TORONTO—Newly minted Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader Doug Ford sat down with Northern Ontario journalists by teleconference last Friday morning to discuss Northern issues and his plan of approach to meeting those challenges. Current polls have Mr. Ford on track to be the premier of Ontario following the June 7 provincial election.
Mr. Ford began the interview recognizing the challenges presented by a leadership contest. “Leadership races are tough,” he said, “even tougher when you are going against friends and allies.” But he was adamant, “our party is united.”
Mr. Ford went on to assert that “I have always stood up for the little guy” before touching on the linchpin issue of “hard to afford hydro bills.” He alleged that the current government is “taking money from the taxpayer” and that he was “going to start putting money back into the pockets of taxpayers.”
Mr. Ford went on to attack the current government, saying that “the Liberal will do anything, say anything, to stay in power.”
“Under the Liberals,” he asserted, “the North has been left behind.” Mr. Ford then went on to attack the “insiders” who he said have profited from the current government, referencing the paycheque of the Hydro One CEO. He said that people in the North were struggling with high unemployment levels, “while people in the south are getting good paying jobs.”
The Tory leader then went on to reference a recent media report on a man who spent 10 days in a hospital bathroom at Sudbury’s Health Sciences North hospital (as no room was available in which to admit him) and the Liberal cuts to the Northlander passenger rail service.
His government, he suggested, would return the Northlander to service. His government would “provide people with proper transportation when we bring the train back—they will be able to find jobs a half-hour away.”
The Northlander passenger rail service ran between Toronto and Cochrane, connecting to the Polar Bear Express train running further north to Moose Factory. The Liberal government shut down the service citing high costs and low ridership numbers.
Also in the transportation field, Mr. Ford touched on the Ring of Fire. “We are going to start building roads,” he said, going on to say “even if I have to get on the bulldozer myself.”
Mr. Ford attacked the current government for appointing an MPP from Ottawa-Vanier (the Honourable Nathalie Des Rosier) to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. “You don’t put someone who doesn’t have a clue about forestry and mining in charge,” he said.
“My message to the North is very clear,” said Mr. Ford. “The North will be open for business. The North will at last have someone who has their back. Northern Ontario will have jobs.”
He concluded his statements by asserting that Northern Ontario “will have a say in every decision at Queen’s Park.”
Mr. Ford then took questions, one each, from Northern journalists on the line.
The first question referenced the current level of provincial debt and asked the Tory leader how he would solve the North’s problems without getting further into debt.
Mr. Ford replied by way of referencing the Humber River Hospital and its effective cost reduction program. “We would use the same format,” he said, citing “hundreds of millions in savings.” He advised the journalist to “listen to the documentary.”
A second question asked the Tory leader how he was going to get his message out to the people across the North. “Were you better off 15 years ago or today?” he replied. “I am going to be crisscrossing the North like you have never seen before.” Mr. Ford again brought the discussion back to the Ring of Fire, noting that there are “billions of dollars just sitting there” and saying the roads will be built “if I have to jump on the bulldozer.”
Mr. Ford reiterated that he believed that the money to meet his agenda would be found in reducing and eliminating government waste. “Do you think there is four cents of waste,” he said he asked the people he has met. Universally, he said, people have answered in the affirmative.
Asked by The Expositor about plans for the replacement of the Little Current Swing Bridge, Mr. Ford said “let’s find a way. No way it should cost millions of dollars (to study a solution), that’s not going to cut it. We are going to have to find efficiencies, it doesn’t cost millions to figure out how to change a bridge.”
On whether the Progressive Conservatives will see the completion of four-laning Highway 69 Mr. Ford was unequivocal. “Absolutely,” he said. “We are committed to finishing it.” He then turned the phone over to North Bay MPP Vic Fedelli. “There have been a lot of issues,” said Mr. Fedelli, who said more was needed than repeated photo ops. “All governments need to do more.”
Asked again about the Ring of Fire, Mr. Ford reiterated that his government would make sure the transportation infrastructure was built. “It will be good for everyone, First Nations communities, towns and all across the North,” he said. “What takes the time is the red tape,” he said. “Government drives me crazy.”
In closing, Mr. Ford said that his government would bring prosperity to the North “never seen before. We are going to open Ontario for business,” he said. “We will make business prosper like never before.”