The five candidates vying to be the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party squared off in a debate in Thunder Bay last week.
TBnewswatch spoke to all five of the leadership hopefuls, asking them the same series of questions.
Adil Shamji is a former emergency physician and the sitting MPP for Don Valley East.
Q: How do you see the rebuild for the Liberal Party in the province? How would the party regain the two provincial seats in Thunder Bay and perhaps pick up the seats in Kenora-Rainy River and Kiiwetinoong?
Shamji: Well, first of all, we need to be crystal clear on who we are as Ontario Liberals because if we don't know that. [then] the voters won't know that either. We have done a recent debrief and we need to make sure that the lessons learned are actually implemented. But even more importantly, we need to take the time actually to listen to the people in the north [whether they are non-liberals or didn’t vote] recognizing [that] 57 per cent of people didn't even vote in the last election. We need to make sure that we're responding to the things that Ontarian want us to respond to.
We have to focus on grassroots renewal making sure that we're doing that listening and amplifying the voices of those who historically haven't been heard in rural and remote parts of Ontario. Northwestern Ontario is a critical element of that. We have riding associations that need to be listened to and rebuilt, and we need to fix the way that we take on our nominations and campaign that really focus on having a platform that is responsive to the needs of all regions in Ontario."
Q: What is your intention as leader for the resource sector? How do you balance environmental impacts to the land around forestry?
Shamji: I think it really comes down to a number of things. Firstly, economic prosperity in the North is deeply intertwined with resource extraction and forestry. We need to embrace this, and we need to empower these industries to be able to happen, but we need to do it in a responsible and an environmentally sustainable way.
We have to embrace the Ring of Fire for example, but we need to do it in consultation and collaboration with first nations. We need to make sure that we invest and incentivize environmentally climate, resilient technologies and ensure that the legislation is in place so that the mining industry can prosper while also having the architecture to make sure that the land is left afterwards better than it was than when we started."
Q: Do you intend to consult with the First Nations groups that are impacted by the Ring of Fire development?
Shamji: We saw at Queen's Park [back in] March, the Chief of Neskantaga First Nation saying that [the Premier] has absolutely stopped listening altogether. Consultation is not something that we do [when] it's convenient. It's something that we have to do all of the time, and that spirit is something that I would take forward with me. It's something that I take very seriously.
I am the only candidate in this race who has lived and worked in rural and remote Ontario. The Ring of Fire is located to the James Bay Lowland. I have lived and worked with some of these very same first nations communities that need to be consulted. I want to leverage that trust in those relationships to ensure that this takes place a fair and honest manner.”
Q: Do you have a strategy to recruit and retain health care workers, especially for smaller markets within Northwestern Ontario?
Shamji: [One of the reasons that] I keep returning to the north [is to find a] solution to that health human resource shortage. I have made a commitment to deliver a family doctor for everyone in this province within six years of forming government. And the way that I think we need to do that is not just increasing the number of family doctors that we have, but making sure that they land in the right place.
We have never had a strategy to ensure that our family doctors actually end up in the places that need them most. We don't do any forecasting, for example, to see where there are shortages and where those shortages are expected to get worse. And so I have called for funding of a data driven strategy that would allow us to do that.
We also need to accelerate the credentialing of foreign trained health care workers. We need to increase the number of medical student and residency spaces. But specifically, we need to incentivize people who come [to] the north [and] allow them to train in the north because we know that when we do that, they will stay, live and serve in the North as well.
That combined with other approaches to support family doctors to work in team-based settings, [which will] reduce their administrative burden so that doctors are doing the things that only they need to do.
Finally, [we need to ensure] that [there are supports in place to allow doctors] to thrive, to support their mental health, prevent burnout, to allow them to engage in mentorship opportunities with older doctors who would otherwise retire too early. [The older doctors] can partner with young people who bring energy, and those older doctors can share some of their share some of their knowledge and provide some of that education to give young people more confidence to start their careers.
I don't think that there's a silver bullet [to this issue], but if we can accomplish all of those things, I am confident that we can deliver a solution to the crisis of family medicine here in the north."
Q: How do you plan to address housing shortages across Northwestern Ontario, particularly in smaller communities?
Shamji: The Ford government, for as much of they have spoken about the ambition of increasing the amount of housing, they treat the entire province as a single homogeneous entity. And the reality is that the challenge of housing in Toronto is dramatically different from the challenge of housing in Thunder Bay as it is in the surrounding smaller communities.
The first thing that we need to do is we need to consult and collaborate with municipalities and regions such as Northwestern Ontario to understand the way in which we can improve the crisis of housing and homelessness in Thunder Bay and surrounding areas.
We need to increase density [and] allow people to be able to build up, to allow multiple individuals and families to be able to reside in the same home.
We need to incentivize affordable and rental housing, recognizing that 90 per cent of rental homes were built before 1990. I am an advocate for rent control [as well as] having more affordable housing in the first place.
Finally [we need to recognize] that the incentive may still not align for developers to come up and build in Thunder Bay.
[I am all for] developing an Ontario home building corporation which can help to incentivize plan finance and where necessary even step in and build the homes that are required in Thunder Bay, in Kenora, in Dryden and everywhere that there is a shortage.”
The leadership election was called following the June 2022 election where the party won just eight seats and saw the resignation of Steven Del Duca, now the mayor of Vaughan.
The ranked ballots will be cast on Nov. 25 and 26 with the new leader selected on Dec. 2.