United behind the idea that the Progressive Conservative government needs to go, three candidates for Sudbury in the June 2 provincial election at least had that to agree on tonight.
David Robinson (Green), David Farrow (Liberal) and Jamie West (NDP) served up several political jabs throughout tonight’s two-hour debate, but the trio appeared more united in ushering in change than tearing each other down.
“For me, this election is about one thing,” Farrow said during his closing remarks. “This is an election about the Doug Ford (Progressive) Conservatives.
“Did Sudbury move forward or did Sudbury move backwards under these last four years with Doug Ford?”
Between failing to advance enough on the Highway 69 four-laning, cutting millions from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and failing to prevent the current financial woes at Laurentian University, he said the current government has moved Sudbury backward.
Both Robinson and West also contributed to this accusation throughout the debate, with West mainly narrowing in on affordability and the government’s mismanagement of the pandemic, which has put “mom and pop” businesses at risk. While agreeing with these notions and adding his own flair to the barbs he directed at Ford’s government, Robinson also dug deep into ongoing regional shortcomings he perceives in attracting working professionals.
The three candidates’ words remained undefended by the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, since Sudbury candidate Marc Despatie was not in attendance.
A similar atmosphere is anticipated at Thursday night’s debate featuring Nickel Belt candidates, at which Progressive Conservative Randy Hazlett is also anticipated to be absent.
“PC candidates for both Sudbury and Nickel Belt riding had accepted our invite for the events earlier but have now withdrawn their participation in the events,” a Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce spokesperson clarified to Sudbury.com.
An inquiry sent to both political camps by Sudbury.com was not immediately responded to.
Throughout tonight’s debate, Robinson, Farrow and the incumbent West strived to differentiate themselves beyond their united opposition to the Progressive Conservatives while addressing questions primarily aimed at establishing their respective plans for economic recovery and development.
Robinson touted a plan to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes so they use less fossil fuels, so people can live more affordably in the long term. This, he said, would also help create 130,000 jobs within a year and a half and even more people in the future.
Current bottlenecks in the local economy aren’t technology-related, but “the fact we don’t have the people to do those jobs right now,” he said.
Robinson pledged to establish a system that better trains people for jobs in a green climate economy and to help make Greater Sudbury a more attractive place for people to relocate to for employment.
“We darn well better get Laurentian back on track with a lot of money for research in mining-related things and a new section working on the mining supply, engineering side,” he said. “This is a talent-based economy, and as a community we have to be lobbying hard and hammering Queen’s Park to do something.”
Farrow expressed similar concern about the area’s shortcomings in workers, saying that immigration needs to ramp up in order to bring in the skilled and unskilled workforce the area needs.
“The only way we can get to where we need to be is if we have a strong base to draw from,” he said. “The road to economic and environment sustainability runs right through the mining industry.”
Farrow also advocated for a living wage to help people make ends meet and for immediate steps to be taken to support businesses, including a two-year corporate tax freeze and freeing up loans for businesses.
With a stronger pool of labourers available to help the region meet its economic potential, he said a stronger tax base would develop to help support the region with the services it needs.
During his remarks, West focused primarily on what he described as an increasingly unaffordable province to live in, where the Progressive Conservatives failed to brace the business community against the impacts of COVID-related health measures.
Many businesses, he said, “are hanging on by their fingernails looking for ways to survive.”
The NDP would provide small businesses with two additional rounds of funding to keep them afloat “that will help stabilize the market and provide relief,” and work to better recognize immigrants’ skills so there aren’t doctors making ends meet by working as taxi drivers.
“We need to attract people with decent wages, we need to increase the minimum wage in a responsible way that won’t create shell shock for small businesses,” he said, pledging annual increases of $1 per hour to the minimum wage.
Notable political jabs included Robinson claiming the other two candidates knew little about the economy, West lobbing criticism at Farrow for the Liberals’ failure to do more during their time in power and Farrow accusing the NDP of being AWOL in recent years and opposing various things but failing to propose any solutions. This last jab elicited an exasperated gasp from West.
Despite this, Farrow also pledged to work with both Robinson and West if elected.
“Leadership is not screaming from the sidelines, leadership is working with people across the aisle in Ontario to bring policies forward,” he said.
Thursday night’s “Virtual Fireside Chat” with Nickel Belt candidates will begin at 7 p.m., with information about how to log onto the virtual event available by clicking here.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.