Candidates debate cost of living, homelessness at Sudbury debate
Wednesday night's event was hosted by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce
While the Progressive Conservative candidate for Sudbury wasn't at a debate hosted by the chamber of commerce Wednesday night, his party still got a lot of attention.
NDP candidate Jamie West and Liberal David Farrow in particular focused on bashing PC leader Doug Ford's record, particularly his management of the pandemic, and the affect on education and small businesses.
"For me, this election is about one thing. This election is about the Doug Ford Conservatives," said Farrow, saying Sudbury and the province "moved backwards" during Ford's years in office.
Sudbury PC candidate Marc Despatie was invited to the event— where the candidates were in person with the audience watching online— but did not attend.
Green Party candidate David Robinson, meanwhile, said he didn't want to focus as much on Ford, saying "Yes he screwed up," but things are improving and "I'm trying to look forward, not back."
Robinson joined the other two candidates, however, in laying blame on the Progressive Conservatives for how it handled the financial crisis at Laurentian University.
Affordability and the workforce
When it came to questions around helping Sudbury thrive economically, the candidates agreed on many points, though each had different priority areas they chose to emphasize.
For West, it's helping small businesses that are "hanging on by their fingernails" after two years of pandemic disruptions.
The incumbent New Democrat said his party would provide more financial support. He also wants to raise minimum wage, but do it in a predictable way, so that businesses are able to prepare.
West said he's concerned about people who are struggling to put food on the table and "living so precariously that they're one paycheck from being evicted."
Robinson spent much of his time talking about the need to attract skilled people to the community.
"This is a talent based economy," he said, adding that it is important to focus on the mining supply and resource sector as a way to attract people and grow the economy.
Robinson said quality of life is key to attracting people, and building liveable and walkable communities with strong arts and culture is an important part of that.
Farrow agreed on the need to increase the minimum wage, as well as the importance of attracting skilled workers. He also listed a number of items from the Liberal platform aimed at helping individuals and businesses such as a two year corporate tax freeze, capping credit card fees and cutting red tape.
He also argued that the Liberal promise to cut transit fares to $1 per ride until 2024 will keep more money in people's pockets.
"It's good for our environment, it helps with affordability," Farrow said.
Homelessness and addictions
The topic of affordability also lead to discussions around Sudbury's downtown and the high levels of homelessness and drug addictions.
Farrow said he was "shocked" by what has happened in the downtown in recent years, and said he recently spent time with an outreach group conducting wellness checks.
"I was absolutely moved for what I saw ... I saw kids on the street that I taught. It just broke my heart to see what was going on in this community," said Farrow, a retired school principal.
"We need to get our act together as a community and fix this problem," Farrow said, adding that within 100 days of being elected he would convene a group to discuss solutions for shelter, mental health care and transitional housing.
West agreed that much more needs to be done to address issues around mental health, addictions and homelessness and criticized the PCs for not yet funding a supervised consumption site in Sudbury, something he said an NDP government would prioritize.
"If you don't do it because you care about people — and I'm a lefty, I lead with my heart — there is an economic reason to do this. The amount of money we're spending on EMS, the way we're clogging up our emergency systems, the amount of trauma we're having from family member and friends and ... the businesses that are being affected by this ... all of this is stuff we need to invest in," West said.
Robinson said the "biggest single part of the solution is housing for people who don't have homes," suggesting building tiny houses could be one solution, but that a lack of funding from Queen's Park is the biggest problem.
"The province is not paying for what is a provincial responsibility," Robinson said.
The Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a second "fireside chat" with candidates for Nickel Belt on Thursday.