Election debate draws small crowd

Only 10 days after the election call, candidates from the three major parties vying for the new Thunder Bay-Rainy River seat were at the Civic Centre last night to debate some local issues.
Despite the small turnout of only 20 people in the gallery, the three made every effort to get their message out.
“Don’t trust Paul Martin,” Conservative candidate David Leskowski said in response to a question about taxation from Brian Kahler of Fort Frances Living.
Leskowski said Liberal tax increases since 1993 have left families in Canada worse off than they were 10 years ago.
“This election is about accountability,” he added, drawing attention to the recent sponsorship scandal in Ottawa and the government’s misuse of public funds.
Alan Tibbetts, president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, asked the candidates how they felt about FedNor, and how they would help diversity and grow the local economy.
“Let’s be very clear. The Conservatives will pull the plug on FedNor,” charged Liberal candidate Ken Boshcoff. “Their leader has said it time and time again.”
During the closing remarks, Leskowski refuted that claim.
“The party that I represent likes FedNor,” he said. “FedNor is an excellent program that I intend to support 100 percent.”
NDP candidate John Rafferty said his party has a comprehensive platform to address the region’s economic concerns.
“I’m a small business person. I know jobs and the economy are the most important elements of living in a prosperous north,” he said, adding the NDP would create opportunities for youth to access skills training here in the region.
The Times’ representative asked the candidates how they would reduce red tape at the border in order to attract more American visitors to the region.
“Fort Frances has practically unlimited tourism potential,” Rafferty said, adding there must be enough Customs officers at the local border to keep all three booths open during peak hours.
He also noted local cattle farmers who wish to bring their livestock to Winnipeg to sell often face hassles at the U.S. border when taking the shorter route through Minnesota.
Leskowski said eliminating the gun registry would help reduce border problems.
“I’ve heard from a lot of [tourist] outfitters that it may be their worst problem,” he noted. “We will scrap the gun registry.”
Alan Dearing of B93 FM asked the candidates how they felt about health premiums, in light of the recent decision by Ontario’s Liberal government to resurrect them to help pay for health care.
“I think it clearly shows what happens when a Conservative government cuts back,” Boshcoff said, referring to the billion-dollar deficit the provincial Liberal government inherited from the Tories under former premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.
The three candidates all promised to open constituency offices in Fort Frances should they be elected June 28. All three have campaign offices located on Scott Street.
Also running in the new riding, but absent from last night’s debate, are Johannes Scheibler (Christian Heritage Party) and Russ Aegard (Green Party).