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All-party provincial budget committee dives into Northern issues

THUNDER BAY -- Economic development, poverty and prisons were just a few topics heard by an all-party provincial budget committee Wednesday.
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OPSEU Local 737 president Mike Lundy, who represents corrections officers at the Thunder Bay District Jail, speaks to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. (Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com)

THUNDER BAY -- Economic development, poverty and prisons were just a few topics heard by an all-party provincial budget committee Wednesday.

The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs heard from more than 20 organizations at the Vahalla Inn. Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli said whether it's tackling homelessness or developing the Ring of Fire, he's been hearing the same concerns for years without any real action from the Liberal government.

"All we've seen is a strategy," he said of the Liberals plan to end homelessness in ten years.

"We're at the same levels as we have before."

As for the Ring of Fire, Fedeli said he's been hearing the same thing from the province since he was mayor of North Bay and nothing's changed.

NDP finance critic Catherine Fife said it was a powerful morning hearing Northern politicians speak out against everything from the state of the Thunder Bay District Jail, which she said would shock most people to hear words like 'rathole' describe it, to poverty.

"It's true you shouldn't have to shame the Liberal government into doing the right thing for Northerners but that actually in some cases has proven to be quite successful for us," she said.

Laura Albanese, Liberal MPP and parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance, said she heard what the North's needs are.

"There's a tremendous need for economic development, there are social needs that we heard about and the need to create jobs," she said.  

As for addressing poverty, Albanese said the government's strategy will start to be seen in the upcoming budget. Hearing from the city of Thunder Bay Tuesday morning about the number of homeless people who have died over the past year, Albanese said those deaths are everyone's responsibility.

"We can't allow that to happen and we have to act upon it," she said.