Sudbury

Liberals and New Democrats square off in Nickel Belt debate

The riding of Nickel Belt has long been a battleground between the Liberals and New Democrats. That was on display last night, as the red and orange candidates took aim at each other during a debate in Val Caron.

Incumbent Liberal Marc Serre responds to accusations about his claims to Indigenous heritage

Nickel Belt NDP candidate Stef Paquette listens to incumbent Liberal Marc Serre at the debate at Confederation Secondary School in Val Caron. (Erik White/CBC)

The moderator suggested the candidates were overly "polite," but the Liberal and NDP candidates in Nickel Belt took subtle jabs at each other throughout Thursday night's debate.

New Democrat Stef Paquette read a list of how many times northern Ontario MPs spoke in the House of Commons over the last four years, with Nickel Belt Liberal Marc Serre far behind his NDP colleagues.

But Paquette didn't attack Serre directly.

The Liberal incumbent quickly fired back with a list of his own: all the local projects that have received federal funding since he defeated former NDP MP Claude Gravelle four years ago. 

"Talking is easy. The NDP talk a lot," said Serre.

"I've been active in getting results."

About 50 people attended the Nickel Belt debate hosted by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce at Confederation Secondary School in Val Caron. (Erik White/CBC )

Paquette — a musician, actor and comedian making his first foray into politics — accused the Liberals of charming Canadians with "pretty words and empty promises" in 2015.

He says the NDP will deliver on pharmacare, dental care, passenger rail and better highways in northern Ontario and will pay for it by taxing the wealthy.

"The money is there. We just need to bring it up here," Paquette told the crowd of about 50 people at Confederation Secondary School. 

Green Party candidate Casey Lalonde says her priorities for Nickel Belt include improved broadband and public transit in all corners of the riding.

Nickel Belt candidates Aino Laamanen of the Conservative Party, Green Casey Lalonde and Mikko Paavola of the Peoples Party of Canada. (Erik White/CBC )

Mikko Paavola of the Peoples Party of Canada says lowering taxes will mean more money in the pockets of citizens and more jobs created by small and large businesses.

Conservative candidate Aino Laamanen proudly identified herself as a "small c conservative" calling for more action on climate change, better services for vulnerable populations and a new relationship with Indigenous people. 

"We've done the reconciliation and now it's time to act," she said.

Serre spoke of how he's worked closely with First Nations in the riding over the last four years, but didn't mention his own Indigenous heritage.

His claims to Algonquin ancestry are being disputed by a St. Mary's University professor.

The professor argues that Serre's heritage is tied to a long-ago Indigenous ancestor and that his citizenship is with the Algonquins of Ontario, a group that isn't officially recognized by the federal government or Algonquin First Nations in Quebec.

Serre called the report "false and misleading" including accusations that he recently edited his online biography to remove specific mentions to Indigenous heritage. 

"I am very proud of my Indigenous past. I am very proud of my heritage," he said after the debate. 

"I do not understand why a researcher would question that."

None of the other candidates raised the issue during the debate, but Paquette, who several times mentioned how his wife is Ojibwe, did say he believes the federal Minister of Indigenous Services should be Indigenous themselves.

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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