Sault Ste. Marie candidates spar over steel industry, Doug Ford

The future of the industrial economy in Sault Ste. Marie was front and centre at the final debate for the five would-be MPs. For some candidates that means championing the local steel sector, for others it means figuring out if the potential risks of a proposed smelter outweigh the hundreds of jobs that would come with it.

Riding has flipped between Liberals, NDP and Conservatives over the years

Green candidate Geo McLean makes a point in the Sault Ste. Marie candidates debate Wednesday night while Liberal Terry Sheehan and New Democrat Sara McCleary look on. (Erik White/CBC)

Liberal Terry Sheehan says no one should doubt that Sault Ste. Marie has taken a turn for the better since he was elected MP in 2015.

"I know we're better off than we were four years ago," he said during a debate at city council chambers Wednesday night.

 "I know that because Algoma and Tenaris are growing again."

Sheehan says the Liberal government's investments in the local steel sector, plus its fights against unfair trade practices from China and the U.S., have seen Algoma Steel emerge from bankruptcy protection and helped put Tenaris Tubes on the road to recovery.

Conservative candidate Sonny Spina says the rest of Canada can learn from Sault Ste. Marie's relationship with neighbouring Indigenous communities. (Erik White/CBC)

But Conservative candidate Sonny Spina pointed out that hundreds of workers are still laid off at Tenaris, which makes steel for pipelines, while the B.C. pipeline the Liberal government bought will be made of steel from China.

"Every one of these projects should be built with steel made right here in Sault Ste. Marie," Spina said, adding that the new North American trade deal Sheehan is so proud of does little to help workers in the Sault.

Neither of them waded into the debate about the ferrochrome smelter NorOnt Resources is proposing to build in the city to propose chromite ore from the Ring of Fire.

It would bring hundreds of much-needed jobs to Sault Ste. Marie, but more and more citizens are raising concerns about the environmental risks that come with building the plant on the grounds of Algoma Steel and on the shores of the St. Mary's River.

Peoples Party candidate Amy Zuccato says she understands why some find it "scary."

New Democrat candidate Sara McCleary says any elected official has to pursue any opportunity to bring jobs to their community, but she wants an "unbiased assessment" of the ferrochrome smelter proposed for Sault Ste. Marie. (Erik White/CBC )

New Democrat Sara McCleary says she wants to see an "unbiased assessment" of the potential dangers, but wouldn't close the door on that many jobs.

"Any elected official has responsibility to explore any opportunity to bring jobs to the community," she said.

Green Party candidate Geo McLean says he couldn't support the project if local First Nations come out against it, as the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians from just across the border in Michigan have.

In the closing statements, Sheehan claimed that the Conservative platform released on Friday calls for millions of dollars in unspecified cuts to federal government spending.

"So what are they going to cut? What federal service are they going to cut?" he said. 

"What we don't need to see is to have Doug Ford have a dance partner in Andrew Scheer."

Incumbent Liberal Terry Sheehan says he knows Sault Ste. Marie is doing better compared to four years ago because the local steel mills are doing better. (Erik White/CBC)

"That's completely false," replied Spina.

"What I have promised you is that we will cut your cost of living."

McCleary said she's excited to see the polls pointing to a minority government.

She said if the NDP holds the balance of power in the next parliament, she believes she'd be in the best position to deliver for Sault Ste. Marie because she wouldn't just be a "yes man for the prime minister."

About the Author

Erik White


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


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