Islanders pose questions to MPP hopefuls during Expositor’s All Candidates’ Night

Veteran Island auctioneer Norm Morrell handled the moderator’s job like the consummate professional he is. - photo by Michael Erskine

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following are the questions from the floor from the May 15 All Candidates’ Night held at Manitoulin secondary School and hosted by this newspaper. Four of six candidates were in attendance: Justin Tilson of the Green Party, Tommy Lee of the Northern Ontario Party, Michael Mantha of the NDP (incumbent) and Charles Fox of the Liberal Party.

Larry Killens of South Baymouth asked the candidates to list their top three problems, either local or provincial, as they see them, asking them to consider education (Mr. Killens is the Manitoulin trustee of the Rainbow District School Board).

Liberal: Charles Fox said he sees the lack of employment and resource development as problems in the riding. In terms of education, Mr. Fox reminded the audience that First nations people only receive 50 percent of the funding that their non-First Nation neighbours receive. He added that better partnerships need to be developed between the federal and provincial governments.

NDP: In terms of education Michael Mantha said he would eliminate the EQAO testing and acknowledged the need to adjust First Nation funding in education to fix the shortfall. His top three issues for the riding are roads, hydro and healthcare, he said.

“Why the government decided to privatize the roads system is beyond me,” he said of highway contractors, adding that if they aren’t doing their job, the contractors need to be fined.

“Why did the government decide to sell off one of our biggest assets?” he asked, referencing the sale of Hydro One. Ontarians said no, yet the government has sold 60 percent of its shares so far.

Mr. Mantha said the NDP has a plan to get those shares back by using the dividends accrued through the remaining 40 percent shares to buy back stock.

On the topic of healthcare, “You’ve all seen the hallway medicine because of 10 years of frozen budgets. Northern Ontario hospitals told the premier ‘we are in crisis,’ but their pleas were ignored.”

Northern Ontario Party: Tommy Lee spoke of the decline in population, referencing the White River sawmill that is booming but can’t find enough people to fill shifts. Mr. Lee also spoke of the Algoma Central Railway that was recently cut, yet the Liberal government poured millions into GO transit.

Green Party: Justin Tilson spoke of permaculture, “a way of living based on what we can do here with the resources we have. Right now, the government gives those resources away for free,” he added, noting Norway’s model of companies paying high fees for use of resources.

On the education front, Mr. Tilson said the Green Party would eliminate all Catholic school boards. “No other religion has that,” he said.

Greg Young of Wiikwemkoong, retired personal support worker (PSW) said long term care in Ontario is in crisis, citing that currently, there is no minimum time requirement for PSWs to spend with patients each day. From his own personal experience, six or seven minutes with a patient in the morning was typical. “If elected, would you work to get Bill 33, Time to Care Act, re-tabled and passed and support an increase to PSW wages?”

Green Party: “Six or seven minutes is absurd,” Mr. Tilson said. “What you’re asking is entirely in reason.”

Northern Ontario Party: “We believe the budget needs to be balanced and can’t go on running a huge deficit,” said Mr. Lee.

If the bill was re-tabled, he said he would poll his constituents and do what they thought right.

NDP: Mr. Mantha cited page 19 of the NDP platform, which states that PSWs would be mandated to give each patient four hours of care and would open an inquiry “to find out what’s going on in long term care facilities.”

“PSWs are leaving hospitals and homes because they’re exhausted.,” he said.

Mr. Mantha asked the audience how many people can do their morning routine in six or seven minutes. “None of you,” he said.

Liberal: “There’s no such programming in our communities, but we would welcome it,” Mr. Fox began. “I’d certainly like to examine that questions and take it a step further. Can it be improved?” he asked.

Marge Wilton of Dominion Bay told the candidates that 79 days ago she was diagnosed with heart disease and told she needed a triple bypass. It was now a matter of waiting.

