A pair of candidates from Thunder Bay are currently vying for the NDP nomination for the Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding in the upcoming federal election.
Labour activist Yuk Sem Won and union president for the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service Jason Storkson are looking to take back the seat in Northwestern Ontario that the NDP held for eight years before losing it to liberal MP Don Rusnak.
Although both candidates have never held public office before, they said they feel best-equipped to serve constituents living within the riding.
“I am seeking the nomination for the NDP candidate for the Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding in the upcoming federal election because I feel its time for a hard-working person to step up instead of the usual career politician types,” Storkson remarked.
“I have lived and worked my entire life in Northern Ontario and through my job as a law enforcement officer, I have a unique perspective of what our area needs.”
Storkson said he's a great communicator, team builder, and negotiator, due to his experiences as local president of his union, sitting on the bargaining team, and achieving equity and fairness for First Nations policing.
Won, who has worked as an educator and labour representative, said her primary focus is ensuring that the people and families of Thunder Bay-Rainy River have a strong and active representative who is present in the community.
“I have always found that my strength was having conversations and advocating for the people I represented, finding both the common ground while bringing a strong voice for the things I believed in,” she said.
“Taking on a role in politics was the next logical step.”
Storkson meanwhile, said some of his focus, if elected, would be geared towards investing into stronger education systems to help create an economically prosperous future for the province.
“I believe every dollar spent on a person's training and education will return a hundredfold," said Storkson. ”The climate of cutbacks in education is brutal.
“With educated people come new ideas and innovation. From an economic perspective it makes sense for the country to pay for education right through post secondary in fields where there is a need for skilled workers,” he added.
This includes trades schools, because of the “desperate need” for tradespeople and skilled workers in today's workforce, Storkson said.
“Paying for their education and creating skilled employees who will contribute to the system and not take from it, makes sense to me,” he remarked.
Won is a fellow believer in investing money into people to help create and sustain jobs.
She also noted that much of the NDP's core values match those held by citizens of Northwestern Ontario.
“Our policies support the growth and prosperity of our resources and people,” Won remarked.
"They value each of us as members of a community and strive to ensure a prosperous future for all.
“We must bring together our economic focus with our goal to build a clean and sustainable Canada,” she added.
Won said the government needs to focus on issues that effect everyone, such as education, healthcare, poverty, caring for seniors, veterans, and protecting Human Rights.
“We need to have a government that does not attempt to fix issues by stepping on and disregarding its people,” she remarked.
“To prosper, our people need to have the opportunity become educated, healthy, and productive workers that can sustain and grow our economy.”
Protecting Ontario's water and land, along with addressing climate change head-on to become a leader in the much needed green economy, are areas of importance for Won.
“We all want to have a country that will not only survive, but thrive for generations to come,” Won noted.
“We are looking to have a Canada where universal healthcare is partnered with universal pharmacare: because you shouldn't have to decide between medicine or rent,” she added.
Storkson is also a major proponent of the environment and if elected he said he'd like to see all of the political parties come together to create a green plan for Canada that is free from elections cycles and changing governments.
“A plan, everyone can get behind with 5 year benchmarks for industry to cut emissions through research and development in cleaning their outputs,” he said.
“I don't think the carbon tax is a good idea . . . incentives versus taxing is my philosophy on creating change.”
The recently eliminated solar cell program for private homes and energy rebates on high efficiency appliances like furnaces and hot water tanks are programs Storkson would like to see revitalized.
“These are real things that would make a real difference,” he remarked.
“Taxing us to try to change our behaviour may work in Toronto, but [not] in Northern Ontario.”
If elected Storkson said much of his efforts would also be geared towards reconciliation with indigenous communities.
“Our First Nations need to become an integral part of our country,” he said.
“Systemic racism perpetrated in the past by our governments have created a welfare state for them.”
“We need to scrap the Indian Act, rename and rewrite it from scratch together with the government and First Nations,” Storkson added.
He said the current system can be fixed it just needs the political will to do it.
“In my belief, the resources on traditional land should be given to the Indigenous peoples instead of giving away our resources to large corporations in exchange for jobs,” Storkson charged.
He'd like to see partnerships between indigenous people, the government, and private investors to develop a steady flow of income for indigenous communities, so they can be self sufficient and partners going forward.
On the topic of water contamination issues on reserves, Storkson is surprised there hasn't been any work done to get reverse osmosis water filtration systems to those in need.
Won meanwhile, has held many different positions throughout her career, from working for small community groups to teaching, to becoming a community coordinator at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
She trained as a labour litigator, worked as a mediator for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, and is now a faculty member at Confederation College.
“The skills I developed over the years lend themselves nicely to my role as a representative and speaker on behalf of the people,” Won lauded.
“As an educator, I am able to think critically about the issues, research and discuss the impacts, while being able to mediate and be open to differing views.”
One of Won's greatest strengths is her ability to work with people to overcome challenges and help them believe in themselves, she said.
“I think that is what draws me to this next adventure: I have heard from too many people that they have given up hope, they have turned pessimistic about the government and its policies, saying that it does not reflect who they are and what they believe,” she remarked.
“I am standing up so that I can be that voice of change, a role model for our youth and neighbours, to bring integrity and hope to the people.”
“I want my children to see that the government can and should be about the people, and that our representatives are people that care and want to do what they can to improve the lives of their neighbours,” she added.
Storkson said going forward he plans on getting his message out to the people and show them why he should be nominated as the NDP candidate in the upcoming federal election.
He hopes to network and make “real connections” with the people, while getting NDP members on board to vote for him.
Storkson said he'll also be focused on motivating people to buy NDP party memberships, so they are eligible to vote at the nomination meetings being held in early June.
Won, meanwhile said going forward she want's to continue reaching out to the people and giving them hope that, if elected, she will listen to their concerns, be active in the community, and make a difference.
“I am going to continue meeting with people across the region, and attending events when I can," Won remarked. "I understand the value and need to have a representative that is willing to be present and active.”
“I want to be that person, and hope to be able to continue to meet and show the people of Thunder Bay-Rainy River that there is hope, and that someone cares about them, their future, and their Canada,” she added.
The NDP membership meeting where members will select the NDP candidate for Thunder Bay-Rainy River is set for June 1 in Fort Frances and Atikokan, and June 2 in Thunder Bay.
The Conservative party has nominated former Thunder Bay city councillor Linda Rydholm to run in the federal election slated for Oct. 21.
Don Rusnak has withdrawn his name as the Liberal candidate and Coun. Shelby Ch'ng is the only person who has yet put their name forward.
The Green Party has not yet named a nominee.