Sudbury

In the smallest riding in Ontario, some voters still feeling ignored

The new riding of Mushkegowuk-James Bay was created to better represent voters in Ontario's Far North, but people on the James Bay Coast say they still feel ignored.

Campaigns of three major parties have focused on Kapuskasing and Hearst, not the James Bay

There were few signs of the provincial election in Moosonee until more than halfway through the campaign when a few NDP signs were put up around town. (Erik White/CBC)

Mark Hughes has been following the provincial election closely.

The teacher, who has lived in Moosonee for 12 years, reads online everyday about the people running to be Ontario's next premier.

But, he didn't know that on June 7, he will vote in a different riding this year — a riding designed to better represent people in the far north like him. 

​"I haven't heard anything about the redistribution up here. Not at all," says Hughes.

The old Timmins-James Bay riding has now been split, with 30,000 people in the northern portion now being called Mushkegowuk-James Bay.

"Any time you make your riding smaller, you tend to get better representation," says Hughes, a father of three young girls who's very concerned about the provincial debt.

An old, weathered sign from a past election is still on a pole along the riverfront in Moosonee. After years of representing the James Bay Coast, veteran New Democrat Gilles Bisson's riding is now just Timmins. (Erik White/CBC)

But there are few signs of the provincial election campaign on the James Bay Coast, including a lack of lawn signs.

At a few days past the halfway point of the campaign, there were a just a few NDP signs around Moosonee—including a faded sign from elections past still stuck to a telephone poll.

Moosonee Mayor Wayne Taipale says he couldn't name any of the candidates running to be the first MPP for Mushkegowuk-James Bay.

He says despite the promises of better representation from the provincial government and its Far North Electoral Boundaries Commission, he says the James Bay feels as ignored as ever.

"You know, you have elected officials and a government that's supposed to be helping you and you don't even know who they are," says Taipale.

He feels Moosonee and the rest of the coast would have been better off staying connected to a larger centre like Timmins, predicting that these new small ridings in the far north will have a hard time getting respect at Queen's Park.

Shane Enosse steers his water taxi towards the dock in Moosonee. He says he doesn't hear anyone talking about the provincial election, but does plan on voting. (Erik White/CBC)

Mayor Taipale says one of the big issues facing Moosonee is a shortage of housing.

The overcrowding in First Nations further north such as Attawapiskat and Kashechewan have made national news, but he says the problem is just as severe in Moosonee.

It has a higher percentage of social housing than the average northern Ontario community, but no new units have been built since the 1990s.

Taipale says two or three families are often crowded into the same house, which is why he and others believe that Moosonee's population could be double of the official census count of 1,700.

(CBC)

Shane Enosse used to be a social worker dealing with homelessness, but he says he got "burn out" and now drives a water taxi between Moosonee and Moose Factory. 

He says he's a dedicated voter, but doubts those living in overcrowded conditions will be inspired to cast a ballot.

"Some have lost hope, I guess. They've been waiting and waiting and waiting and their living conditions have remained the same," he says.

Moosonee has more social housing than the average northern Ontario town, but nothing has been built since the early 1990s and many units house more than one family. (Erik White/CBC)

One of the few NDP signs in Moosonee is on the lawn of Justin Hertwig.

He is a government information technology worker and moved to this remote town two years ago.

Hertwig says with very few private sector jobs, the James Bay Coast could stand to lose a lot from a PC government promising to cut back the civil service.

"Doug Ford scares me. This is a community that is very much reliant on the public sector. Those sort of cuts could really hurt us badly," he says.

But Hertwig isn't sure if that will drive more people to the polls. There was only 25 per cent voter turnout in Moosonee in the 2014 Ontario election. 

Wayne Taipale is the mayor of Moosonee. (Erik White/CBC)

Unlike in Moosonee, Kapuskasing is littered with campaign signs.

With 8,200 people, it is the largest community in Mushkegowuk-James Bay and two of the three major candidates hail from here.

That includes Progressive-Conservative Andre Robichaud, who is a municipal economic development officer.

But he sees Kapuskasing, Hearst, Moonbeam, Fauquier and all of the towns along the Highway 11 corridor as one place.

​"You look at how we're connected economically and culturally, Highway 11, I see us as one big community," says Robichaud.

Unlike other parts of the new Mushkegowuk-James Bay riding, there are election signs all over Kapuskasing. (Erik White/CBC)

The three main parties are planning to do some campaigning on the James Bay Coast, but say it's difficult to find the time and money to make frequent trips by plane or train.

So, they've been concentrating on the southern part of the riding, which does often mean talking to the same voters more than once.

​"We're crossing the same people again. And I think that's a good thing," says Robichaud. 

"I think that's what people want in this riding. They want a representative that's going to be present, that's going to be active, that they're going to see time and time again."

Ray Bilodeau is one of about 75 voters on Star Lake, just west of Timmins, who are now part of the new Mushkegowuk-James Bay riding and, at least for now, have to vote in Fauquier, about 200 km away. (Erik White/CBC)

The extreme southern tip of the new riding has seen even less of the campaign than the James Bay Coast.

About 75 people live year round on Star Lake, just outside of Timmins city limits.

But voters there found out during the campaign that they are no longer in the same riding as Timmins, but paired up with Kapuskasing, Hearst and the James Bay.

Their voters card instruct them to attend a polling station in Fauquier, about a two hour drive away. 

"I talked to a lot of people they say they're not going to bother voting this year, but I say you know what, you don't vote, you don't have a right to say very much because you haven't done your duty as a citizen to vote," says Ray Bilodeau, who has lived at Star Lake for 30 years.

Elections Ontario says it's making arrangements to allow people to vote on June 7 at the Star Lake community hall. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. 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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