Liberal: Mr. Fox said he was a survivor of heart surgery, but had to go to Hamilton to get it. He said he would like to see that surgery available in the North. Remote First Nations, he added, don’t get proper treatment.

NDP: Mr. Mantha told Ms. Wilton the NDPs would immediately inject $960 million into the hospital system to get it caught up after 10 years of freezing. After 10 years, the NDP would inject another $19 million into the hospital system.

“For 10 years hospitals have been underfunded,” he said.

Northern Ontario Party: Mr. Lee said the NOP realizes the gross inequality between the north and south, not only in terms of health care, but transportation and other issues too.

Green Party: Mr. Tilson told Ms. Wilton he was sorry she was ill and wished her all the best before explaining that the Greens support increased health care funding. However, he said, the party’s focus is on spending more on preventing poor health before it happens. “An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure,” he said.

Mike Wilton, also of Dominion Bay (and spouse of the previous questioner), asked the candidates what they would do to stop the Line 5 gas and oil pipeline that flows under the Straits of Mackinac.

Green Party: “It blows my mind that we have a pipeline running through the Great Lakes,” Mr. Tilson said. “I would advocate with a lot of passion to remove it from the Great Lakes,” and to find alternate transportation for the oil.

Northern Ontario Party: “There’s no place for pipelines in the Great Lakes,” Mr. Lee said. “I don’t believe in transporting crude oil.”

NDP: Mr. Mantha said the Great Lakes are under a lot of threat and greater engagement is needed, especially with First Nations. Going forward, Mr. Mantha spoke of the use of roads or trains for transportation of oil.

“It needs to start with a revision of the Environmental Bill of Rights,” he added.

Liberal: “As First Nation people, we place great prominence on water,” Mr. Fox said. It sustains us; it’s our source of life. When our source of life is threatened, it requires thorough public forums to make decisions. As First Nations, we are the custodians of Mother Earth.”

Zack Nicholls of Little Current asked the candidates if their parties would support changes to the Cosmetic Pesticides Act that would allow municipalities to govern their own lands when it comes to allowing or disallowing the spraying of herbicides and pesticides.

Liberal: “When you look at the effect of any toxic substance and the effect on the land, it affects us,” Mr. Fox said.

NDP: Mr. Mantha said he was proud to be involved with the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Elders and the Manitoulin group, for whom he has introduced a petition in the legislature.

Mr. Mantha said the only reason the government allows this is because it’s cheaper and easier.

Green Party: Mr. Tilson said he realized the downside of having municipalities make those decisions because it creates a patchwork of bylaws that makes it impossible for companies and ministries to navigate. However, he said, if herbicides weren’t applied it would in turn mean more jobs for people to do the same job manually.

Margaret Van Camp of White’s Point asked Mr. Fox why he’s a Liberal and what he’s most pleased with in terms of Kathleen Wynne’s accomplishments.

Liberal: “I am not Liberal, I am Anishinaabe,” Mr. Fox replied. “I was appointed by the party to let my name stand.”

Mr. Fox said he first approached the First Nation leadership of the riding to get their blessing and with it, he let his name stand.

Mr. Fox said he was pleased that Ms. Wynne approved the hook up to the grid for Northern remote communities to improve Internet access and said he sees Truth and Reconciliation action under the provincial Liberals and feels they are on the right course.

“To begin to develop those bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous, I believe in that,” he added.

“We weren’t allowed to vote until 1958,” Mr. Fox stated. “Oppression weighs heavily on me. The shackles of colonization have been slowly removed.”

Mr. Fox said he looks forward to working in “the big band office in Toronto.”

Heather Wilson of Espanola asked about the parties’ stances on the Ring of Fire.

NDP: Mr. Mantha said constructive conversations with Indigenous people must be had. “Trust is built, not taken.”

Northern Ontario Party: “Our party is excited for the Ring of Fire,” Mr. Lee said. “The Northern Ontario Party would modernize the Mining Act. Currently, royalties are a pittance. That needs to change.”

