Debate sheds light on hot topics
Incumbent MPP Sarah Campbell (NDP), Liberal candidate Anthony Leek, and PC hopeful Randy Nickle answered questions put forth by residents during a candidates’ debate hosted by the Rainy River Federation of Agriculture at the Millennium Hall in Stratton on Thursday night.
Green Party candidate Tim McKillop of Pickle Lake was unable to attend.
“I’m committed to listening to you and our neighbours across Kenora-Rainy River,” Leek said during his opening remarks.
“With your trust and support, I’ll work hard to join Kathleen [Wynne] and be your strong voice in Queen’s Park as the next MPP for Kenora-Rainy River.
“We have so many strengths—tourism, agriculture, forestry, mining, and even the potential for value-added industry can all be done here in Kenora-Rainy River,” Leek noted.
“We need to promote those strengths to the people that are decision-makers so they know that the investments they make here support the local economy, the regional economy, and Ontario as a whole.
“This will help bring our youth back, improve our economy, and maintain and expand our services,” he reasoned, also adding the importance in building relationships with First Nations.
“I believe the province can take on a larger role in enhancing these conversations,” Leek said.
“If elected MPP for Kenora-Rainy River, I will build relationships across this region and in Queen’s Park.”
“This election is about opportunities and it’s about change,” said Campbell. “For too long, we have had [a] successive government that is out of touch and has become concerned with their own political fortunes and that’s wrong.
“That has left northerners feeling abandoned,” she charged.
“What I’ve been hearing from people is that people are feeling squeezed, that there is nothing left to give, that they can’t afford increases in our hydro rates, they can’t afford increases in natural gas, taxes are going up,” Campbell stressed.
“They feel they are not getting a good bang for their buck.
“Northerners deserve a government that listens, that gets it, that is in touch with what it is like to make ends meet in this province,” added Campbell, citing the NDP’s plan that is based on making life more affordable, delivering services that meet our needs, and creating good-paying jobs.
Like Campbell, Nickle’s opening remarks focused on change and creating more jobs in the riding.
“I want to get northerners back to work,” he stressed. “I want to reduce the cost of energy; to make it affordable for seniors and young families in our communities and for manufacturers to locate here.”
Nickle reiterated he wants jobs and opportunities for people living in the north.
“We are forced to move elsewhere to find work and it’s not right,” he remarked.
“Today we have a government who’s spending out of control and the only place they seem to be cutting is here in the north, and we feel that,” he added.
“I know that I could do something about this,” Nickle pledged, citing the PC plan aims to bring affordable energy and more jobs.
He also wants to see the north as a full partner of the province.
“Our resources will fuel the growth,” Nickle vowed.
The first question asked each candidate how they will create jobs and bring people back to the district, which Nickle had no problem addressing after having alluded to that being a staple in the PC platform.
“Our goal is to permit at least 10 mines in the next five years,” he noted, adding he’s not sure where New Gold is sitting right now, but said it seems there is a lot of hesitation holding them back from expanding.
“We need to train more apprentices and skilled trades workers,” Nickle continued. “And our plan is to eliminate at least 30 percent of the red tape that strangles small businesses.”
He said the PC plan is about harvesting trees, supporting agriculture, and opening mines.
“Our solutions for Ontario are very deliberately tied to northern success,” he remarked.
“We will create jobs; that’s our number-one pledge.”
Campbell, meanwhile, feels getting hydro rates under control is the first step to creating jobs.
“I’m sure we all know that one of the biggest costs of doing business is our high electricity rates,” she said, alluding to it being one of the factors which contributed to the permanent closure of the Resolute Forest Products mill here.
“We need to have lower hydro rates,” she stressed, adding the NDP is committed to five things that will help lower those rates.
Campbell also mentioned the possible introduction of a job creator tax credit.
“It would reward companies for each and every job that they create,” she explained.
“It’s tied to economic growth and that’s shown to be effective.”
For his part, Leek cited the investments by the government in local infrastructure project funding, such as Emo receiving money to help develop business lots so business can set up shop there and the permanent tent in Kenora.
“I think the key thing for us is to promote what we have here,” Leek said.
“We need someone who is going to understand what we locally need and be able to deliver that message in Queen’s Park, so they know what is going on and we can make a difference,” he added.
With the debate hosted by the Rainy River Federation of Agriculture, many of the more than 40 people on hand were interested in what each of the candidates could do to support agriculture in the riding.
“I think our vastness and our area gives us some really good opportunities to grow and prosper,” said Nickle, reiterating he wants to create more jobs in Ontario.
“We need to control our debt; we need to control our deficit,” he stressed.
“Get those things in check, lower the price of energy, but agriculture is a huge opportunity for us here in the north.”
Nickle added the province won’t resolve its financial problems without getting people back to work.
“I think what we can do to preserve and protect our prime agricultural land is to make it easier to farm in Ontario,” replied Campbell.
“I think if we create a fertile climate for people to farm, we will see more farmers.”
She noted the NDP wants to implement legislation called “Buy Ontario.”
“What that would require is all government ministries, boards, and agencies to buy Ontario-grown, locally-grown produce first,” Campbell explained.
“That means our hospitals, our schools, any of those purchases will be supporting our local economy.”
Campbell also said she wants to do what she can to support and ensure the continued viability of the Emo Agricultural Research Station (EARS).
Leek also pledged to continue to work with Kim Jo Bliss to keep EARS open.
“We’ve made some progress there in terms of funding and so on in what we can do in the future to keep it sustainable,” he noted.
