THUNDER BAY -- Tensions are starting to rise on the campaign trail as the Ontario election is one week away.
Local candidates representing the three parties represented in the last provincial legislature squared off in a forum co-hosted by the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce and the SHIFT Young Professionals’ Network at Fort William Historical Park on Thursday evening.
Most of the heat was generated by the two combatants in the Thunder Bay-Atikokan riding, incumbent Liberal candidate Bill Mauro and Progressive Conservative candidate Harold Wilson.
New Democrat candidate Mary Kozorys was unable to attend for personal reasons.
Wilson looked to put Mauro on the ropes throughout the entire debate but the challenger saved his strongest arguments for last, taking issue with the “laundry list” of accomplishments his opponent was going to cite.
“You cannot just go through that list without looking at the partners that made these things happen or the fact is that it is not one individual who does it,” Wilson said emphatically during his closing statement.
“You cannot take credit for everything and responsibility for nothing. That’s not really what the job of an MPP is.”
Mauro followed with his own closing statement, a feisty rebuke that highlighted a list of accomplishments during his career as a provincial legislator.
He argued his track record of more than 10 years at Queen’s Park shows substantial gains for his riding, including the creation of the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute and the faculty of law at Lakehead University.
“I would say if you step back and take an objective view at where this community was in 2003 and an objective view of where this community is in 2014, I can’t help but think you could possibly come to the conclusion, no matter your political affiliation, that this community is far better off than it was in 2003,” Mauro said.
“Being in government is much more difficult than being a member in opposition…It’s a holiday when you’re in opposition but you have to do the real work and deliver for your community when you’re in government.”
The two went head-to-head on the local Bombardier plant.
Wilson accused Mauro of “turtling” to then-Premier Dalton McGuinty when it came to his attempts to increase local content regulations that would have resulted in more jobs for the local plant.
Mauro responded by pointing out Liberal investments created more than 1,000 new jobs saving the plant, which was potentially endangered in 2003 due to a lack of public transit funding from the previous PC government.
For the most part, the debate was much more subdued among the three candidates in the Thunder Bay-Superior North riding.
The Ring of Fire was the main point of contention between those candidates, with both NDP candidate Andrew Foulds and PC candidate Derek Parks taking turns grilling incumbent Liberal candidate Michael Gravelle.
Foulds took issue with the slow and drawn out timeframe of the project, in particular with the timing of the Liberals announcing a $1 billion commitment to develop infrastructure in the Ring of Fire.
It’s an example of the Liberals turning a lucrative opportunity into a political toy, he argued.
“The reality is if this current government was serious about mining development these kinds of things would have happened years ago. If they were serious they would have done it before Cliffs pulled out,” Foulds said.
“If they were serious they would have made announcements long ago, not a week before a potential election and they wouldn’t have changed the announcement during the election.”
Parks accused government intervention of “hijacking” progress with the project.
The PC candidate took direct aim at the government for their responsibility in Cliffs Natural Resources abandoning their work on the development.
“The comments I hear back from industry about what has gone on in the province are horrible. (Cliffs) pulled out, they felt they were held hostage and thought we can’t deal here,” Parks said. “There are people that have left the industry and the company who feel it will be 10 years before this is up and running.”
In response, Gravelle insisted the Regional Framework Agreement with the Matawa First Nations was a necessary, vital step forward that had to happen before any other work could be taken.
The former Minister of Northern Development and Mines said the 5,500 jobs and the billions of dollars it is projected to create the will touch the entire region.
“I don’t think there is one community in Northwestern Ontario that won’t be receiving significant benefit from the Ring of Fire project when it does get going,” Gravelle said.
Candidates also faced questions regarding ensuring there is an affordable, adequate electricity supply for current and future needs, managing policing costs for municipalities under 5,000 people, duty of government to consult with northern stakeholders on new legislation as well as keeping industry in the region and ensuring benefits for municipalities and First Nations.
The final day for advance polls is Friday and the general election will be held on June 12.