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Pandemic and housing highlight TB-Atikokan election forum

For the second time this week, Conservative and New Blue Party candidates were no-shows at an all-candidate forum.
TB Atikokan Injured Workers Candidates
Thunder Bay-Atikokan candidates Judith Monteith-Farrell (NDP), Rob Barrett (Liberal) and Eric Arner (Green Party) join moderator Steve Mantis (second from left) on Thursday, May 12, 2022 at the DaVinci Centre. (Leith Dunick,

THUNDER BAY – Ontario needs to learn lessons from its lack of preparedness when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, say candidates vying for the seat in Thunder Bay-Atikokan.

It was one of several topics up for discussion on Thursday night at the DaVinci Centre at an all-candidates forum – that both right-wing candidates declined to attend – put on by the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group.

Green Party hopeful Eric Arner, a first-time candidate in provincial politics, said everyone loves to say they love health-care workers, but actions speak louder than words.

On that end, the government fell woefully short.

“What we’ve done is capped their wages and not allowed them to bargain fairly for a proper wage,” Arner told a crowd of about 50 who attended the in-person debate.

“Bill 124 needs to be repealed for nurses and PSWs. Those folks are working really hard at saving lives and they need to be compensated properly. So let’s put our money where our mouths are and show them some respect.”

Arner added the province needs to hire more nurses and other support workers to avoid the burnout that’s taken place since the pandemic set in.

“COVID is still around and other variations could come in or some other pandemic could happen. We need to take care of these folks.”

NDP incumbent Judith Monteith-Farrell said Ontarians need to be reassured the proper measures are in place ahead of time, to take proactive measures rather than be forced into reactive ones.

It’s not like a pandemic couldn’t have been predicted, especially after the SARS outbreak of a decade earlier, she said. 

“We had the lessons of SARS and we had the recommendations of that, and when we were faced with this pandemic, we found out the things that were supposed to be in place were not in place. The other thing that really needs to happen is we saw people with disabilities and seniors pay a large price during the pandemic,” Monteith-Farrell said.

Liberal Rob Barrett wholeheartedly agreed with both of his competitors.

Barrett said the Liberals have pledged to work with both individuals and systems to rebuild trust.

“And as we’ve take in these lessons we will conduct an independent public inquiry to learn from the pandemic that we’ve all suffered through and are still suffering through, especially our most vulnerable,” said Barrett, adding they will permanently increase lab testing capacity and stockpile rapid tests and personal protective equipment.

Affordable housing was also discussed.

Barrett said the Liberals will build at least 138,000 affordable homes over the next decade, helping to create 150,000 new jobs. They’ll also place a use-it-or-lose-it tax in an effort to avoid homes sitting empty.

Arner said the Green Party has proposed a 20 per cent tax on secondary homes, also aimed at larger-scale owners.

“It’s for corporations that buy up house and leave them empty or try to sell them to the highest bidder,” Arner said.

The Greens will build 182,000 permanently affordable housing units and have also committed to 260,000 community rental units.

Monteith-Farrell said the NDP would reinstate rent control policies that were lifted by the Conservative government to provide protection to renters.

“We’d also provide assistance for new homeowners,” she said.

Conservative candidate Kevin Holland and New Blue Party candidate David Tommassini were not in attendance.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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