The five candidates vying to be the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party squared off in a debate in Thunder Bay last week.
TBnewswatch spoke to all five of the leadership hopefuls, asking them the same series of questions.
Ted Hsu is the sitting MPP for Kingston and the Islands, and had previously served as a federal MP.
Q: How would see the rebuild for the Liberal Party in the province? How would the party regain the two provincial seats in Thunder Bay and perhaps pick up the seats in Kenora-Rainy River and Kiiwetinoong?
Hsu: I think if you look back a little bit further to [when Dalton McGuinty was the Premier], we had a lot of Liberal MPPs from Northern Ontario. The important thing is that the Ontario Liberal Party has lost its connection with not only Northern Ontario, but southwestern Ontario, rural Ontario.
I am the only candidate for the leadership who comes from a riding that is both urban and rural, so I'm really committed to making sure the Liberal Party is relevant to gain in Northern Ontario.
We need to take the new members that we've recruited, who want to vote in this leadership contest, and we turn them into communities of Liberals and not just individual members.
We have to come up here again in person. The leader and caucus have to repeatedly come and visit [the North] and listen to what people [here] are saying.
I want to nominate candidates earlier and arm them with policy, [which will allow them] to start attending events and knocking on doors and listening to listening to people.
It’s really hard work and I don't believe that some candidate with name recognition is going to do the job of reconnecting the Ontario Liberal Party with Northern Ontario.”
Q: What is your intention as leader for the resource sector? How do you balance environmental impacts to the land around forestry?
Hsu: If you just look at forestry, I know that the Domtar mill in Espanola closed recently, and we are always going to be competing with these, I call them tree farms, in the Southern United States where it's warmer. And so those trees grow faster.
You don't have trucks bringing logs through windy roads in Northern Ontario so it's hard to compete against that.
But the quality of the trees is a bit different in the north.
I believe that there is a better balance when you use forests that kind of grow naturally.
In a tree farm, you don't get very much biodiversity [however] in a forest, you kind of get it started, but then you leave it for a lot of years and during those years, it can harbour a lot of wildlife and contribute to biodiversity and all of the other ecological benefits. So, I think managed forests are much better than tree farms.
I [would] like to protect old growth because they're really special in terms of biodiversity.
I believe there is there is a way to balance and manage forests over generations to make sure that we have the ecological and economic benefits that support communities.
I also believe that [with the Espanola closure] we should always be doing research and development to think about the different [and] new ways we can use wood fibres. We are in the middle of replacing all sorts of plastic things with paper in our economy. We should be researching different kinds of papers [that could] replace the plastics.
Canada lags the rest of the world in private sector investment and research and development and that's something that I want to change.”
Q: Do you intend to consult with the First Nations groups that are impacted by the Ring of Fire development?
Hsu: I think the important thing of course [is] we have to respect the treaties and we have to nurture relationships [while also respecting] the nation to nation [dynamic].
You have to go out yourself as the Premier, the head of the government in Ontario, and meet with the heads of first nations. I don’t believe that you can send someone else to do that work for you.
You [also] can't wait till there's some conflict before you start talking.
If I were [to become] the leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, I have to get that process started because I don't think that we should be waiting until the Liberal leader gets [to] become the premier before you start developing these relationships.”
Q: Do you have a strategy to recruit and retain health care workers, especially for smaller markets within Northwestern Ontario?
Hsu: We need to increase the financial incentives for health care workers who come up to Northern Ontario, [which] includes mental health workers that we have a shortage of that across the province.
I think we also need to have incentives to recruit people from northern Ontario to go into the health care professions because they're more likely to stay here. It's putting money behind those words, but there's also little things.
I learned in Wawa they just lost a doctor this month, and what I heard was [there was a rule that] they get three months to fund one of these temporary doctors. So they get six months of full time funding for that; After six months it's gone.
I believe that if you’re missing a doctor, you should [be able to] just keep funding for that position so you can hire temporary doctors for much longer than six months because it takes a lot longer than six months to hire somebody.
These little things don't seem to be getting through to the bureaucracy [or] to the minister.”
Q: How do you plan to address housing shortages across Northwestern Ontario, particularly in smaller communities?
Hsu: There are different kinds of housing that we need. In some communities, [there are spaces for] for long-term residence, but it's the temporary residents who are having trouble finding a place. I have also heard from other communities that developers don't seem to be active in our community. It's because the cost of materials and labour have gone up, and they've gone up a lot faster than the ability of the salaries of people who can pay or the financial needs of students or other temporary residents.
I believe that the province should get back to building below market, affordable housing and the federal government should be contributing to that. Normally, you kind of pause a little bit when you say the government should spend on this or that because it can contribute to inflation and you have to pay back the debt, but it's less expensive than you think.
Because unlike for example, paving a road, which is also something the north needs in many places; When you build housing, you have an asset that is paying rent and you're getting revenue from it. It can cover a lot of the interest expense that the government would pay when it borrows money to do something.”
The leadership election was called following the June 2022 election where the party won just eight seats and saw the resignation of Steven Del Duca, now the mayor of Vaughan.
The ranked ballots will be cast on Nov. 25 and 26. with the new leader selected on Dec. 2.