"Northern Ontario deserves real investment, a real future."
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath made that comment to delegates on day two of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) conference being held in North Bay. Horwath told the crowd it's important that "every priority of government, has the people at the centre of it, not just the friends and well-connected folks that are part of the Liberal's priority. That's not the priority for us."
Horwath says she is disappointed by the province's "complete lack of action" on the Ring of Fire. She also points to the lack of job opportunities, especially for young people, to keep them in the north. The lack of broadband in some areas was also addressed, noting without it, some businesses find it difficult to be competitive.
The provincial NDP leader also noted that transportation remains an important northern consideration, especially with the cancellation of the Northlander. She says there's an opportunity with the ONTC to take on some of the challenges. Other issues she considers priorities are schools and hospitals, both of which she says are the "heart of the city," especially in smaller towns.
"When that blue 'H' goes down on the side of the highway, it's a big blow to a municipality. So we want to make sure that when we look at hospital funding and we look at healthcare funding, we recognize that hospitals and healthcare are different in Northern Ontario than they are in the south. I think it's quite telling that there's such a gap in terms of the healthcare out-comes for people in the north."
She uses as an example, an elderly Sudbury woman who spent two nights in the emergency room, followed by an additional 20 days in a television room. Horwath told the media all anyone needs to do is look at the budget, to understand why hospitals are in "crisis."
"We need to be specific about funding for small-town hospitals and northern hospitals." She believes "the Liberals have had their priorities wrong for a long time. I know a lot of Liberals did very well by this government over the last 14-15 years, but it's the people that paid for it. That's why we have schools closing, that's why we have hospitals in crisis, where people are receiving hallway medicine lined up like sardines in hallways. It's not acceptable."
When it comes to the high cost of hydro, the NDP leader says "electricity is not a luxury and should not be priced as one." She says if elected, her party would end 'time of use pricing' and return Hydro One to public ownership. The NDP would also push for the creation of a universal pharmacare plan to assist those who forgo taking medications or stretch them out by reducing the amount taken because they can't afford the cost.
FONOM president and Mayor of Kapuskasing, Alan Spacek, says Horwath went a long way in addressing some of the current concerns facing municipalities in the northeast.
"It's very interesting to see they've taken a position on pharmacare and I think that's something given our demographic that we have in northeastern Ontario, probably all of northern Ontario, that would be something I think would appeal to voters."
Horwath says the NDP will provide a full costing plan once it releases its platform, although she didn't specify when that might happen. She says the next election is extremely important and believes people need to known what the leaders believe in and what their vision is for the province.