Green Party: Mr. Tilson said his party agreed with delivering resources, but in consultation with all stakeholders, not just wealth investors, and with an eye to the long term saying that Ontario did not need an ecological disaster such as can be found in Alberta.

Liberal: Mr. Fox recognized the Ring of Fire as a major development but “the issues of partnership and informed consent is a big issue. Miners come and go. What then is left for the residents of this area? That’s what is of concern to First Nations.”

Mark Hamalainen of Little Current asked how the parties can prepare the province for a future of automation and artificial intelligence which will likely mean a loss of jobs in some sectors for this province’s residents.

Green Party; “The Greens are advocates for universal basic income,” Mr. Tilson said, acknowledging that if automation isn’t controlled, it will mean a divide between the “crazy rich” and “crazy poor.”

With guaranteed income, the expensive overhead of systems such as Ontario Works is removed.

NDP: Mr. Mantha said that the province does need to prepare for the future and suggested a restructuring of schools to educate, attract and maintain youth in high tech sectors.

Liberal: Mr. Fox spoke of “brain drain” from the riding, which is more stark in First Nation communities. “We need to come up with a creative approach to keeping our youth here.”

Sandy McGillivray asked the candidates how their parties would balance the needs of the patients with the morals of the doctor when it comes to medically assisted death.

Liberal: Considering the suicide epidemic facing some Northern reserves, Mr. Fox said he did not support medically assisted death.

NDP: Mr. Mantha said he believed that those who wish to die in that way are entitled to it, referencing a constituent and his battle with failing health.

Green Party: “Basically, we tortured my father to death,” Mr. Tilson shared. He said the Green Party wants to give both the patients and doctors the choice, but that “government is too cautious. My dad could have gone in peace, and on his own time.”

Wikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier asked if the candidates’ parties were committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how they would do it.

Green Party: “In principle, I’m with you,” Mr. Tilson said.

Northern Ontario Party: Mr. Lee admitted the NOP should have more Indigenous people in the party, and the party needs to address Indigenous concerns in its platforms.

Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier challenged the candidates over whether their parties support the UN Declaration in on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

NDP: Mr. Mantha said their federal leader, Jagmeet Singh, has said he would fully implement the declaration.

Liberal: “It’s an issue we have been fighting for for decades,” Mr. Fox said. “One of the challenges we have here is we do get that acknowledgement internationally, but not at home.”

Mr. Fox said he knows that a statement in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission refers to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and that both federal and provincial governments need to implement it, noting that the province is moving that way.

M’Chigeeng First Nation Ogimaa Linda Debassige asked how the candidates’ parties propose to adjust the jurisdictional gaps between the province and the federal government, noting that the natural resources have been a major revenue pot that funds government initiatives. All this, the chief added, despite the Crown’s duty to the treaties.

M’Chigeeng Ogima-kwe Linda Debassige poses a question to the candidates on dealing with jurisdictional gaps between

NDP: Mr. Mantha referenced the NDP policy book on adjusting funding gaps and said he would be pleased to speak with Ogimaa Debassige following the meeting.

Liberal: “We need to sit down and begin to hammer this out,” Mr. Fox said. “All too often we fall into a dilemma. First Nations are not afforded the respect. We need to balance the power. We need to make sure the provincial government balances it so that all resource money flows to First Nations.”

Linda Bowerman of Sheguiandah spoke of her recent trials and tribulations in the health care system and asking of the candidates would support government funding for naturopathy.

All parties: Yes.

Lastly, a librarian noted to the candidates that libraries have been severely underfunded. “Will you support the $7 million that’s been promised?”

NDP: Mr. Mantha spoke of the NDP policy that states that libraries would receive $3 million each year.

Liberal: “Most definitely,” Mr. Fox said.

Northern Ontario Party: Mr. Lee said it wasn’t in the NOP platform, but if it was the will of the constituents, then yes.

Green Party: Yes.