'Gimme a break:' PC and NDP candidates get testy in Timmins debate

Timmins debate quickly goes from the political to the personal when New Democrat incumbent claims that aggressive PC challenger asked about running for the NDP a few months ago.

Five of six candidates on the ballot face off in Timmins Chamber of Commerce debate

The debate between Progressive Conservative Yvan Genier and NDP incumbent Gilles Bisson quickly went from the political to the personal at the event hosted by the Timmins Chamber of Commerce Wednesday night. (Erik White/CBC)

Mirroring what the province-wide polls are saying about the race to the premier's office, heated exchanges between the PC and NDP candidates in Timmins dominated a debate Wednesday night.

And it only took a few minutes to go from the political to the personal.

Progressive Conservative challenger Yvan Genier accused long-time New Democrat incumbent Gilles Bisson of not doing enough to save the Northlander passenger train service, cut by the Liberal government in 2012.

Bisson said he was "hurt," and then said that in January Genier met with him to ask about running for the NDP.

Genier responded by talking about service cuts that have occurred during Bisson's time in office.

"So you didn't meet with me in January? You didn't ask to run for the New Democratic Party? Bisson asked.

"I said 'What does it take to run as an MPP?'" Genier said.

(CBC)

Genier repeatedly stressed that there is no point in electing an opposition member.

"If you go to Queen's Park and you're not on the same team as whoever's holding the money bags, you're not going to get nothing," he said.

"This whole fallacy that we never got nothing in 28 years, gimme a break. Look around," Bisson replied.

The veteran New Democrat says that by working with other parties he's been able to land government dollars as an opposition member.

Incumbent New Democrat Gilles Bisson says, despite being in opposition, he's delivered for Timmins by working with other parties. (Erik White/CBC)

Bisson is currently the MPP for Timmins-James Bay, but the riding has been split in two, with Mushkegowuk-James Bay in the north and the 41,785 people in the City of Timmins having a riding to themselves that is the third smallest in Ontario.

Despite that, there were few Timmins specific issues raised in the debate organized by the chamber of commerce, aside from the poor state of city streets and the recent announcement of a Francophone health centre.

"I decided to run in this election because it's time the government stopped spending your money in such a way that it doesn't benefit you," said Libertarian candidate Jozef Bauer.

"You're health care system is breaking, you mental health system is broken and hydro is leaving you broke. Are we done yet?"

Libertarian Jozef Bauer is one of the six candidates running in the new Timmins riding. (Erik White/CBC)

Liberal candidate Mickey Auger told the crowd of about 100 in the theatre at O'Gorman High School that neither the NDP and PC plans would improve their lives.

"Instead of reckless cuts and irresponsible spending, let's focus on improving our services, our infrastructure and improving the lives of people in our community," the retired police officer said.

Northern Ontario Party candidate Gary Schaap got into the nitty-gritty of a few issues, questioning how green wind energy actually is and saying the government should explore using beet juice instead of salt on highways.

One of the few moments when all five candidates were on the same page was following a question on a recent report by the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner that racism was "normalized" in Timmins.

The candidates all agreed it's a problem in the city, and that it's up to citizens to call out racism when they see it.

Bisson said that just this week a supporter of his who wanted a lawn sign told him that "those Indians get too much."

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury, Ont. 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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