Local candidates debate the issues

No knock-out punches were delivered during Wednesday afternoon’s debate among the local candidates in the upcoming federal election.
But four of the five men seeking the Thunder Bay-Kenora riding took the opportunity to deliver their party’s message to voters, and to highlight the differences—and some similarities—between them.
“We all want the same thing for our riding—a stronger future for our children,” Green candidate Russ Aegard said in his opening remarks.
The question of how to achieve that future was where the candidates differed.
The four each were given time for opening remarks, followed by questions from local media regarding economic development, privatization of health care, the federal surplus, the forestry crisis, and international border crossing issues.
The media representatives were Louis Bruyere of The Wolf 92.3 FM, Marlene Deschamps of the Westend Weekly, Mike Freeman of B•93 FM, Melanie Béchard of the Fort Frances Times, and Brian Kahler of Fort Frances Today.
Some time then was allowed for audience questions, followed by closing remarks.
Incumbent Liberal MP Ken Boshcoff focused on his record of achievement since he was first elected in June, 2004.
“Last time around, there was some concern this new part of the riding would be neglected,” he noted of Rainy River District.
Boshcoff said he and his staff visited all 16 municipalities and 11 First Nations in the region within his first months in office to meet his constituents and learn about their concerns.
He added his method of working has been one using the three A’s: approachability, accountability, and accessibility.
He cited the progress being made on the Morson cell tower and the local abattoir as examples of his hard work.
NDP candidate John Rafferty came out strong against the Liberals, pointing to their “legacy of corruption,” as well as recent movement within the party to replace Paul Martin.
He indicated the importance of tourism and farming to this region’s economy, and said the NDP’s platform honours the “critical role” farmers play in society.
“The NDP will improve public health care and stop privatization in its tracks,” he pledged.
His party also will raise the personal exemption on income tax for low- and middle-income earners, and said he approved of the upcoming requirement for passports at the international border.
He cited the recent discovery of thousands of missing licence plates and drivers licences in Ontario, and the fact an Ontario driver’s licence therefore is not a secure document.
Rafferty also suggested a Canadian citizen’s first passport should be free.
Meanwhile, Conservative candidate David Leskowski said his party has “a strong connection to rural value.”
He referred to the Liberal government’s failure to act on the softwood lumber issue with the U.S. years ago before it became a full-blown dispute.
“That $2.5 billion would now be in the hands of our forest industry,” Leskowski noted, adding forestry companies “should be covered dollar for dollar by the government who failed them.”
Leskowski also said the Tories have a national energy strategy that would help local mills.
He was particularly critical of the Liberals’ record on health care. And he pointed to expensive programs that ended in scandal, such as the national gun registry and the sponsorship program.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought the Government of Canada would have cut health care to fund these programs,” Leskowski said. “History shows you can’t trust the Liberals to address the health care system.”
Aegard provided much of the comic relief during the debate. “Unless pigs start flying on Jan. 23, I’ll probably still be a teacher,” he admitted.
He suggested mills should be owned by the people who work there, rather than big corporations.
“They’re not interested in maintaining our forests. They’re interested in maintaining profits,” he charged.
Employees would practice better forest management because “they want the forest to be there in future for their children and their children’s children,” he added.
Aegard also said there needs to be more emphasis placed locally-owned businesses and skilled trades. Regarding health care, he said the key to reducing costs is through prevention.
“We are killing ourselves slowly with the poisons going into our food, air, and water systems,” he argued, adding a healthy population puts less stress on the health care system.
Absent from the two-hour debate, organized by the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, was local Marijuana Party candidate Doug MacKay.