THUNDER BAY - Monday’s northern leader’s debate wasn’t just a forum for politicians to trade barbs with one another.
A few dozen labour leaders and social activists saw it as a chance to get their message across to Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, seeking a voice and a spot on a party platform.
Terri Carter, chairwoman of Poverty Thunder Bay, said it’s important the plight of the poor become a topic of conversation during the election campaign.
“They’re not talking about poverty, not all of the leaders, anyways. We want to get it out into the discourse about raising Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program amounts and the minimum wage (raised) to $14 an hour. And we also want affordable housing,” Carter said.
Carter said too many politicians are only concerned about who they can drag to the polls on June 12, and only pay lip service to the disadvantaged in society.
“It’s the poor. They don’t get out to vote. They’re just not talking about it,” she said.
Mike Bisaillon drove 13 hours from North Bay to march outside the debate, held at the Valhalla Inn.
A corrections officer by trade, he was on hand representing the Ontario Public Service Employees Union to show support for Horwath and disdain for Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, a much-publicized no-show in Thunder Bay.
“When I hear Hudak talk about the Ring of Fire, and yet he won’t show up in the area where it would affect the most people, I would really have to wonder about his sincerity,” Bisaillon said.
“When I hear him talk about jobs, really? You can’t show up at a debate and make a point to the people it will most affect? You can’t even back up your platforms? It makes me angry. And it tells me you don’t care about working people and you don’t care about the North.”
Suzanne Pulice was there to speak up for health care, which she sees going downhill fast.
The Unifor member said the end of the federal health accord means a nationwide loss of $36 billion federal dollars pulled from health care.
“Ontario is going to be the worst ones hit,” Pulice said.
Locally missed home-care visits are proving to be worrisome, she added.
“There’s money going into home care, but it’s not being spent appropriately. Staff aren’t being trained appropriately. They’re not tracking the missed visits and these are affecting people, especially our most frail and our elderly.”
The group of placard-carrying protestors also included the Nor’Wester Escarpment Protection Committee, hoping to convince political leaders to put a stop to a planned wind turbine farm on city-owned land along the south-side mountain range.
Ron Lappage said the message is simple – the turbines don’t belong on the mountains and Horizon Wind Inc.’s plan won’t go away.
“We just want to draw it to the attention of the public again that it’s not a dead issue and unless something happens, it might still happen that something is built.”
Social issues drew a smattering of attention during the debate, which focused mainly on the Ring of Fire, Aboriginal matters and energy costs.