Touching on everything from Northern Ontario roads to business, racism, apprenticeships and more, five of the candidates vying for the Timmins seat at Queen’s Park debated the issues last night.
Ahead of the June 7 provincial election, the Timmins Chamber of Commerce hosted the debate. Nearly 100 people took in the event at O’Gorman High School, while more were able to watch from home on the live stream.
The candidates taking part were Liberal Mickey Auger, Libertarian Jozef Bauer, NDP Gilles Bisson, PC Yvan Genier and Northern Ontario Party’s Gary Schaap.
While discussions didn’t get too out of hand, there was an exchange back and forth when Bisson said Genier had approached him earlier this year to ask how he could run for the NDP.
It started when Genier took aim at Bisson while answering a question about how the candidates would ensure the needs of Northern Ontario are represented at Queen’s Park.
Bisson said political parties need to develop policy to speak to the needs of the region, with the NDP plan including ending privatization of winter road maintenance and bringing back Ontario Northland.
“Mr. Bisson, you were the one that voted out…the railway. You didn’t stand up to fight for it, and if you did nobody listened,” said Genier in his response.
Bisson joked that he was hurt by the attack.
“Because I remember meeting with you in January, you came to meet with me at Full Beard and asked to run as a New Democratic candidate,” Bisson added.
While Genier said that he did meet with Bisson, he maintains that he asked what it takes to run as an MPP.
“I wanted to meet with you in your office, not at a public bar, and I wanted to talk to you about my father who had just passed away,” Genier said.
In the other responses to the question, Bauer noted there is a general consensus to cut hydro bills.
The Libertarians, he said, want to eliminate time of use charge, delivery cost and debt reconciliation.
“It’s ridiculous that you’re paying a delivery cost that is either equal to or higher than your actual hydro bill,” Bauer said.
Schaap agrees that hydro costs need to be reduced.
“Do you know that about 60 per cent of the hydro dams and power stations are sitting on standby in Northern Ontario alone,” he said.
He also questioned why money is being dished out to more solar fields and wind mills.
“We don’t need to produce more hydro, we have enough to run Canada,” said Schaap.
Auger also noted that everybody’s complaining about hydro bills.
“But my hydro bill, I was paying $118 a month and now it’s down to $89, which is saving about $26, $27….the hydro bill should go down lower, but it takes time,” he said.
Whether it’s for safety or repairs, roads are another hot topic for northerners.
To improve highway safety in the north, Schaap suggested more roadside pull offs for transport drivers.
“I would also look at maybe putting beet juice down instead of salt. It costs a little bit more, but it’s healthier for the animals and it actually is more effective and better traction for people,” he said, adding he’d look at putting in more rumble strips to roads as well.
As Genier travels across the region for work, he said it’s not uncommon to see at least 15 transports between Smooth Rock Falls and Driftwood.
“Our highways are over burdened with transports. We need better training for these folks that are getting their licenses,” said Genier.
To make sure roads are safe to travel, he said they have to get funding to fix the roads as well.
Auger suggested that government needs to be involved in plowing highways, instead of contractors.
“Private contractors seem to think that they can come out at any time they want,” he said. “If you have the government snow plowers working, you put them on a shift schedule and they go out there and they do their job.”
According to Bisson, the privatization of winter road maintenance has been a disaster.
To help fix roads, he said government has to find a way to bring some of the roads back to the province.
“Because the City of Timmins doesn’t have a $100 million to fix (Algonquin), the province is the one that needs to take responsibility because it is a provincial highway, not just a municipal road,” Bisson said.
While Bauer agrees with rumble strips and getting the train running again, he’d also like better lighting.
“If we’re looking at the highways, one of my suggestions would be let’s get better lighting along those highways. Whether it’s in the summer or the winter when we look at our abundance of wildlife, when they decide to come out on the road it’s usually a little too late that we actually see them,” he said.
Business and apprenticeships
With some businesses struggling to find staff to fill jobs, candidates weighed in on how to connect businesses with the needed workers, including adjustment of apprenticeship rations.
Auger started off, saying that school is the “best place to find out where they can get workers and apprentices into the workforce.”
Making work attractive is also key.
“It’s a generation that I’ve seen, kids want pay cheques but they don’t want to work. And you have to make it attractive for the young people to go in and work and they’re getting $14 an hour and next year they’re going to get $15,” Auger said.
Bisson disagrees that young people don’t want to work.
He argued that they want the chance to get necessary training to get the jobs they want, which is why he said the NDP would move from a loan system to grant system for post-secondary education.
“The last part is we really need to look at immigration in a way that looks at what we did here in Timmins back in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s where we welcomed people from abroad to come and work in the mines and take the jobs that were there that we couldn’t fill. And one of the things we need to look at is how are we able to support employers in order to be able to make sure we have a good immigration policy that allows people to get into the workplace,” he said.
When looking at jobs, Bauer said government needs to look at what can be done for the employer.
“One of the things that we’re standing on is the absolving of corporate tax rates,” he said.
“By eliminating corporate tax for companies, you’re offering that extra revenue in which they can hire more people.”
He also wants to revoke mandatory registration with the College of Trades.
“What is the college of trades genuinely offering you that our trade unions aren’t offering?” he questioned.
Schaap agrees that apprenticeships should be done through the schools, but wants to see the training be more practical.
“If the school is going to offer a program that involves trades…then the people should be trained to work with the equipment that they’re going to be handling out in the job,” he said.
Genier said work is also needed on the funding to encourage tradespeople to get an apprentice.
“I believe very much that apprenticeships are needed,” he said.