With no one else running, incumbent Howard Hampton on Monday night was acclaimed as the NDP’s candidate in Kenora-Rainy River in the next provincial election.
More than 60 people turned out at the Elks Hall here for the last of five nomination meetings held throughout the riding. The others were held in Kenora, Red Lake, Dryden, and Sioux Lookout.
“Anything that typifies what is going on in this province is the sale of Hydro One under this government’s direction,” Hampton, the provincial party leader since June 22, 1996, said in his acceptance speech Monday night.
Citing examples throughout the United States, Hampton argued privatizing Hydro One only would lead to inflated electricity costs, possibly doubling and tripling power bills, and large payoffs for a few individuals.
“Electricity is absolutely essential to the modern world,” he stressed. “Go home and try to run a computer on coal or natural gas, try to keep safe food in the house without electricity.”
“If General Motors, Ford, [and] Chrysler got together and doubled the price of cars, it would be a problem but you would have a couple of choices,” Hampton remarked, listing everything from maintaining old cars, buying used ones, car pooling, or even walking.
“Electricity is not like that.”
While the province has argued it could cap prices even after selling generating stations, Hampton stated that under NAFTA, if Hydro One becomes private, then they can’t sell electricity to the U.S. at a different price.
He also said there was no guarantee the private company would want to sell electricity to Ontario, or especially Northern Ontario, if larger U.S. markets were closer and easier to maintain.
“It’s a great deal for their Bay Street friends but for ordinary people, it will be more expensive to live,” Hampton warned.
In contrast, Hampton pointed to Manitoba’s NDP government, which remains committed to controlling hydro and keeping electricity costs low.
And there, instead of privatizing home care, the government actually has expanded it, especially for seniors, to help bring down the number of hospitalizations, and cut tuition in an effort to allow all Manitoba youth access to education.
Hampton also talked about the fact minimum wage has remained at $6.85 an hour for the last seven years, and that the Conservatives do not seem to be actively working with the aboriginal community.
“The Conservative government has either animosity for the aboriginal people or, at best, cold indifference,” he charged.
Saying he was eager to take on the challenge whenever the next election was called, Hampton brought the room to a cheer.
“Our province should run not to benefit people with a lot of money in their pocket. Our province should run to benefit all people,” he said.
Local NDP members were further buoyed by Windsor-St. Clair MP Joe Comartin, who interpreted the recent cabinet shuffles by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as a sign of good things to come for his party.
“They are feeding on themselves,” he said of the numerous leaks to media of in-fighting during the days before Finance minister Paul Martin abruptly left cabinet.
Comartin compared the leadership split between Chrétien and Martin to that of the Canadian Alliance last year, which eventually saw Stockwell Day replaced by Stephen Harper.
“We’re expecting the same kind of thing to happen,” he said, a smile on his face.
With the Liberal party divided, and the federal Progressive Conservatives he interprets as going nowhere, Comartin said the NDP is poised to make huge inroads in the next election.
“Harper in 10 days has completely alienated the East Coast with his comments about a ‘defeatist attitude’ and his attack on French played across Quebec,” Comartin added.
“He has completely alienated himself and his party from one-third of the country.”
Perhaps the biggest hurtle the NDP faces before the next federal election is proving to the voters that they actually have a chance to win, Comartin said.
“If people believe, if you convince people that the NDP or an NDP candidate can win . . . then it lets them vote their conscience,” he remarked.
Hampton, who served as Attorney General (1990-93) and minister of Natural Resources (1993-95) in the Bob Rae government, said NDP candidates are being nominated across the province.
He also noted work proceeds on an election platform, which will be discussed at the party’s convention June 21-23 in London, Ont.