With the many similarities between the NDP and Liberal platforms, and with Tory Leader Tim Hudak's vow to cut 100,000 public service jobs unpopular in a city reliant on government employment, candidates instead focused on attacking the Liberal record.
The billion-dollar gas plant scandal was mentioned more than once, along with the Ornge, and the Green Energy Act, all controversies that have plagued the Liberal government since former Premier Dalton McGuinty retired in 2012.
“It's scandal, after scandal after scandal,” said Cimino, the city councillor who hails from the West End. “It's time for change.”
Peroni, a school board trustee, was aggressive throughout the night, referring to Cimino at one point as a “Cadillac socialist,” and questioned how either the NDP and Liberals could promise so much spending, hike the deficit so high, and yet balance Ontario's books by 2018.
“They've got more money falling out of the trees than I've ever seen before,” Peroni said. “(And) for the first time in our history, Ontario is a have-not province … Politics needs to change.”
The aggressive approach got her in hot water, however, when she questioned the wisdom of supporting a government with so many scandals.
“It makes me wonder why a nice guy like you would run for the Liberal Party,” she said to Olivier, prompting an angry reaction from some in the crowd. “Andrew has a sense of humour,” she said, but added a more formal apology toward the end of the two-hour event.
It was up to Olivier, a rookie in politics, to try and defend the Liberal record over the last decade, and make the argument why he should receive voter support. He pointed to the architecture school, the medical school and other investments the Liberals have made, and said Sudbury is a stronger, healthier city as a result.
“We all want what's best for Sudbury,” he said, adding that his party was working “to regain your trust as Liberals.”
He went on the attack later in the debate over Hudak's promise to cut the public service by 100,000, while creating a million jobs. Economists have questioned Hudak's math, and Olivier and the others challenged Peroni to defend the numbers.
“Why isn't it the million jobs plan a 900,000 jobs plan?” Olivier asked, arguing it would make more sense to not cut jobs if you want to create them.
“It scares me when we talk about firing another 100,000 people,” Cimino added. “What will be the effect on services?”
Peroni replied the cuts would be minimal in Sudbury and wouldn't affect front line workers – it would be managers and other bureaucrats who don't interact with the public.
“We don't have enough front line workers, yet we have secretaries who have secretaries,” she said. “We have lots of bosses, lots of managers and supervisors, but not enough people on the front line.
“Our party is committing to not taking money out of the health care system.”
“Paula, do we know who is going to lose their jobs in Sudbury?” Olivier asked.
When Peroni said the cuts would be minimal, with reductions done through attrition, Olivier replied that was what we heard when the Mike Harris government was in power.
“Their names are not on the ballot this time,” Peroni shot back.
She took Cimino to task for NDP supporting Liberal budgets over the last few years.
“I don't think Joe's a slow learner,” she said, so why did they support the Liberals?
“That's what people told us to do – try and make government work, unlike the Conservatives,” Cimino replied. “But enough is enough. Between the scandals ...”
“If we had a dollar every time we heard the word 'scandal' we could pay off the deficit,” Lalonde quipped a while later, while urging voters to make history by electing the first Green Party MPP.
She also had a different take on the Ring of Fire, the $60 billion chromite find, which at one time included a new refinery to be built near Capreol by Cliffs Natural Resources.
Lalonde said if a facility is built in Capreol, we have to be careful it is done correctly. It was *chromite in the water that made people ill in the movie “Erin Brockovich,” she said.
“It was (a film) about a community that was poisoned by chromite 6,” Lalonde said. “Jobs are important, yes, but so is a clean environment.”
Lalonde also praised the idea of a carbon tax – “you tax the polluters, and promotes more sustainable practices.”
While the Liberals have been criticized for the near halt in development of the Ring, Olivier said talks with Bob Rae shed a different light.
Rae, the former NDP premier and Liberal MP, now represents First Nations in the area in their Ring of Fire negotiations. The biggest factor was a drop in mineral prices, he said, which are now recovering.
“He spoke highly of the government partnerships with First Nations,” Olivier said.
Cimino, however, said the Liberals seemed more interested in fighting with the federal government and announcing plans than making progress in the Ring of Fire. While the city was prepared immediately to invest in infrastructure to support the project, the Liberals were dropping the ball.
“Don't blame the federal government … let's get down to work,” he said. “Let's get 'er done. Stop the ribbon-cutting. Stop the photo ops. Get it done.”
And unlike the other parties, Cimino said the NDP would require the ore to be processed in Ontario.
Peroni described the NDP as “people who have never seen the Ring of Fire,” unlike Tories like Vic Fedeli, who have been there many times. There are other minerals there other than chromite, she said, and ways to quickly build infrastructure to get the project moving again.
“There's nickel on the ground there we can start transporting out as early as this November.”
Each candidate made a pitch for voter support in their closing remarks. Cimino talked about how his parents emigrated from Italy in 1960s, and showed him how hard work and dedication can pay off.
“They came with nothing, and they moved into the middle class,” he said, adding that the sacrifices they made gave him the life he has now.
“Being a politician is not easy, but I've sacrificed for this community because I love it,” Cimino said. “I'm committed to you.”
Olivier, for the first time in the night referring to the childhood accident that put him in a wheelchair, said he's fought his entire life to beat the odds, and had the support of Sudburians at every step.
“My whole life, I've fought for everything I've gotten,” he said, promising to “bitch and scream” to get money for the riding.
“I can't drop f-bombs here, but they're going to hear them when I get down there,” he said. “Please give me the chance to fight for the city I love, and to fight for you.”
One thing he's committed to fighting for is funding for a downtown renewal project that would include a new Sudbury Arena.
“That barn has been there for 63 years,” he said, adding Sudbury has missed countless shows because the arena isn't adequate.
“ZZ top came to Sudbury 20 years too late,” he quipped.
Peroni, a breast cancer survivor, said she's fought battles of her own, and knows what it was like to go up against the odds. But she said she believes in Hudak's plan and in him as a leader who listens. When he dropped the anti-union element of his jobs guarantee, it was “because he listened,” she said.
“Because he respects us.”
And when she said she wants to do politics differently, she meant it, citing as an example working with NDP MPP France Gélinas to try and save Sudbury Downs.
“When I said we need to do politics differently, I meant it. I walked the walk.”
In her closing remarks, Lalonde said only the Green Party offered hope of real political change.
“We're tired of this broken system,” she said. “Make history happen and elect the first Green MPP.”
And to politicians everywhere, she added: “Be good, accountable people. You're in a privileged position.”
*Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly had Casey Lalonde referring to a chromite refinery in 'Eric Brockovich.' In fact, it was chromite being used in a cooling tower that leached into the water supply.
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