Sudbury·ONTARIO VOTES 2022

The other Ontario: Would-be premiers blame each other for the 'broken' north

In a debate all about northern Ontario issues, the four major leaders for the June 2 provincial election spent most of their time arguing about which party has ignored the region the most.

Leaders of 4 parties squared off Tuesday in North Bay, 2nd debate is set for May 16

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath spar during the northern Ontario debate in North Bay on Tuesday afternoon. They were up against Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and Green Leader Mike Schreiner in the first debate of the election campaign. (Erik White/CBC )

In a debate all about northern Ontario issues, the four major leaders spent most of their time arguing about which party has ignored the region the most.

They faced off for the first of two debates in this campaign for the June 2 election, in front of delegates from a municipal conference Tuesday afternoon in North Bay.

"I think the question is who is finally going to fix the things that are broken in northern Ontario?" said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. 

Horwath was quick to blame the current ruling Progressive Conservatives and past Liberal governments for everything from poorly plowed highways to doctor shortages. 

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca "wants to say that they're a new party now and I get it — he doesn't want anybody looking in the rearview mirror because they left a wreck back there in northern Ontario," said Horwath. 

"Doug Ford has had four years and things have gotten worse."

Duca, left, and Ford exchanged blame for the poor state of northern Ontario highways and health care. (Erik White/CBC )

Del Duca promised to complete the four-laning of Highway 69 south of Sudbury that has stalled in the last four years under the Ford government, and bring back the Northlander passenger train that his party cut in 2012.

The Conservatives promised during the 2018 campaign to bring the passenger rail service back to the northeast, and while studies have been conducted and $75 million promised, the train is not yet rolling.

"I've heard Mr. Ford talk as if he hasn't served as Ontario's premier for the past four years," Del Duca said. 

Ford fired back at Del Duca, saying he had a chance to improve northern highways when he was in cabinet.

"Mr. Del Duca, you had your opportunity and you failed. You were the minister of transportation," said Ford. 

"It's terrifying going down those northern roads, especially in the winter."

Horwath took questions from reporters after the debate. Ford was the only leader who didn't take part in the media scrums. (Erik White/CBC )

Ford repeatedly mentioned promises to improve Highway 101 through Timmins, Highway 17 in the Kenora area and Highway 69, as well as a road to the remote mining deposits Ring of Fire, saying his was the only party with a plan to get it done.

"I'm really excited about the future of northern Ontario," he said. 

"But it's up to each of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

Del Duca floated some new northern Ontario promises during the debate, including free tuition for medical students who commit to working in remote communities, and giving cities and towns a five per cent cut of provincial mining tax revenue.

The Progressive Conservatives promised a resource revenue-sharing plan in 2018, but the $15-million fund announced last fall received a lukewarm reaction from municipal leaders. 

Ford did repeatedly talk about the great mineral potential of the north, especially those metals needed for the manufacture of electric car batteries, one of the few times he's on the same page as Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner. 

"We need to be ready for the new climate economy, because northern Ontario can lead it," said Schreiner.

Horwath was the only leader to stress the importance of processing natural resources in the north, instead of shipping them off to plants in southern Ontario or elsewhere. 

Ford supporters await his arrival at the Capitol Centre in North Bay before the leaders' debate. (Erik White/CBC)

Horwath pledged to extend broadband internet service across the province, including the many underserved areas of the north, by 2025, claiming that would be well ahead of the Progressive Conservative timeline.

However, Ford said work is underway on broadband infrastructure, with most of it to be completed by 2024. 

"I'm not going to promise the moon and the stars, but I do get northern Ontario," Horwath said.

But Ford argued the three left-of-centre parties were all promising the moon, and that citizens, north and south, would end up paying for it.

"If you want more excuses, more delays, more talk and more taxes, I got to tell you folks, you got a lot of choices," he said.

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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