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2014-06-10 at 10:21PM

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By Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com

THUNDER BAY -- Bill Mauro says rural municipalities are better off than they were a decade ago thanks to his party but Harold Wilson thinks a lot of the Liberal government's policies would have happened no matter who was in power.

The Liberal incumbent stood on his record as the Liberal MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan during a Lakehead Rural Municipal Committee debate at the Kakabeka Legion Tuesday night, the last chance for candidates to square off before Thursday's provincial election.

From the Liberal's 2011 farm management program to the $100 million infrastructure program for rural and Northern municipalities announced in the latest budget, Mauro said the six towns in the committee are much better off than they were in 2004. He listed hundreds of thousands of dollars that Conmee, Gillies, O'Connor, Neebing, Oliver Paipoonge and Shuniah get every year.

"I just thought it was important that I put that out there in totality," Mauro said in his opening statement to around 50 people.

But Progressive Conservative candidate Harold Wilson said a lot of the times programs are designed no matter what government is in power.

"It's the nature of government," he said.

As for the rural infrastructure fund, Wilson said people need to take a closer look at who is eligible.

"It was the whole province that was seen as rural,” he said when candidates were asked to define a small, rural municipality.

Mauro said before the Liberals, rural communities were struggling to even fund engineering studies for infrastructure because it was so unclear whether provincial funding would come through.

"Many of them wouldn't even apply," he said.

Green Party candidate John Northey said the problem is that there is no clear definition  of what a rural municipality is.

"Yet we hear of programs for them," he said.

The province needs to keep urban sprawl to a minimum as rural areas everywhere are at risk of being amalgamated into cities.

"You'd like your villages your towns to stay themselves,” Northey said.

The committee is asking to form its own district social services administration board as the six communities estimate they're currently paying $2.1 million more every year in services than they're getting back as part of Thunder Bay's.

Mauro said he understands the issue but the problem is on of regulations. If this committee is allowed to form its own board, soon other areas in the province will do the same. The model is still relatively new and will evolve.

"But I believe it's a legitimate cause," he said.

Wilson said $2.1 million is a huge discrepancy and isn't a new issue. He took a shot at Mauro for saying he's been meeting with mayors in the area to work on a solution.

“Having a meeting is different than actually listening,” Wilson said.

The committee is also asked about policing as a proposed new model could increase Ontario Provincial Police costs to rural areas by as much as 20 per cent.

Wilson said the problem is that there is no flexibility in policing standards for different regions. Rural municipalities need to be a part of the decision making process when it comes to policing in the province.

"It's really about your ability to pay,” he said.

Mauro said that municipalities asked the province to come up with a solution, adding the current proposal is not a done deal, because some communities pay as little as $90 per person for policing while others are charged up to $900. The Liberals are trying to find a system that's fair for everyone involved.

“There's a huge disparity,“ he said.

NDP candidate Mary Kozorys couldn't attend the debate due to a death in the family.

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