Unlike the initial leaders’ debate on Monday, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association ran a great debate from their convention in Sudbury this morning. The leaders were well-placed behind podiums, the questions thoughtfully reflected a range of northern concerns, and the format was tightly controlled to permit the leaders to speak and the audience to hear. Bravo to those responsible.
I am so glad that I was able to watch it this morning on CBC.ca/news/canada/sudbury/ontario-election-northern-debate. If you missed it, I suspect that it will be available as a podcast on the internet somewhere. When I find out where, I will update this post.
This was an excellent debate. All the leaders did well.
Doug Ford is improving. But continually resorts to his standard slogans, his complaints about “the downtown Toronto elites” and the “extreme environmentalists,” his concern “for the little guy,” “how much” he loves “the north, and doctors and nurses, firefighters and other front-line emergency staff,” how the other parties only know “tax, tax, tax… spend, spend, spend,” and how ”help is on the way on June 7th.”
Andrea Horwath is an ardent advocate who built on the northern MPP strength the NDP now has to tell us about the “built-in northern lens” they now apply to all northern issues. She thinks a permanent Northern Committee should exist. Her general theme is that the PCs will cut and that the Libs haven’t done enough already in the 15 years they have been in office. And of course, “If you want change, don’t go from bad to worse, get change for the better.”
Kathleen Wynne showed that she is the only one of the leaders who speaks fluent French (20% of northerners are French). She shone, drawing on her depth of personal experience and her broad knowledge of the precise issues raised in the questions. When permitted to speak (as she was in this debate, unlike that on Monday), she is a goldmine of information about what her government has already done in the north, how that will continue in the future, rich in context and nuance. Very impressive.
The debate taught me a great deal about Northern Ontario. I learned about what has been done for regional infrastructure and what remains to be done. About 800 new schools, 24 new hospitals, about a net 1000 new nurses, and 400 new doctors, the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Northern Travel Grant Pass system which brings patients from small northern communities to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and Sunnybrook for the best available care. I learned how the last PC government downloaded many health-related costs to the municipalities, how the Libs have gradually resumed provincial responsibility for some of those costs, and how that process is continuing. I learned about the shortage of personal support workers.
I learned about the Environmental Species Act and the competing concerns of environmentalists, locals and indigenous groups. I learned about developing the Ring of Fire. The objective is to extract 60 billion dollars’ worth of minerals from the ground while ensuring benefits to the locals and without degradation to the environment. The process has been slow but it is happening. New roads need to be a series of bridges. Social supports and infrastructure must be in place to sustain the development. Apparently seven mines have opened in the north in recent years, many of them centres of excellence by global standards. What Doug Ford labels “unnecessary red tape” Kathleen Wynne considers “planning to ensure that mining development is ‘done right,’ for the benefit of all.”
I learned about recent regulations affecting firefighters and their impact on small town fire departments that depend on volunteers. Kathleen Wynne acknowledges that the provincial effort to improve safety standards across the province has created costs for municipalities responsible for training. Apparently, the Tories downloaded firefighter training to the municipalities when they were last in office. Given the difficulties they now face, the LIbs have promised to upload safety training for firefighters and relieve municipalities of that cost.
I learned about the life and death (or not) of the Northlander train, about the expansion of integrated bus service across the North, and about the refurbishment of the Cochrane-Moosonee train. I could go on.
It was a superb debate which shows that these three leaders do have the capacity to debate together if they are properly placed on the platform, if the questions put to them are intelligent, and if the format is strictly controlled. Check it out.