Sudbury

Would-be MPPs in Mushkegowuk-James Bay spar over government spending, Francophone rights

Mushkegowuk-James Bay is a brand new riding, but the candidates find themselves defending premiers from the past.

Seven candidates are running to be the first MPP for Ontario's smallest riding

Highway 11 through Kapuskasing is littered with campaign signs for the candidates running to the first MPP for Mushkegowuk-James Bay. (Erik White/CBC)

When Doug Ford talked about driving a bulldozer to the Ring of Fire, Liberal candidate Gaetan Baillargeon thought of the deadly Ipperwash stand-off and another infamous remark from a PC leader. 

"'Get that Indian out of my park' and I hope to God something like that doesn't happen again when you hear someone like Doug Ford," says Baillargeon, who is a member of  the Constance Lake First Nation.

Andre Robichaud, the Progressive Conservative candidate in Mushkegowuk-James Bay thinks too much is being made of the bulldozer soundbite.

"It was done in the context of too much talking, we need more doing," says Robichaud, an economic development officer in Kapuskasing.

Instead, Robichaud thinks voters should focus on the reckless fiscal plans being put forward by the Liberals and NDP.

"They vote together 97 per cent of the time, they're promising more of the same. More spending, more deficits," he says.

"Kathleen Wynne is writing cheques that are going to bounce."

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But Baillargeon questions the PC promise to cut billions in non-essential services.

"What's non-essential? In northern Ontario everything's essential. We have to take every little piece that we can get," he says.

New Democrat candidate Guy Bourgouin, a Kapuskasing-based labour leader in the forest sector, called on the Conservatives to put their promises in writing.

"Put it in your platform. Show transparency. That's what people want to see. Because they recognize what happened the last time the PC government was in power," he says.

All three candidates are somewhat haunted by the ghosts of premiers past with the names Mike Harris, Bob Rae and Dalton McGuinty all coming up on the doorsteps.

Bourgouin defended the Rae government of the early 1990s and credited the NDP at the time with saving the Kapuskasing paper mill, which is still one of the town's biggest employers.

He says voters trust his party because of the excellent service they got from MPP Gilles Bisson, who is running in the Timmins half of the old Timmins-James Bay riding.

"They recognize the expertise that this office brings. And it's going to be the same team coming with me," Bourgouin says.

Mushkegowuk-James Bay candidates Andre Robichaud of the Progressive Conservatives, NDPer Guy Bourgouin and Liberal Gaetan Baillargeon discuss the issues in front of CBC microphones at the Back to the Grind coffee shop in Kapuskasing. (Erik White/CBC)

Although, Baillargeon says voters "can't forget who was truly in power at the time" and gives credit to what the Liberal government has done for the area.

Still, he does think the government can better reflect the north.

"I think it's about time we move towards a different kind of government that will represent true northern Ontario," says Baillargeon.

With 30,037 people, Mushkegowuk-James Bay is the smallest riding in the province and was created to give better representation to Ontario's far north.

About 60 per cent of the riding is Francophone, as are the three would-be MPPs from the main parties.

Bourgouin says the NDP is the only party promising to make Ontario fully bilingual, but his opponents say it isn't listed in the platform.

"These are just empty NDP promises," says Robichaud.

"At the end of the day, any Francophone issues I'm sure all three of us are going to defend at Queen's Park."  

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