He also said there is 200,000 acres of under-utilized land in Rainy River District.
“There is huge potential when it comes to agriculture here,” Leek stressed, citing the continued expansion of cities in southern Ontario, which is taking up a lot of the good farmland.
“So the north is the future,” he added. “We have an opportunity here to get investments from the government.”
Given the severity of this past winter in the district, a topic on many people’s minds last Thursday was winter highway maintenance, which did not seem up to par for most this season.
“The winter roads the last two years have been atrocious,” Nickle concurred.
“It’s unexplainable how bad they’ve been. . . .
“At the end of the day, the government hasn’t stepped up to the plate to tell the contractor that you’re not doing your job,” he argued.
“My understanding is the contractor is the one who determines when they go out onto the roads to clear the snow.
“Why wouldn’t the Ministry of Transportation be doing that, or the government?” Nickle asked.
“I think the roads have to be handled in a lot better manner than they are, and I think that comes back to having an accountable government.”
Campbell said this is something she has put a lot of effort into recently, noting she’s talk to a lot of contractors, the government, and individuals who all say the roads are the worst they’ve seen.
“But I think what it ultimately comes down to is privatization,” she remarked. “I don’t see how we can get better value for our dollars by privatizing what I deem to be an essential service.
“I don’t see how there is money left over to pad a company’s bottom line,” Campbell added.
“That is their interest—investing as little as possible so they can maximize their profits—and I think that is wrong.”
She stressed the NDP is committed to adding 200 more plows for highways.
Campbell also said she previously had brought forth a private member’s motion, which called on the government to strike an all-party committee that would look at what some of the problems are and how we would address them in advance of next winter.
Leek agreed winter road maintenance has been a big issue. But he suggested it might be something for municipalities to consider taking on, through funding from the province.
“Instead of having MTO itself spending all this new equipment, municipalities have a lot of this equipment,” he reasoned.
They have their own garages. . . .
“It’s an idea as a possible solution and I think if we could have a Liberal government and a local MPP, we could see by working with municipalities on making it possible so we can get winter maintenance back to the quality it should be.”
In recent years, it’s become a challenge for small communities, especially those in the north, to recruit and keep physicians, as well as to keep necessary health-care services close to home.
Each candidate was asked what they will do to ensure quality health-care for residents of the riding.
“Money for front-line services is not getting where it needs to be,” Nickle responded, citing the PC plan is to eliminate the LIHNs.
“It’s our opinion that the LIHNs is a place where the money is getting stuck and is not getting down to the front-line services,” he noted, adding a lot of money is being wasted.
Campbell agreed there has to be respect for taxpayers’ money. But she noted it’s not that there isn’t enough money in Ontario, it’s just that it is not being spent wisely.
She said the NDP is committed to creating 50 new Family Health Teams across the province.
“That will increase people’s access to doctors and cutting ER wait times by hiring 250 nurse practitioners,” Campbell explained, noting the nurse practitioners also could be used at assisted living facilities.
She added in terms of access to physicians, the NDP plans to forgive $20,000 of student debt for every year a doctor practises in an under-serviced area.
“That way, it takes the pressure off the local community to come up with a bigger carrot,” Campbell reasoned.
Leek indicated current health-care services need to be maintained.
“I think there are ways to improve it on top of that,” he added, citing the Family Health Teams that have been created in the riding have helped up to 36,800 patients.
“I think if there are ways to increase that, we should go for it,” Leek said. “We need to continue to invest in health care up here.”
He conceded there is a lack of access to services in some areas.
“It’s essential that we have the proper access for doctors, for nurses,” Leek remarked.
“I have a personal commitment on making sure we maintain our services and improving where we need to, especially in under-serviced areas.”
In closing, Nickle stressed the riding deserves an MPP who will work with communities, with business, and government to create jobs.
“We need an MPP who will work proactively to look after our interests so that our kids don’t have to leave their hometown to find work,” he explained.
“I worry about how we are going to pay for the services we all need as we age, and that’s why we need a government at Queen’s Park that understands you can’t tax and spend away prosperity.
“We’ve tried that for 11 years now and it doesn’t work,” he stressed. “It’s time for a change. . . .”
Nickle also noted the PCs are committed to a “Northern Vision” policy.
“It will make energy affordable, get the books in order, have the money in the bank to take care of your needs as we all age, and bring back our kids,” he remarked.
“I’m ready to work.”
In her closing remarks, Campbell said she’s been working very hard as the incumbent MPP.
“The past two-and-a-half years have been very challenging and also very rewarding,” she noted.
“I live here. I’m from then north and I’m for the north. I want to see us live in a prosperous area where we can have a strong economy.
“And to do that we need balance,” Campbell argued, noting we need good fiscal management and balanced, targeted investments.
“No matter what the outcome is . . . I’m always going to be raising the issues and doing what needs to be done,” she pledged.
“You have to employ a lot of tactics to get the job done and I’m committed to doing that.”
Leek, for his part, indicated he is a candidate who is able to work with others.
“Through collaboration, discussion, and goal-setting, we can achieve sustainable growth, stability in our economy, our health care, education, as well as other services throughout the riding,” he reasoned.
“I will work with you and listen to your concerns and your accomplishments.
“Having an MPP who understands the need of investments will allow our riding to focus on delivering the results for our communities,” Leek added.
“We need an MPP that will build on our successes, tackle our issues, develop positive relationships through collaboration and conversation, and deliver results that make a difference in your every-day lives.”