Ontario party leaders’ campaigns converge in North Bay for northern debate

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The leaders of Ontario’s four main political parties are in North Bay for a debate Tuesday afternoon on issues that affect residents in northern Ontario.

They’re expected to be asked about regional matters that include municipal revenue tools, addiction and mental health, and highway maintenance and safety.

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford has been up north for several days, touting commitments he has made to restore northern passenger rail service, rebuild Highway 101 through Timmins and continue work to build road infrastructure to the Ring of Fire.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath released her northern platform Monday, including promises to reimburse medical travel expenses more quickly, add more local health centres and “immediately” hire 300 doctors in the region. 

The party is also promising to build more affordable housing and bring new addictions supports to the region.

“We’re going to talk to northerners today about the things that matter most to them and I’m very excited about it,” Horwath said in North Bay on Tuesday morning after a walk by the city’s waterfront.

The NDP traditionally have broad support in the north and held eight seats in the region at dissolution, with the incumbent Progressive Conservatives holding a few more and the Liberals hanging onto one.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca spent the morning releasing northern platform details, which included promises to bolster the region’s population by improving access to medical care, building new roads and taking more control of the immigration system to draw newcomers to the area. 

The Liberal platform also includes promises to cover tuition for any medical or nursing student who works long-term in a rural or remote community, expedite applications for Consumption and Treatment Services sites in northern Ontario and ensure high-speed internet for all, including First Nations communities, by 2025.

Del Duca said he was looking forward to discussing northern issues at Tuesday’s debate. 

“My focus is not the other three leaders on the stage today,” he said ahead of the debate. “My focus is the people of Ontario. In particular, given the nature of today’s debate, the people who live in northern Ontario who are facing a severe shortage of health-care workers.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner is also set to participate in the debate.