About 50 voters from Elliot Lake and the immediate area heard the views of five of the six candidates vying to represent the Algoma-Manitoulin riding at an all-candidates debate held in the city Thursday evening.
Candidates seeking to win the riding in the June 7 provincial election included incumbent MPP Michael Mantha and candidates Progressive Conservative Jib Turner, Liberal Charles Fox, Green Party Justin Tilson and Northern Ontario Party candidate Tommy Lee.
Ontario Libertarian Party candidate Kalena Mallon-Ferguson sent her regrets for being unable to attend the debate sponsored by The Elliot Lake Standard and held at the Moose Hall.
The debate dealt with issues including health care and long-term care, Hydro costs and what the candidates would do to increase jobs and investment in the riding,
Moderating the event was mayor Dan Marchisella who started the debate on a lighter note.
“The rules for tonight’s debate, no shots below the belt, no kicking, biting, spitting or hair pulling,” he told the crowd. “No those are the rules for council.”
Fox was the first candidate to speak and acknowledged the “creator” for bringing people together for the debate and his fellow candidates for standing for the election.
The candidate, who has served as a First Nations chief, outlined his reasons for running as the Liberal candidate.
“We’re here to run in the election process. You’re going to hear all sorts of promises . . . billions of dollars will be spent . . . to improve the wellbeing of all Ontarians,” he said. “When I looked at what the Liberals have done over the last 13 years that they been in power…There’s probably hundreds of programs . . . that have been rolled out in the last 13 years.”
“I embrace the Liberal policies . . . I can work with them.”
As a First Nation advocate for the past 35 years, Fox said the Liberal government was the best government he has worked with. Also during that time he has dealt with municipal, provincial and federal governments and corporations.
“When I look at their track record and what they have done in my opinion is the Premier has done an excellent job, the Liberals have done an excellent job,” he said.
Mantha said, “I’m fighting for my job,” a job he was first elected to in 2011 and won again in 2014.
Over the course of his two terms, Mantha said he has worked with community groups, constituents and municipal governments.
According to the incumbent and the polls the indication is that Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals will be defeated in the upcoming vote. That leaves the NDP leader Andrea Horvath and PC leader Doug Ford as the main contenders.
“I’m hoping you’re looking at our party,” he said.
“It’s time for a change . . . to make our lives better?”
Mantha said the NDP platform includes more spending on health care, home care to offset overcrowding in hospitals, a provincial drug plan, and infrastructure in municipalities in Algoma-Manitoulin.
“We’ve done our homework in the last four years We have a plan, a change for the better and I’m asking you to endorse me in continuing the work I started in 2011,” he said.
“Northern Ontario matters and we’ve got to start thinking how do we push our agenda . . . and be part of this province,” he said alternating between French and English in his address.
Tilson, representing the Green Party, acknowledged that he enjoyed Mantha as the MPP for the riding.
“I’m really into local food, health and sustainability,” he said. “I’m a voice tonight for the Greens.”
The party, according to him, is not a one-issue party dealing with the environment. He said the party promotes healthier living to combat hospital overcrowding, resource development done with local participation and at prices that benefit the community and promoting development of electrical automobiles to address the rising cost of gasoline.
Lee described the Northern Ontario Party as a “regional party” that would represent voters living in the north and in this riding.
To achieve that the candidate, if elected, would be required to vote on issues based on what those living in Algoma-Manitoulin want through the development of a standard polling method that, “we commit to using prior to all votes in the provincial legislature.”
“The Northern Ontario Party is alarmed by the declining population in northern Ontario since the 1990s,” Lee said the party wants to see natural resources in the north, such as trees, processed from logs to finished products in the north. He said wood is often shipped from here and processed south of the border with the finished product shipped back and sold here. The same applies to ore shipped out of the province. “Let’s produce the finished products right here,” he said.
Lee was critical of the main parties which he called GTA-based parties.
Turner, known from the chain of Turner clothing stores, said as a businessman “taxes will get higher…if the Liberals or NDP is elected.”
He said the PC party, if elected, will “clean-up the Hydro mess.”
Turner was critical of the cost of hydro when the province has more electricity than it needs and sells electricity over the border. He was also critical of the salaries paid to the Hydro CEO at $6 million and the part-time board members voting for a $25,000 raise pushing their salaries to $180,000 annually
He said the party would work to increase resource development in the mining sector in the north.
“The government doesn’t have to be everywhere,” he said of the current Liberal government.
Following their presentations, the candidates responded to questions from the audience, that included the lack of room at local long-term care facilities.
A poignant question was raised by an 86-year-old voter who was finding it difficult to live on her own after suffering from a stroke three years ago that left her unable to drive a car.
“Neither of the two nursing homes here . . . can take me,” she said.
Mantha said the NDP plan calls for increased spending on hospitals, long-term care and increasing the number of nurses and support workers. The additional spending would be raised through increased taxes on those earning $220,000 or more.
Lee said the difficulties in health care could be resolved by reducing the millions in interest payments the government spends on the provincial debt.
Turner said the PC platform also calls for the creation of 15,000 long-term facility beds and over 10 years 30,000.
“I hate to tell you ma'am but you have a two to three percent chance of getting a long-term bed here in the province. It may even be a little bit worse than that in northern Ontario,” he responded.
Fox told the woman her concerns are “very real.”
The Liberal candidate said, “the Liberals have made great strides in terms of addressing health care issues we have.”
According to Fox, the number of physicians has grown by 6,000 since 2003. Over 28,000 more nurses, 11,000 more RNs, and 10,000 more long-term beds have also been created during the Liberal tenure.
“We need to address a way to close the gaps currently in health care,” he added.
The debate ended shortly after 10 p.m.