Mining and money were hot topics at an election debate forum presented by the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce Thursday night.

Candidates from the two ridings that cover Thunder Bay spoke in front of about 50 people — many of whom were family and friends of the candidates. The candidates made their pitches on how their parties would improve northwestern Ontario’s economy.

Thunder Bay-Superior North PC candidate Derek Parks said that, when it comes to the Ring of Fire mining project, the government should help business, and stay out of discussions between remote communities and mining companies.

"The Ring of Fire, I would suggest has been hijacked by special interest groups through a few First Nation bands,” he said.

“Government interventions in this negotiation have brought it to a halt."

The Liberals and NDP say they would each invest heavily in the Ring of Fire.

The other major topic — government spending — put Thunder Bay-Atikokan Liberal candidate Bill Mauro on the defence.

"Would you have not done the conversion of the coal plants or the four-laning of the highways or the angioplasty program or the 1,200 jobs at Bombarider? Which of those would you have chosen not to do?"

Questioning costs

Thunder Bay-Superior North NDP candidate Andrew Foulds said political parties need to gain more public trust to show taxpayers where their dollars are being spent.

The Thunder Bay-Atikokan PC candidate noted government ministries keep hindering economic progress.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources is one of those biggest things that is keeping those municipalities from growing, attracting more residents, taking on new developments."

“This is trying to put money into the coffers,” Harold Wilson said.

But many of those municipal coffers are being depleted by policing costs, Mauro said.

"Those municipalities that we're discussing here right now became responsible for [OPP policing] costs [in] the late 1990's under a previous government. And, you can figure out which one that was?”

Thunder Bay-Superior North Liberal incumbent MPP Michael Gravelle also took part in the debate. Thunder Bay-Atikokan NDP candidate Mary Kozorys could not attend due to her father's ill health.

None of the Green party candidates were invited.