Powlowski considers challenges and opportunities of 2022

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Priorities for local MP include propping up the tourism industry, tackling the drug overdose crisis and recruiting more medical doctors

As 2022 takes off in full swing, Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski has several big-ticket items on his parliamentary plate that he’s keeping an eye on.

In conversation with the Times about looking ahead to 2022, Powlowski said the items he sees as being important for this calendar year are related to the area’s physician shortage, the ongoing substance abuse and opioid addiction crisis and going green.

Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski

The lack of doctors in the area is something that has been the focus of many different groups and organizations in the area, most recently taking some of the spotlight at the Rainy River district Municipal Association (RRDMA) annual general meeting. There, municipal leaders acknowledged the crisis that many municipalities in the area are facing, highlighting the Town of Rainy River as one such crisis point.

Powlowski noted that addressing the lack of doctors in the area is something he is personally invested in and plans to be working on this year.

“In the Liberal Party platform, we, being the party, said we would provide 7,500 new practitioners for underserviced areas,” Powlowski said.

“Now, that’s a lofty goal, but where do we expect to get these physicians from? There’s not a lot of us other than people like me – who are doing other things – who you can attract back into being practitioners. I think the easiest answer is foreign-trained graduates, somewhat nurse practitioners and medical assistants. However I think the foreign-trained doctors are kind of low lying fruit, and if the federal government was to put money into upgrading the skills of foreign-trained graduates where necessary, would address the chronic shortages of primary care practitioners in rural underserviced areas.”

Powlowski said the same strategy could be used to address the shortage of nurses in the province as well, and said that the addition of two new MP’s with medical backgrounds could also help to keep this item moving along.

“There are two new members of parliament who were, up until this election, practicing medicine,” he said.

“One of them is the Liberal MP from the Yukon [Brendan Hanley], and the other is Stephen Ellis, who is a Conservative from Nova Scotia. We’re all on the health committee and we all agree on this point. All of us are about the same age and have been practicing medicine for over 30 years and have not ever seen this issue really addressed successfully in Canada.”

Though most of colleges of physicians and surgeons are provincial bodies, Powlowski said he believes that the federal government stepping in to provide some money to the provinces for upgrading or re-certifying foreign-trained doctors and nurses could further help to diminish the existing shortage of trained medical professionals in the country.

Another item on Powlowski’s radar for 2022 is dealing with the substance abuse problem northwestern communities have been facing. There is some infrastructure in place to help those with substance abuse issues, including the recently opened safe beds program in Fort Frances, but Powlowski said he feels part of addressing the issue is to make sure there are more resources like it available.

“Certainly in Thunder Bay, and my guess is in Fort Frances and Atikokan as well, we don’t have enough places, initially detox places that are trying to get people off either alcohol or drugs,” he said.

“And then more long-term accommodation to try to ensure they continue to stay off the drugs and get back into society. I think under the pandemic, almost all of us know of people who have overdosed or died, and I think this is an important issue we start addressing.”

In addition to recruiting more physicians and continuing to tackle the opioid epidemic, Powlowski said the country needs to begin tackling the backlog of medical procedures that has built up over the course of the pandemic.

“This has to be addressed because there are a lot of people who need their colonoscopies and their gastroscopies and their investigation and their angiograms to get them treated to prevent deaths from other causes,” he said.

As for green energy, Powlowski said he’s considering a private members bill that would make it a requirement for the government to use wood first when building new or renovating old buildings.

“There is a movement in a lot of places for using increased lumber for construction,” he explained.

“UBC has a 15-storey building, and there are buildings in Norway and Sweden built all with wood, which is environmentally much friendlier, as steel and concrete produce a lot of greenhouse gasses, whereas wood is taking carbon dioxide and capturing it in the wood and keeping it in your building. It’s good for climate change but it’s also obviously great for northwestern Ontario and the forestry industry to promote this.”

Powlowski also pointed to initiatives in Thunder Bay around producing green hydrogen from wood products, as well as some interest from some companies in starting a lithium mine for electric batteries.

“There is a whole bunch of initiatives that I would say are largely in their infancy related to green technology,” he said.

“I think the government has a great interest in because one, it addresses climate change but two, it creates jobs and I think for northwestern Ontario, we’d like as much as possible to be able to perhaps pivot with our resource economy to take advantage of the green technology, and I think we can.”

A final point Powlowski made was to try and promote tourism to northwestern Ontario, highlighting the “great” relationship he said the region has with the American midwest and making the push to appeal to and bring over more tourists from Europe and Asia.

“I think it does have so much to offer as a tourist destination,” he said.