For the last four weeks they’ve been criss-crossing Nipissing-Timiskaming, meeting voters, hearing their concerns and promising they will do whatever they can if they get to Ottawa.
Tuesday night, three of the four federal election candidates in the riding took their messages to the airwaves and online, before heading out again for the last few days before election day Monday.
“Over the last few weeks, I’ve met thousands of voters,” Scott Robertson said to kick off the debate against Anthony Rota and Steven Trahan.
And the message came across clearly in those interactions – that people “can’t afford housing, that they can’t afford prescriptions, that they can’t afford child care.”
The three candidates – People’s Party of Canada candidate Greg Galante was not included because the local debate was limited to those parties which, at the time the House of Commons was dissolved, had elected MPs – were presented with about 20 questions submitted beforehand and, although they were speaking from the main stage at the North Bay Capitol Centre, faced an empty house.
Robertson, representing the New Democratic Party, Rota of the Liberals and Trahan of the Conservative Party of Canada, admitted facing a theatre full of empty seats changed the entire dynamic of the debate format.
And debate it was, with the candidates offering a to-and-fro, cutting in on each other’s statements and, overall, seeming to enjoy the opportunity to meet face-to-face on the stage, although separated by plexiglass barriers.
“The last 18 months have been hard for all of us,” Rota said, promising that as the country comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic – a pandemic he described as almost at an end – he is going to continue the work he has done for five terms, interrupted only by the Conservative victory in the riding in the 2011 federal election.
Trahan, the deputy mayor of East Ferris and a serving member of the North Bay Police Service, promised that if he wins Monday’s vote, he will “make sure no one gets left behind.”
Questions prepared by the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce and host YourTV ran the gamut, from helping small business and adopting the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to how to help the country emerge from the pandemic and provide broadband coverage in the region.
The NDP, Robertson said, should get a large amount of the credit for helping small businesses survive through one of the most difficult periods any have experienced.
“If small business benefited” from federal assistance programs, he said, “you can thank the NDP.”
The Liberal minority government, he said, wanted to offer a 10 per cent benefit to small businesses to keep their doors open, but “the NDP pushed for 75 per cent,” which was the figure finally approved.
Rota agreed that the Liberals “worked together with the NDP,” but also heeded internal advice, and advice from others, to come up with the final figures.
But the Liberals, he said, also targeted small business tourism, to keep operators going through the past two years so that when the economy gets going again, “they will be ready to take advantage of it.”
He also defended his party’s management of the economy during this period, saying that as long as the debt is “reasonable and manageable,” the country will come out of the pandemic in good shape.
“Imagine what would happen if they didn’t have that support,” he said, painting a picture of a shattered economy.
But even so, Trahan noted, it is “hard to see people who have lost their jobs” because of the pandemic, and said that it is going to take strong federal efforts to help them find employment again.
Trahan also noted the Conservatives’ plan to balance the federal budget “in the next decade.
“We take this very seriously,” he said, saying the party would simultaneously have to tackle inflation and “bring down the costs for food and gas.”
The NDP plan for the economy, Robertson said, is fully costed out, and according to the Parliamentary Budget Office will result in the lowest budget deficits over the next four years.
That will come about because of a one per cent wealth tax, an increase of two percentage points to the corporate tax rate, an excess profit tax and “by cracking down on tax cheats.”
But Rota said tackling these issues is “a balancing act,” arguing that the NDP’s plans to raise taxes would “chase (corporations) to another country.
“You have to balance that, to keep them and their jobs” in the country.
Rota also said that, because of the federal Universal Broadband Fund, there will be “pretty well full coverage” throughout the riding within the next six months to a year.
“COVID has really accentuated the issue” of reliable broadband, he noted, but it is being addressed.
Reliable broadband, Robertson said, is one of the things which should be considered an essential service, and the NDP “is the only party that will stand up” to the telecommunications giants to ensure fair pricing.
But Trahan noted that the Conservatives are “in a better position” to lower some of the highest broadband costs in the world, bringing in more companies to ensure there is more competitive pricing available to consumers.
Polls across the riding will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday.