THUNDER BAY - Mayor Keith Hobbs says he’d have liked to have seen more specifics in Monday’s Northern leader’s debate.
Hobbs said there was a lot to like about what both Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had to say, but while both politicians appeared poised, they skirted around many of the issues, failing to offer concretes answers to many questions in the hour-long affair.
Energy was top of mind for Thunder Bay’s mayor, particularly the conversion of the Thunder Bay Generating Station to natural gas, a process stopped dead in its tracks by the Liberals, who later decided to make a partial conversion to biomass.
“What is going to happen with the gas plant? I know Andrea Horwath said that we should be looking at converting it to gas, and that’s what we wanted all along. I wanted to hear that from Kathleen Wynne as well. I just heard biomass and that’s not enough.”
Horwath criticized the Liberal plan as it stands, saying it’s not enough.
“We need to make sure in the short term the biomass is enough,” Horwath said.
Wynne promised conversion of the plant is part of their plan, but did not promise that conversion would include natural gas, an estimated $400-million expense.
“We will work to continue to ensure there is connectivity across the province,” she said.
Kenora Mayor and Northern Ontario Municipal Association president Dave Canfield said a solution for the province’s Municipal Property Assessment Corporation is needed.
Several communities in the North have faced drastic revenue cuts after MPAC lowered assessments on industrial properties, none more so than Dryden. Thunder Bay is also facing a future with lowered revenues if Resolute Forest Products sees its assessment lowered.
Unfortunately, Canfield said, the answer wasn’t forthcoming at the debate.
“We didn’t really hear, I don’t think, the answer we wanted to hear. I think they do recognize it’s an issue, but the Ministry of Finance has recognized it’s been an issue for some time, but they haven’t fixed it. They’ve come at it from all sides and they’ve kind of chopped away and made some changes,” Canfield said.
“The bottom line is this issue is in … southern Ontario. It’s starting to hit them now and it’s going to kill them. The province has a serious, serious problem here. MPAC is badly broke and it needs fixing.”
Wynne, in turn, said she’s more concerned with setting conditions that encourage more businesses to set up shop in these communities, which in turn should lead to more tax revenue.
Horwath had a similar take.
“We’re also going to make sure we’re providing new revenue streams … from mining,” she said.
Conspicuous by his absence was Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, who chose to spend the day campaigning in southern Ontario.
Hobbs said it was a clear message to voters in the region.
“I think what Tim Hudak is saying is he’s not going to win any seats in the North and he thinks all his support is in the south,” Hobbs said.
“That’s to me what it says. If he had come up here and said he knows the North is the economic driver for Ontario, that would have been something. He criticized Dalton McGuinty for not coming up here and now he doesn’t come up here. It doesn’t look good.”
First Nations issues were also front and centre on Monday. Horwath promised to ensure the province’s power grid reaches remote communities. Wynne agreed, but with conditions.
“We need a federal partner,” she said.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Chief Les Loutit said it’s a start and not as much a hurdle as one might think.
“And I think with First Nations participation we can bring the First Nations to the table.”