Progressive Conservative’ Jib Turner and Libertarian Kalena Mallon-Ferguson MIA
M’CHIGEENG—Manitoulin once again showed its thoughtful and intelligent nature through the calibre of questions presented to the four candidates for the June 7 provincial election present for the Manitoulin All Candidates’ Night held at Manitoulin Secondary School and emceed by the venerable Norm Morrell. The event was organized and hosted by The Manitoulin Expositor.
On stage for the Tuesday, May 15 event were the Green Party’s Justin Tilson, the Northern Ontario Party’s Tommy Lee, incumbent and NDP representative Michael Mantha and the Liberal Party’s Charles Fox. Both Progressive Conservative candidate Jib Turner and Libertarian Party candidate Kalena Mallon-Ferguson were unable to attend the event.
With a drawing of straws. The Liberal Party’s Charles Fox was the first to speak. Mr. Fox began his address in Anishinaabemowin and told the audience that he is a residential school survivor, not returning home until the age of 20. His father, Mr. Fox shared, taught him to always use the language at important events “like this one.”
“I come before you in humility to seek your support in becoming your representative at Queen’s Park,” Mr. Fox said.
The Liberal candidate spoke of his First Nations advocacy work through his time as Grand Chief of the Nishinawbe Aski Nation and Grand Regional Chief of Ontario at the Assembly of First Nations.
Mr. Fox spoke of how it is his wish to put the riding, and Manitoulin, on the map when dealing with issues such as employment, economics, social services and business development, adding that the lack of economic development has been prevalent on his tour of Algoma-Manitoulin. “How do I begin to address that? That’s the challenge I see.” Mr. Fox said his experience as a First Nation leader will stand him in good stead on his journey to Queen’s Park.
“How do we become a presence those in the south pay attention too?” the Liberal candidate asked. “With your help, guidance and showing me the issues, I will bring that to the leadership at Queen’s Park.”
Mr. Fox also asked how the people of this riding and the province can begin to bridge the challenge of unity and working together with First nations and non-First Nations. “I want to begin to bridge those issues,” he said.
The Green Party’s Justin Tilson began by sharing that he’s a local who spent a good chunk of his life not on Manitoulin, but chose to return and “put down roots.”
Mr. Tilson also ran for the Green Party eight years ago in the riding of Algoma-Manitoulin, he noted.
“I’m here tonight to try and dispel some myths,” he said.
The Green Party is not all tree huggers or anti-development, Mr. Tilson continued. “Yes, they care about the environment, but they care about business too,” he added, naming the myriad of ‘pro’ things the Greens care about.
“I just hope we can make a reasonable and intelligent change without making this worse,” Mr. Tilson said of the current state of the province.
“I realize that it’s not easy being Green,” he quipped, calling himself the underdog in the race.
Incumbent NDP MPP Michael Mantha said that he is just now, after two terms as Algoma-Manitoulin’s MPP, seeing some of the benefits.
“We’ve done fantastic things on community projects,” Mr. Mantha said. “It took a lot of people to get these things done, and that’s why we’ve been successful.”
His success, he said, has come from building relationships with the people of Queen’s park, no matter their political stripe.
“This election is all about choices,” Mr. Mantha continued. “The present Liberal government has been making choices for the last 15 years.”
He encouraged the audience to ask themselves ‘have they helped me?’, ‘am I better off now?’ is it easier for me to pay for prescriptions or my hydro bill?’, ‘are the roads safer?’
“We need a change for the better,” Mr. Mantha continued. We need policies that are going to benefit the people of Ontario, all of it, with no more paintbrush solutions. What works in Toronto does not mean it’s going to work in Northern Ontario.”
“I stand here very proud of what we’ve done in Algoma Manitoulin,” the NDP candidate concluded.
The Northern Ontario Party’s (NOP) Tommy Lee began with a brief history of his party, which was previously named the Northern Ontario Heritage Party and was formed in the 1970s.
Mr. Lee said most people think of the NOP as a separatist party and admitted that while there is a certain element of the party that is indeed separatist, “what we’re really focussed on is providing a strong voice for Northern Ontario.”
Mr. Lee explained that the NOP believes in not having a party whip, meaning that those elected can vote how they see fit, and based on their constituents wants, not necessarily the way the party wishes.
The NOP has a Northern Ontario manufacturing plan which would ensure that at least 50 percent of the raw materials coming from Northern Ontario need to be manufactured here too.
Since 1990, Mr. Lee continued, there has been a decline in the North’s population. “With a manufacturing plan, we can turn that trend around.”
In the rebuttals, Mr. Fox said he was not there to defend Liberal policies or their track record.
“I am an individual person with my own mind,” he said.
“I don’t take comfort in a PC government, and I certainly like to think we’re all on the same page,” Mr. Fox added, turning to the NDP and reminding the audience of the NDP government under then leader Bob Rae.
“It’s my intention to influence policy from within,” the Liberal said. “Being a minority is nothing new for me. I’ve been a minority persona all my life and I certainly would welcome the challenge of taking on that role,” Mr. Fox added, referencing both his identity as a First Nations person and the possibility of a Liberal minority government.
Mr. Tilson said people tend to think of parties in terms of left-right axis. “Greens are socially pretty left, but fiscally the party is pretty conservative,” he explained.
“We want to form a government that can live within its means while still move the province forward,” the Green Party candidate said. “We want to make sure that people are taken care of, but do it responsibly.” Mr. Tilson spoke of the province’s “expensive and complicated” nuclear power setup. He explained that Quebec had offered to sell Ontario cheap, clean power, but the province insisted on refurbishing its nuclear sites at great cost instead.
“The Liberals decided to reduce electricity prices, but borrowed money to do it,” Mr. Tilson continued. That money, he said, could have been used to retrofit homes to make them more energy efficient.
In his rebuttal, Mr. Mantha said he had the “utmost respect” for his fellow candidates.
“For the last 15 years, Liberals have made their choices, now it’s time to make yours,” Mr. Mantha said.
He spoke of the NDP’s plan for a Northern Ontario caucus that would encompass all parties.
In reference to Mr. Fox’s comment about Bob Rae, Mr. Mantha reminded the audience that it was Mr. Rae who first began to build Indigenous relationships.
Mr. Mantha pointed to a child in the audience and said it “pained him” to look at her and think of her future thanks to the “$40 million boondoggle made by the Liberals” that she will be forced to pay for.
Mr. Lee was the last to rebut. He noted that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) currently has a minister from southern Ontario who’s likely “never even seen a black bear.”
The NOP feels that both the MNRF and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines should be in the North and run by a Northerner.
In terms of hydro, “Where I live, we’ve seen some cuts, but Northern Ontario produces roughly 15 percent of the province’s power, but we use less than 10 percent, and yet we pay some of the highest rates in the province.”