Beth Mairs and Stef Paquette, the NDP's candidates in Sudbury and Nickel Belt, were joined Monday morning by fellow NDP candidates Charlie Angus, Carol Hughes and Rob Boulet at a news conference where the party introduced the party's 'New Deal for Northern Ontario.'
The New Democrats say the plan focuses on making life more affordable for Northern Ontario families through a $15 an hour minimum wage. The plan also aims to save families $900 or more per year on energy bills, build 500,000 units of affordable homes across Canada and extend dental coverage to millions of Canadians and work to include it in Medicare.
While the plan is billed as a new deal for Northern Ontario, Mairs said it can benefit all of Northern Canada.
"I haven't been privy to a conversation like this, as I'm not a member of caucus -- I'm a candidate -- but this is certainly something that can be a template that can be rolled out across Northern Canada," Mairs said at Monday's event, held at Café Obscura on Elm Street.
"I think many people understand that the agenda and what gets focused on in the news and the mainstream parties are very focused on what works for large centres that are southern. So here we are with our platform which is specific to Northern Ontario and the issues that we have here, and yes, there is the possibility that we could expand it."
Mairs said voters she has canvassed have told her they feel like second-rate citizens, and that much of the wealth generated in the region is migrating south.
"There isn't that respect that's given to the North, we're sort of seen as second-rate citizens within the economy," said Mairs. "There's a sort of tokenism that's given to our issues and concerns, and that's why we, as New Democrats, are going to stand up. Charlie Angus and Carol Hughes have been incredible, powerful voices in Parliament and the rest of us would like to join them and be in position of leadership to make the North a priority."
Angus, the incumbent Timmins-James Bay MP, made fun of Justin Trudeau's Sudbury stop last week, in which Trudeau paddled a canoe in front of waiting supporters and journalists, before making policy announcements on protecting land and water, and subsidizing camping trips for families.
"The NDP is the only party that has stood up for Northern Ontario and that has a platform for Northern Ontario,” Angus said. “Now I know what you're thinking, the prime minister was here just recently, Mr. Trudeau and his canoe, I guess when he saw the trees he thought it was recreation time.
"And he offered what, $2,000 so people can go camping? I'll tell you Timmins people are camping, they're camping at Gillies Lake every night because we have 2,000 homeless people and there is no plan from the Liberal government to deal with the housing crisis. In fact, Trudeau put less money into national housing than (former Conservative Prime Minister) Stephen Harper. How could you be that pitiful? We will establish a national housing plan that has serious targets."
Other elements in the NDP's plan for Northern Ontario include ensuring more communities have access to high-speed internet, and making FedNor a standalone, regional economic growth agency with a broad mandate to pursue job growth, long-term development and support the growth of co-operative, Indigenous and community enterprises.
"Conservatives and Liberals haven't worked for Northern Ontario -- they've been working for lobbyists and big corporations instead of you,” said Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes.
“It doesn't have to be this way ...You know that NDP MPs fight for northerners and without a strong team of New Democrats ready to go to bat for them, life gets harder for these people. We're offering a different way forward, a new deal for the North, one that puts hard-working Canadians first and makes life more affordable for families, for students and for seniors."
The NDP's plan also includes bolstering public services for Northern Ontario, including restoring the Northlander train service between Toronto and Cochrane, and supporting the Mask-Wa Oo-Ta-Ban Bear Train between Hearst and Sault Ste. Marie.
Additionally, the NDP are committed to ensuring that Service Canada and other federal government services in the North are better funded.
The party is also promising to tackle the opioid crisis by taking a comprehensive public health approach: expanding treatment, cracking down on illegal traffickers and taking on big pharma companies. The NDP is also looking at tackling wait times and the lack of access to primary care in northern communities, along with the difficulties associated with attracting and retaining doctors and nurses in the region.
Angus spoke about an issue that has taken hold in Ontario -- the province's autism program, which the Ford government has been wrestling with for some time.
"We've been dealing with the nightmare of Doug Ford cuts and this is the first experiment in the privatization of health services," said Angus. "We will push a national autism strategy to identify where are the weaknesses in services and to ensure that nobody goes without. The investments that we make in children with autism are investments that will transform their lives.
“To put it bluntly, this will be way less of a drag on the economy than leaving children, who if they don't get the services when they're young, will be damaged for the rest of their lives."
More about the NDP's platform and plans can be found at ndp.ca.