Candidates volley over spending, deficits and party promises at Nickel Belt debate

All eight candidates running in the riding of Nickel Belt faced off for a debate last night. More than 75 members of the public packed Cousin Vinny’s Restaurant in Hanmer for the event. The NDP have held the riding every single year since 1971.

All eight candidates running show up for Chamber of Commerce event

Candidates running in Nickel Belt in the 2018 Ontario election are, from left to right: Kevin R. Brault, Consensus Ontario; Bailey Burch-Bélanger, None of the Above Direct Democracy; Tay Butt, Liberal; Jo-Ann Cardinal, Progressive Conservative; James Chretien, Libertarian; Bill Crumplin, Green; Matthew Del Papa, Northern Ontario; and France Gélinas, NDP. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

Even her opponents would agree that dislodging incumbent NDP MPP France Gélinas from her seat in the riding of Nickel Belt would be one of the most shocking upsets of the upcoming election.

That didn't stop candidates from seven other parties from making their pitch for a change at Tuesday's night's debate hosted by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce.

More than 75 people filled Cousin Vinny's restaurant in Hanmer for the public event. All eight candidates running in the riding were present.

Candidates running in Nickel Belt, 2018:

  • Kevin R. Brault, Consensus Ontario
  • Bailey Burch-Bélanger, None of the Above Direct Democracy
  • Tay Butt, Liberal
  • Jo-Ann Cardinal, Progressive Conservative
  • James Chretien, Libertarian
  • Bill Crumplin, Green
  • Matthew Del Papa, Northern Ontario
  • France Gélinas, NDP

​The NDP have held the riding since 1971, when Floyd Laughren was elected over Progressive Conservative incumbent Gaston Demers.

Gélinas' margin of victory has increased significantly every year since she took the riding in 2007 with 46.6 per cent of the vote.

NDP incumbent France Gélinas seated next to Northern Ontario Party candidate Matthew Del Papa during Tuesday night's debate for the Nickel Belt riding. The event was organized by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

In 2011, she received 54.9 per cent of ballots. In 2014, the total was up to around 62.7 per cent. The Liberals finished second each time with the PCs a distant third.

Money talks

Early on in the debate — and with the NDP neck-and-neck with the PCs in the polls — Gélinas said she's no longer interested in talking about the Liberals' budget and spending promises.

"Looking into the future, there's not much chance the Liberal budget will ever be acted upon, so let's pretend we have the NDP budget in place instead," she said.

Gélinas was quickly reminded of the NDP's own plans to run a 4.7-billion dollar deficit.

Both parties have committed to funding increases in health, child and elder care, as well as affordable and long-term housing, and have pledged to go into deficit to do so — $6.7 billion for the Liberals and $4.7 billion for the NDP.

"We have to fix hallway medicine, we have to make sure our elders get the care they need," she replied. "We have a fully costed platform. We do have a deficit in the first three years, but it starts to go down after this."

Liberal candidate Tay Butt speaks while Progressive Conservative candidate Jo-Ann Cardinal listens on during Tuesday's debate for the riding of Nickel Belt. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

Liberal Tay Butt also commented on his party's spending plans.

"Of course we borrowed money, but if you look at the services being offered [...] and with the PC Party, with all the cuts you'll be looking at — the choice is yours," said Butt.

The PCs have made promises to increase funding in mental health and affordable housing, among other sectors, while simultaneously pledging to cut taxes for residents and businesses.

"Doug Ford's for the people," said PC candidate Jo-Ann Cardinal. "He's going to cut your taxes, cut your hydro rates so that you can have more money in your pockets."

But it was Consenus Ontario candidate Kevin Brault becoming a crowd favourite of sorts by repeatedly challenging the candidates all three major parties on their spending, including the PC promise to simultaneously cut taxes and increase services.

"We're all clear on where the tax cuts are coming from. The question is, once the government revenues have been cut, how are [the PCs] going to afford to pay for our services?" asked Brault.

"[You're not] going to find $6 billion overnight by just hoping for it."

Cardinal and Gélinas both pointed to auditor general Bonnie Lysyk's report last winter on wasteful government spending as an example of how to mitigate spending.