Candidates outline platforms, debate issues in Stratton

Ken Johnston

With Ontarians heading to the polls tomorrow (Oct. 6), four of the five candidates vying for the Kenora-Rainy River seat attended the last of the local debates in Stratton on Thursday evening.
About 60 people were on and to hear what Sarah Campbell (NDP), Anthony Leek (Liberal), Rod McKay (Progressive Conservative), and Charmaine Romaniuk (Northern Ontario Heritage Party) had to say on issues raised by the audience.
Jo Jo Holiday (Green Party) did not attend.
After each candidate briefly introduced themselves, the floor was opened to questions.
Kim Jo Bliss of Emo pointed out that farmers, and especially the new abattoir in Emo, need more financial help with marketing locally-produced foods and wondered what the candidates would do about this issue.
Campbell said her party would help with marketing. “I feel we need to extend markets and the government needs to ‘Buy Ontario’ where possible,” she stressed.
Romaniuk said her party would promote local produce, and agreed with buying local, while Leek pointed to past investments by the Liberal government and said he would work for more of that.
McKay said his party supports jobs and economic growth, and that this is one of those areas where his party could help.
Gary Judson of Emo said he does not believe any of the candidates have a chance of exacting much change because of too many bureaucrats in the government.
He wanted to know what they thought of that.
Romaniuk said she understands why votes are apathetic. “We, as candidates, are committed to bettering the north,” she pledged.
Leek said he will work hard to get southern Ontario to “believe in us” so that they will invest in the north.
“We believe in reducing government by two percent a year through attrition,” replied McKay. “It is bloated and overgrown.
“Get rid of red tape and make electricity affordable,” he argued.
He added the only way this is going to be good for the people of this riding is to elect a candidate tied to power, not in opposition.
“In this economy, getting rid of good-paying jobs is not the answer now,” countered Campbell, who said her party would create a “Northern Table” and get rid of the HST on essentials such as power.
Another question was raised concerning electrical production in the region.
McKay said he was quite shocked when he heard that coal-fired electricity was being shut down in Ontario.
“Sixty percent of our power comes from it and the government has no plans to replace it,” he charged.
“We need to better interconnect with Manitoba and Quebec.”
“There needs to be a plan in place before getting rid of coal,” agreed Campbell. “The Liberals have made hydro bills very expensive.
“Besides, coal plants can be made cleaner by installing scrubbers and make them ‘greener,’” she added.
Romaniuk said “green” is just a buzz word.
Leek said McKay’s figures were off and that, in fact, 50 percent of electricity is from nuclear in Ontario. He also pointed to Campbell’s stance that us closing the plants here has little impact when the U.S. is building more and more coal plants.
“I don’t think that we should do this just because the U.S. is doing it,” Leek remarked. “We need to lead by example, and wind and solar prices will come down.
“This is for the future and our kids,” he stressed.
Energy was again in the next question when a citizen asked for views on solar panel generation, and why they were so expensive and only allowed to generate small amounts of power.
Campbell said the NDP will not keep the MicroFit program but she feels hydro generation is cleaner. She pointed to the MicroFit program paying out 80 cents/kwh and then only charging citizens 10 cents/kwh as unsustainable.
Romaniuk said solar and wind need more investment from government.
“The 80 cent/kwh was a must,” argued Leek. “In order to get people to invest in it, the costs were high and they needed return on their investment.
“Other sources of power will continue to go up,” he noted. “This is sustainable in the long run.”
McKay also has a problem with the MicroFit program.
“It is a very expensive experiment,” he said. “People shouldn’t have to give up food or heat in their barn because electricity is so expensive.
“I don’t think anyone would invest 80 cents to only get 10 cents back,” he added. “We need something that makes more sense.”
On the heels of McKay’s comment about people giving things up to pay for power, another citizen asked what the candidates would do to ease the financial pressures being experienced by people here due to more and more expenses being tacked onto the average person’s household but yet their incomes or jobs have not improved.
Romaniuk said her party really wants to focus on jobs for Northern Ontario.
Leek said his party would provide more investment in the north.
“The floor came out from under us in forestry and agriculture,” he noted. “We need investments here and the government needs to invest here.”
“No one will invest here with the high electricity rates here,” countered McKay.
He said he currently manages a shut down mill in Kenora, which closed because it cannot secure any fibre bases. He said he would work hard to improve conditions for investment in industry here by creating stable and affordable electric rates, and securing fibre bases for area mills.
He also would support removing the HST and debt reduction charges from hydro bills.
Campbell said she can support the removal of the HST from hydro bills.
“But we still have to pay our bills. The debt must be paid for,” he stressed.
She added that Northwestern Ontario produces more power—and cheaply—than it can use.
“We need a not-for-profit electric system in Northwestern Ontario,” she argued. “Manitoba does it, I think we can here.”
Archie Wiersema of Rainy River brought the issue of not enough full-time doctors threatening to close down Rainy River’s emergency room at times.
“What are you going to do to help us find doctors and our locum house project needs [provincial] funding?” he asked.
Leek said he has received many e-mails on this issue.
“It is really important to have an ER in Rainy River,” he remarked. “If Rainy River is not there, people are going to die.”
He also commended people for coming together to try and deal with the problem.
“Doctor retention and recruitment has been a big issue for years,” Leek said. “Trying to do something about it together speaks volumes about who we are.”
“I know this is a serious issue,” agreed McKay. “Maybe we could look at hiring a nurse practitioner.
“We will invest $330 million in front-line health care,” he pledged. “Something in the system is broken when we have to locally raise money for attracting doctors.”
“It is absurd to say that an MPP has to be on the side of government to have the government provide services it is supposed to,” said Campbell.
She called for getting rid of the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) and to forgive student debts for doctors that practise in rural areas.
“What’s not to love here!”
Romaniuk echoed Campbell, saying, “The government should be responsible for it. Government passes the blame.
“We need doctors and ones that are not overworked,” she stressed. “We need more than one doctor.”
“Consider the Liberal record,” McKay said later during his closing remarks.
“There have been thousands of jobs lost here. We have out-of-control hydro rates which are expected to go up by 56 percent over the next five-six years.
“Our mining sector was #1 in the world in 2002. Now it is 19th.”
McKay feels the riding needs a change to an MPP who is on the side of government.
“I think I have the experience and knowledge [and] a real desire to make a change,” he added.
“The Liberals have created a real disaster in Northwestern Ontario and they do not deserve your vote,” Campbell said in her closing remarks.
“Remember the PCs will say anything to get your vote,” she charged. “Under Mike Harris, they waged war on schools/teachers and privatized the electric system.
“They cut thousands of jobs and they have no plan to deal with doctor shortages.
“I have tried to show you what is possible,” Campbell added. “We have small numbers and big geography but I think we can do it!”
Romaniuk, meanwhile, said her party is about Northern Ontario.
“We should run our own economic development, control our resources, and start taking care of ourselves,” she stressed.
“Other parties have created chaos while in government,” Leek noted in his closing remarks. “We have provided stability, and invested in education and health care.
“We will continue uploading services that the PCs downloaded [to municipalities],” he added. “We want provincial responsibilities to be provincial responsibilities.
“I want to be a positive voice for you,” he concluded.