Health and Long-Term Care minister Tony Clement made it clear he’s got his sights set on becoming the next premier of Ontario come March 23 during an appearance Saturday at the Red Dog Inn.
“I’m here to pick up some local perspective, see what’s working and what’s not,” said Clement, who was on a three-day tour of Northern Ontario, with other stops being in Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Kenora, and Dryden.
“I want to see how a premier who’s in touch with the community can make improvements. You can’t get this kind of information from Toronto,” he added.
Clement noted the poor support the Progressive Conservative party has seen from the region likely has been due to his party’s neglect of Northwestern Ontario—something he wants to see rectified.
“I think I can change that. I think if we have an opportunity with the leadership race, we can not only find a worthy replacement for Mike Harris, but a true successor who can be around for multiple elections.
“And with that, a chance to make our message relevant to Northwestern Ontario,” he remarked.
Clement said that while he’s aware NDP leader Howard Hampton has been a mainstay in the area for years, he’s not intimidated.
“I think the fact he’s from here helps. That way, people will be given a real choice next time. The NDP is outdated,” he charged.
Other candidates vying for the premiership include former Finance minister Ernie Eves, Finance minister James Flaherty, Environment minister Elizabeth Witmer, and Labour minister Chris Stockwell.
Clement declined comment on what he thought of the others.
“The people that are deciding the race are the members of the party. Twenty-seven MPPs equals 27 votes out 150,000 that are going to be cast.
“I’m not trying to minimize it, I’m just trying to put it into perspective,” he said.
While his policy will be firmed up in January, Clement noted right now his priorities to set a change in direction for the province are three-fold.
“Taxes are still too high. It drives away jobs, doctors, professionals,” he noted. “You know the Liberals have never met a tax they didn’t like”
“I also think there’s a way to care for the environment without ruining jobs and opportunities for industries that capitalize from it,” added Clement.
“Finally, I believe we need a consistent policy on health care reform. I don’t think we can enter into the next election without a destination for an accountable and sustainable health care system that solves some of the accessibility gaps we have, and that does so in a way that doesn’t drive the system into bankruptcy,” he concluded.
Clement stressed his whirlwind tour of the region was paid for through his own campaign fund, and not tax dollars in his role as health minister.
About 20 people, including municipal leaders and employees of Riverside Health Care Facilities and the Northwestern Health Unit, were on hand to hear Clement speak here.
But few questions were asked during the public session.
Clement also met earlier Saturday with interest groups representing areas like tourism.
The MPP for Brampton West-Mississauga, Clement was first elected in June, 1995, and then re-elected for a second term in 1999. He previously has been Environment minister, Municipal Affairs and Housing minister, and Transportation minister.
He was appointed Health and Long-Term Care minister on Feb. 8, 2001.