The Dryden Observer

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Campaign reflections, northern priorities

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

MP-elect Bob Nault to target economy, infrastructure, health care in new mandate

By Chris Marchand

Kenora MP-elect Bob Nault is laying out his game-plan to make good on the federal Liberal party’s promises for ‘real change’ that delivered them a majority government early last week.

Nault captured the riding by a slim margin of 520 votes over NDP rival Howard Hampton, part of a historic turnaround for the federal Liberals.

“We anticipated that it was going to go down to the wire and that’s exactly what did happen,” said Nault. “We had spent a lot of time in all the communities, even the First Nations, so we were very sure we could hold our own across the whole riding.”

First Nations voters were a big part of the story, with voter turnout on First Nations up 72 per cent in the riding with at least four First Nations running short of ballots.

“We’re very pleased with that change because over the years it was always the perception that First Nations were not going to vote. That is no longer the case and that’s a good thing,” said Nault, who says the First Nations vote was likely key to ousting incumbent Conservative MP Greg Rickford.

“Going door-to-door we knew Greg’s support had collapsed in Red Lake and Sioux Lookout,” said Nault. “You could tell from the start it was really between Howard Hampton and myself. We knew the Conservatives were stronger in Kenora and Dryden, we just didn’t know how strong. We had a pretty good sense that the Conservatives under Greg weren’t going to get any votes in First Nations and that’s a big part of the riding now — a big block of votes.”

Nault says the regional economy, a major focus of his campaign, will be an early priority moving forward.

“Our greatest export market right now is our young people who leave and don’t come back,” said Nault. “So we’re going to put a lot of time and effort into skills training and developing the economy. We’re going to sit down with leaders in the region to talk about their individual priorities, then start talking as a region about what we can accomplish. You’ll see some economic forums announced in the not-too-distant future with the idea of having these kinds of discussions.”

Infrastructure, including an election commitment from Justin Trudeau himself to support Shoal Lake #40’s Freedom Road project, in conjunction with The City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba is another action item for Nault.

“We’re going to move as fast as possible on our commitments on major infrastructure development in partnership with the province, First Nations and municipalities,” said Nault. “We are a very underdeveloped as a region. If we want our economy to grow we’re going to have to start developing the other two-thirds of it that are not and opening up the north.”

Another focus of Nault’s campaign was a proposal for a regional hospital that would be based in Kenora. He says an overhaul of the Canadian medical system is overdue to address the evolving needs of the population.

“We’re got major, major gaps,” said Nault. “From the national perspective, I think the federal government will have to talk to the province and the regions about changing the way we deliver health care here in the north and across the country. It’s going to be a big-ticket item for us because we haven’t had a national conversation about health care for over 10 years. We do need to change things — we have an aging population and different needs from hospital care to home care.”

Overall, Nault says the Liberal Party’s strong majority position should allow him some wiggle room when it comes to often difficult decisions between representing his constituents’ interests or toeing the party line on issues that cross the rural/urban divide.

“When you get a majority it’s a stable government with a ‘change’ agenda so it should drive some exciting changes for us,” he said. “You’re going to see some democratic reform, in how parliament works, which is a big part of why I ran. Our democratic reform agenda included having Members of Parliament being more free to disagree with our party, which you do at times when you’re a rural Member of Parliament facing urban policy. I’m excited about the fact that Mr. Trudeau is going to allow us to exercise some discretion from the party and support our constituents more which I think people want to see their MPs do — not just spout the line from Ottawa.”

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