora, there's a lot of job vacancies—whether it's in retail, hospitality services—for some reason,” he noted.
"So it doesn't appear to be difficult to find a job here.
“[The] question is, do we not have the people here or do we have the people here but they don't want to work?” asked Malashewski.
“So hopefully there's some encouragement.”