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By Michael Christianson
The Dryden Chamber of Commerce and the Dryden Young Professionals Network hosted an all candidates forum at The Centre in Dryden on Sept. 30. On stage for the debate was Conservative incumbent Greg Rickford, Liberal candidate Bob Nault, Green Party candidate Ember McKillop and NDP candidate Howard Hampton. Independent candidate Kelvin Boucher Chicago came to the event but the forum had not planned for the fifth candidate and he did not participate.
After introductions, questions were posed and each candidate had their allotted time to respond followed by another 30 seconds for each candidate to speak and respond to the other candidates’ responses.
McKillop began the night to introduce herself and her party as an alternative option to the other major parties. McKillop says she has lived all over this riding and knows first hand what happens in the north.
Bob Nault said it was a big decision for him to come back into politics. He says the riding and the country need clear investments to help bring back the economy.
Greg Rickford was quick to dip into his party’s platform addressing the threat of terrorism, an unstable global economy and said his party has delivered on these issues while in office
Howard Hampton said he returned to politics because he is worried about Northwestern Ontario and Canada.
The first question of the night came from the Chamber Membership:
What steps would your government take to support local business and create business opportunities?
Hampton took his first shot at the Conservatives saying there was money for these projects but it didn’t go to the people, it went back into balancing the budget. He said the NDP would invest in infrastructure.
McKillop said we must put small businesses first because they employ the most people and the Greens have a ‘Think Small First’ program that would put in place new laws to help small businesses.
Nault spoke about the Liberal’s program and how since 2004 when he left office many businesses have closed and it can be seen throughout the north.
Greg Rickford spoke of the steps his government has made to help small businesses including decreasing the tax rate.
Notable rebuttals included Hampton attacking Trudeau for saying small businesses are scamming money. While Nault chose to address Rickford saying their government had frozen the PACE budget for 10 years.
The Dryden Young Professionals Network asked the second question of the night:
Why should young people vote and why should they vote for your party?
McKillop was first to answer and she said it was a fantastic question. She said a lot of youth are disenfranchised by watching the status quo be maintained and the Green party is an alternative. She said strategic voting is eroding democracy and that we should all vote our conscience.
Nault said that this riding has one of the youngest populations in Canada.
Rickford spoke about how his party has engaged young people in schools and continues to speak to the youth across the riding.
Hampton said we need to address growing inequality which is affecting youth and that has to do with changing the tax system.
The first question from the floor came from a retired gentleman who was concerned about transportation for people in the north and things like getting to doctors appointments in places like Winnipeg or Thunder Bay.
What would your party do to support transit?
Nault said that the federal government must partner with municipalities to address these concerns
Rickford says it is an issue his government is paying close attention to. He spoke about the federal gas tax fund and bluntly stated the problem is that the provincial gas tax only goes to cities with transit, which doesn’t apply to most cities in the riding.
Hampton said there must be a partnership between federal, provincial and municipal governments to work together to address the issue. He also stated the province has many transit system in central and southern Ontario such as Go Transit and that Northwestern Ontario must be treated the same as Southern Ontario.
McKillop said it’s time to reinvest in railway and have better access for commuters.
Nault’s rebuttal said government’s must work together and that the Conservative government always blames the provinces.
Rickford’s response was that Premiere Wynne always blames the federal government.
The next question was submitted online:
What are the biggest threats and opportunities in the Kenora district?
Rickford focused on the good pointing to new businesses in the area such as Goldcorp.
Hampton spoke about the Ring of Fire and how it’s not progressing fast enough. He says the First Nations in the area want to see it developed but the federal budget didn’t even mention it. He pointed to Sudbury as an example of mining and mineral work moving along and supporting a community.
McKillop said we must improve extraction methods through research and design to adhere to a more green approach
Nault said a big challenge is cost of energy.
Rebuttal from Rickford stated that Fednor has put money towards the Ring of Fire project. Hampton said when his government left power in Ontario they were on the right track. Nault said another challenge is the out migration of young people.
The next question came from the floor and was on the topic of climate change.
What would your government do to ensure a livable future?
Hampton stated man made climate change is real and must be taken seriously. The NDP approach would be cap and trade.
McKillop said the Greens would tax big polluters and give the money back to the people. The party is against pipelines and believes we must shift away from fossil fuels and get our eggs out of one basket.
Nault said it is clear to northerners that climate change is real stating Lake of the Woods opens a month earlier than it used to.
Rickford said his government is the only one to reduce carbon rates
Hampton attacked the Liberals in his rebuttal saying that when they were in power emissions rose.
Nault took offence saying he was the Vice Chair during the time his government works on Kyoto and he worked on it for months with credible people with the intention of making it work
The question was submitted:
What is your government ready to allocate next year, financial or otherwise for First Nations?
McKillop stated $5 billion and the intention to revisit the Kelowna accord.
Nault stated $515 million per year for education and $500 million per year for far north infrastructure and roads.
Rickford said his party will continue to make targeted investments working on water and sewer systems and said the Conservatives have built seven new schools in the north.
Hampton said there are at least a dozen First Nation communities in the north under boil water advisories and this is unacceptable in 2015. He stated $604 million per year which would raise to $700 million per year dealing with urgent issues first.
The final question of the night came from the floor
How will your government encourage women to enter the science field?
Nault said he would approach schools more directly to engage women.
Rickford pointed to his governments investments and programs
Hampton said the problem is the economy. It costs too much to get a master’s degree and student debt is crippling.
McKillop said there are a lot of fields where women are underrepresented, for example, members of parliament. She said pay inequality needs to be addressed.
Hampton stated that the Conservatives have told us to cut taxes for corporations and the money would trickle down and it hasn’t. He said we must deal with inequality. He said he was there tonight to ask tough questions. We need to know where money comes from and where it goes.
Rickford took a moment to address the other candidates and thank them for their service to Canada. He said that under the Conservatives watch they have fixed things that are broken and has helped the first and mining industry, he also brought up the long gun registry. He will continue to be a strong voice and get results.
Nault said the north is falling behind and the Conservative agenda is not working in the north or in Canada. He says his government will be careful with your money. He says a Liberal government will be a dramatic change; it will be an open government and a government of science.
McKillop said she is in the race to bring up important issues and she is getting herself out there to hear concerns and she wants to see change. She said the Green party is a grassroots movement and she wants to live in a Canada that doesn’t put the environment second to the economy. She says in the Green party you are free to vote for your constituents not just for the party’s agenda.