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Constituents feeling discouraged and upbeat, MPPs say

Kiiwetinoong NDP MPP says cost of living, emergency room closuures are affecting people in the northern riding
Sol Mamakwa
Sol Mamakwa said in an interview with tbnewswatch that he's wry of the Ford government's handling of Indigenous matters. (Michael Charlebois, tbnewswatch)

The MPP for far-north Kiiwetinoong doubts that Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government will help his constituents much.

“I think the North is always forgotten,” Sol Mamakwa, a New Democrat, said Monday from Toronto as the Ontario legislative assembly resumed work after a summer recess.

“With the cost of living, the cost of fuel, the closing of emergency rooms ... people are not happy. In the far north of Ontario, in First Nations, people are paying an arm and a leg just to get on flights to go anywhere, and I don’t think a lot of people understand that.

“And I think the only thing the government wants is the resources that we have up North, but … there’s a lot of needless suffering.”

Mamakwa said Premier Doug Ford’s government is unresponsive to that suffering just as it’s indifferent to the Ontario Health Coalition protesters who were at Queen’s Park while the legislature resumed sitting.

The NDP deputy leader said he doesn’t sense a lot of hope in his riding that the government will do much for Kiiwetinoong, a sprawling electoral district that is more than two-thirds Indigenous, and the North generally.

For his part, government MPP Kevin Holland said the mood in his Thunder Bay-Atikokan riding is “very upbeat” and the Ford government is getting things done.

“It’s good to be back to continue working for the riding and getting the work done that we need to accomplish,” Holland said.

“I’ve been working extensively throughout the riding, meeting with many community groups, businesses and community leaders to talk about what we need in the riding. And honestly, I’m really pleased with the work that we’ve been able to get done.”

Holland said he didn’t meet with the health-care protesters on Monday, explaining that he "was tied up all day in meetings.”

He added that the PCs have been “putting measures in place to improve on the health care system that was quite frankly on the verge of collapse in 2018.”

Thunder Bay-Superior North NDP MPP Lise Vaugeois said there are “a lot of very serious concerns in Northwestern Ontario,” including the state of health care.

“The Conservatives have really been undermining the system now in very deliberate ways, pushing health care workers into working for . . . private nursing agencies which cost hospitals so much more money,” she said.

“And so that’s gutting the budgets of many health care institutions throughout Northwestern Ontario. So that is definitely a problem.”

Voters have good reason to lack trust in the Ford government, Vaugeois said.

“They’ve been caught on the Greenbelt scandal, and there are going to be more scandals as things come out about Ontario Place and the ministry zoning orders that are overriding municipal councils. In many respects, I feel like they’re digging in and carrying on as they were before.

“It’s frustrating to hear that there’s no change in direction and perhaps no humility,” she added.

“I see them continuing to press on with selling off public assets to private interests, right? And not protecting levels of democracy — you know, with, for example, strong mayor powers which undermine, really, the elections that people just held by only requiring one-third support for a mayor, any mayor who has strong mayor powers, to do whatever they want. That’s quite worrisome.”

Mamakwa said he has had to explain the Greenbelt scandal to some constituents, “but they know that the premier is a bully and he’s trying to, you know, bulldoze his way through the North.”

Mamakwa said Ford “never comes up north. I’ve invited him and his excuse is ‘I don’t like flying.’”

Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After working at newspapers across the Prairies, Mike found where he belongs when he moved to Northwestern Ontario.
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