Would-be MPPs for Algoma-Manitoulin debate everything from pesticides to assisted suicide

Everything from pipelines to artificial intelligence was debated by four of the six candidates in Algoma-Manitoulin Tuesday night. Very little of the two hours was spent targeting each other.

Four of six candidates attend debate at Manitoulin Secondary School

Green Party candidate Justin Tilson addresses the crowd at Manitoulin Secondary School, while Northern Ontario Party candidate Tommy Lee, NDPer Michael Mantha and Liberal Charles Fox look on. (Erik White/CBC )

There were some puzzled looks among the 100 people in the cafeteria Tuesday night at Manitoulin Secondary School, as Charles Fox opened the all candidates' debate for Algoma-Manitoulin in a language most of them had never heard before.

The Liberal candidate and former Grand Chief of the Nishnabe-Aski Nation began his remarks in Ojibwe, a language he held onto through his time in residential school.

Fox has no personal connection to Algoma-Manitoulin, but said he jumped at the chance to be part of a mainstream political party, and maybe even be in government.

"I've always been on the outside looking in," he told the crowd gathered for the all candidates' meeting organized by the Manitoulin Expositor newspaper.

"But first and foremost, I'm also a northerner."

Algoma-Manitoulin incumbent New Democrat Michael Mantha makes a point at Tuesday night's debate, while Liberal candidate Charles Fox listens intently. (Erik White/CBC )

While the three other candidates sharing the stage with him consistently attacked the Liberal government, Fox rarely fired back, instead speaking to issues from a First Nations perspective.

"I'm not here to defend Liberal policies," Fox said. "I'm a person of my own mind."

He said he thought it "would be a challenge" for the NDP to form the next government and mentioned the premiership of Bob Rae from the early 1990s that many look back on as disastrous. Fox said he worked well with Rae.

"Trust me I hear his name a lot when I go canvassing," said incumbent New Democrat Michael Mantha. 

He said he was in high school when Rae was in power, that a lot has changed since then and that it shouldn't scare voters away from the NDP.

"And that choice is yours. The present Liberal government, for the last 15 years, have been making choices. The question you need to ask yourself is: 'Have they helped me? Have they helped our communities?'" Mantha said. He has been the MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin since 2011.

"It's unfortunate the Conservative party representative is not here tonight. We're hearing some of what their choices are going to be."

Holding her heart medication in her hand and telling of the bypass surgery she has coming up, Marge Wilton asked the Algoma-Manitoulin candidates about hospital funding in northern Ontario. (Erik White/CBC )

There were empty chairs left on stage for Progressive Conservative candidate Jib Turner and Kalena Mallon-Ferguson of the Libertarian Party, both of whom told organizers they couldn't attend.

Everything from pesticides to assisted suicide to artificial intelligence was raised during the debate.

Manitoulin Secondary alumnus Justin Tilson was on stage as the Green Party candidate, highlighting the ways his party differs from the main three.

One clear example is on education, where the Greens have long pushed to merge Ontario's four school systems together, something the major parties shy away from discussing.

"It's crazy that we're supporting four different ones," Tilson said.

"The Catholic school system has enjoyed a long run of privilege, really, and it's unfair to the rest of the students."

Northern Ontario Party candidate Tommy Lee said if elected, he would poll people in Algoma-Manitoulin before deciding how to vote on individual issues at Queen's Park. (Erik White/CBC)

Northern Ontario Party candidate Tommy Lee agreed that merging the school boards should be considered, or the contentious question could be put to voters in a referendum.

Lee said his party is pushing economic development with a manufacturing plan that would see northern resources processed here instead of being shipped elsewhere.

Lee, who said not everyone in the Northern Ontario Party is a separatist pushing for their own province, warned voters to be wary of any promises from the "Toronto-based parties."

"They say what northerners want to hear and then they go back to Toronto, and we tend to get forgotten about after the election."

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury, Ont. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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