Skip to content

Bisson, Pirie clash at debate

Opioid crisis, Côté Gold Mine reasons for candidates vying to be Timmins' next MPP to clash

The opioid crisis and Côté Gold Mine were reasons for two candidates vying to be Timmins' next MPP to clash.

Incumbent NDP Gilles Bisson and PC candidate George Pirie had their first — and potentially only — chance to go head-to-head on the issues facing Timmins yesterday (May 17). The Timmins Chamber hosted the debate at the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Centre.

For over an hour, Bisson and Pirie took questions from a panel of people representing local industry, post-secondary institutes, real estate,  small businesses and more.

The discussion was fairly tame except for several exchanges. 

While Bisson and Pirie agree there have been successes at IAMGOLD's Côté Gold mine and the local opioid crisis, they disagreed on who deserves the credit.

With staggeringly high rates of overdose deaths, the opioid crisis has been at the forefront in Timmins for years. 

As mayor, Pirie said he led the local response to the opioid crisis along with Michael Tibollo, the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. 

“We’ve had some success in Timmins and that success didn’t happen because of one person. It happens because we have good agencies,” said Bisson.

Recently, $2.3 million was announced for new addictions treatment beds at the Jubilee Centre and Timmins and District Hospital (TADH). The hospital also received base funding for additional withdrawal management beds.

“It’s not anybody standing up and saying it was one person. But quite frankly it was led by the Conservatives, it wasn’t led by the NDP. Listen to what the doctors Bellemare and Samson said about this, it was not led by the NDP. In fact the NDP was not involved at all,” said Pirie.

“That is not true, and you know it,” countered Bisson, adding that he's met with Tibollo, as has the NDP northern caucus.

“To all of a sudden say ‘this didn’t happen because of you’, it happened because of us. We work well as a community and the more we remember that, the better we’re going to be,” Bisson said.

During the debate on the topic, Bisson also said more has to be done, including bringing mental health into the OHIP system, "so that we can wrap services around people to be able to deal with the issues that they’re having to struggle with."

For Côté Gold, which came up while answering a question about strategies for sustainably managing the environment alongside the economy, Pirie said it took the PCs appointing a senior environmental advisor and the intervention of himself and Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger to give the Gogama-area mine that broke ground in 2020 "the attention it needed." 

Bisson noted that the company had been going through environmental assessment process and permitting requirements for some time.

“Did they have problems? Absolutely. Did the Conservative government help them with some of them? Yes, they did. But so did a whole bunch of other people. And to say it only happened because Mayor Bigger and Mayor Pirie came along and fixed it, I don’t think respects the work ... that other people have done,” said Bisson.

He listed the company, Gogama residents, Mattagami First Nation and people at the provincial and federal levels that were involved in the process because they "understood it was sustainable and it was good for the economy."

“It was stalled and it took the PCs when they got elected to step in and make sure that project got built, simple as that. You need an advocate, you need someone that’s going to make it happen and that’s exactly what the PCs did,” argued Pirie.

Green candidate Elizabeth Lockhard was invited to participate as well. There is no Liberal candidate on the ballot for Timmins.

While there are two other registered candidates — New Blue David Farrell and Ontario Provincial Confederation of Regions Party Nadia Sadiq — the Chamber used the Elections Ontario reimbursement of expenses criteria as its guideline. It means only registered candidates who receive at least five per cent of the popular vote in the electoral district are eligible to take part.