A debate in, for the North – Editorial (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – May 21, 2014)

Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

Two weeks after it was issued, and with one week left before the event, there is still no word whether Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak will accept an invitation to attend a May 26 debate on Northern Ontario issues. Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath have accepted the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association invitation to Thunder Bay May 26. On Tuesday, Hudak’s campaign office called it “unfortunate” that Wynne, Horwath “or anybody else” would publicly confirm a date before confirming it with the Tories who are seeking alternate dates to accommodate Hudak’s schedule.

Changing the date now would simply cause the other two leaders to have to juggle their schedules. NOMA says it offered a selection of dates and when nobody responded by May 7, it set May 26. That’s the date that Hudak has to make.
Last election it was then Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty who opted to forego a northern leaders debate.

This time, Wynne challenged her two opponents to a northern debate in advance of her May 1 budget in case it was defeated. Horwath accepted while Hudak demurred. We find it surprising that Hudak can apparently not make himself available next Monday. What is so important that he can’t be here?

There is no shortage of things to talk about. What does Wynne have to say about all reasons for the delay in Ring of Fire mining development and precisely what will all leaders do to hasten the project from the day they take office?
Leaders must outline energy policies to ensure adequate power now and when the Ring of Fire expands demand.

Will forest biomass be enough to feed the Thunder Bay and Atikokan generating stations? Will Thunder Bay use imported biomass because too much local forest will have to be cut to create enough material to feed both plants? Isn’t natural gas the logical feed stock for Thunder Bay with so much cutting now going to feed co-gen mill boilers? Is cutting good forest to burn for power in order to save on Ontario’s sky-high electricity costs wise and sustainable policy? Can Ontario homeowners afford a 40-per-cent hike in hydro bills by 2018 as proposed? We don’t think so.

Northern municipalities are fighting changing provincial tax policy and punishing costs mandated by Queen’s Park. As letter writer Ray Koenig relates today, the Municipality of Neebing faces an estimated 300-per-cent increase in policing costs under a formula imposed by the OPP.

Neebing is among a number of Thunder Bay district municipalities preparing to challenge costs imposed on them by the District Social Services Administration Board which bear no resemblance to the cost of their use of DSSAB services.

The party leaders are in a tough spot. They need to entice voters while setting a date to balance the budget. Wynne and Horwath have long lists of ideas, many of them expensive, while Hudak will depend on market forces and public service jobs cuts to restore economic balance. Northerners need to hear how these plans will fit with their realities and they need to hear it from all three leaders.