Candidates put best foot forward in Flin Flon forum

Flin Flonners had a chance to hear what the people hoping to represent us in provincial legislature have in mind, if elected.

The first and only all candidates forum in Flin Flon took place August 26 at City Hall. Members of the public packed city council chambers, leaving the area a standing-room only affair. About 80 people attended the forum.

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Over nearly three hours of discussion, the four candidates hoping to represent Flin Flon on a provincial stage each detailed their plans for the region, how they hope to tackle pressing issues and their thoughts on the province’s current governance.

Manitoba Liberal Party candidate James Lindsay, NDP incumbent Tom Lindsey, Saara Murnick of the Green Party of Manitoba and Progressive Conservative (PC) candidate Theresa Wride all participated in the debate. Each began the forum with their own opening remarks before diving into a series of eight questions, asked by moderator Dave Kendall. After getting through the planned questions – which each candidate received in advance of the session – members of the public were able to ask their own questions.

NDP incumbent Tom Lindsey laid out his plan to continue advocating for provincial funding and support for northern causes. In doing so, Lindsey blasted the PC party’s policies regarding the north, especially when asked about the province’s ongoing Look North initiative.

“Really, it’s a plan to have a plan to have a plan – there hasn’t really been anything to come out of that strategy except the next level of plans.”

“Lynn Lake, Leaf Rapids, we need something. They’ve been waiting for mines for years and Flin Flon’s going to be in the same boat if we don’t find a different way of doing things.”

Lindsey also said he wanted to see Flin Flon become involved more heavily in other industries, including as a health care and service hub.

“I see us as becoming a hub for health care services, on both sides of the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border. We need to expand those things,” he said.

“Anything is possible. If we shut down the conversation before we ever have it, then we never know what the possibility could be.”

One of the leading challengers for Lindsey’s seat, Wride was hesitant to pounce on Lindsey’s practices, but advocated for regional economic growth and diversification.

Wride said the community’s status as a regional hub would be economically vital going forward, bringing up the 2017 northern Saskatchewan wildfires as an example of the impact regional business can have.

“When you walk into a place and you feel good about being in that place, you want to go back to a place,” she said. 

“To see Flin Flon as a hub in our area, thinking of the time when the fires were here and it cut off the communities like Pelican Narrows, Deschambault Lake, Sandy Bay, where people come from for their monthly supplies. The community felt it. We didn’t see as many people in our area. The stores felt it, as well. That’s to the west – what about to the north, to the other directions as well – how can we have them access us?”

While the forum was heavy on rhetoric (candidates voiced both explicit and tacit support and derision for some policies), it was light on exact promises pertaining to Flin Flon specifically. The candidates made few promises during the forum and made no commitments on large-scale projects in the community.

Regional future

One of the main issues discussed was the future of health care for northern Manitoba. Lindsey slammed the province for the recent conversion of some emergency departments in Winnipeg to urgent care facilities, as well as the recent changes in practice for Lifeflight medical transport services.

“We’ve seen the disasters that’s caused and it will only get worse,” he said.

“The horror stories I’ve heard recently, that people have to be intubated by hand all the way to Winnipeg because the private carriers don’t have the systems. Those are things we cannot stand for here. We’re entitled to proper health care,” Lindsey said to a volley of applause.

Lindsay said health care plays a role in every other issue people in the north face.

“Health care is a huge priority for every person in every community, in every part of every country, in every part of the world. The success of your health care system is also heavily reliant on the health of your economic system. People who have a stable economy can afford healthier food, which makes healthier people. People who are better educated have more economic opportunity to get better food and lower health care costs,” he said.

“The health care system is reliant on every other system of government intrinsically. Without adequate health care for our northerners, we have people leaving instead of coming to the north. We see a constant rotation of doctors, but there’s no continued continuity of care with longer term patients.”

Wride said mental health services in the north need to be emphasized.

“One of the huge issues there is mental health. Being in a remote community makes for a vulnerable state. To be able to take and provide effective, good services will help people with their mental health, which has cascading effects.”

On the subject of health care spending, Lindsay, Lindsey and Murnick were critical of the province’s strategy.

“The number one concern I’ve heard in every community I’ve been in is that they’re scared to death that they’re going to lose access to Lifeflight. We need to quit cutting and we need to start building,” Lindsey said.

Murnick added, “I saw in the news today that the PCs were getting ready to roll out a bunch of new things with the health care system. I’m thinking, ‘We’ve just had three years of cuts – we’re getting promises now?’”

“Why were the jobs cut in the first place? Why were those front line jobs that we were promised wouldn’t get cut going away? There’s a question there.”

Taxes

When discussion turned to taxation, each candidate stepped up to weigh in on provincial taxation. 

Lindsay would not commit to any future measures on taxes, saying any decisions regarding taxation would have to be discussed in the future.

“It was a tough pill to swallow, that one per cent increase, and everybody rejoiced when it went back – but what do we do with the lost revenue?” he said.

“Folks, I cannot promise you I’ll cut taxes. We’ve got to look at the books first and see how bad the situation is. I’d like to be able to, but I can’t make that promise, and I’m not going to.”

Wride mentioned her party’s economy policies and emphasis on budget balance, but also stopped short of making any promises on taxes.

“This is something I can’t personally promise, but I can certainly our voice there and be able to see what impacts that would make for our constituency,” she said.

Lindsey said the province’s policies on taxes need to be reevaluated.

“When we talk about, ‘We need to get back to balance at any cost’... that’s not right. We have to look at how to spend tax dollars wisely. I don’t like paying taxes any more than the next person, but I want to pay my fair share of taxes to make sure the services we need are there. There are some things government has to fund that just aren’t going to make money.”

Murnick added that some areas should not see cuts.

“We’re about balanced books, but we’re not about cuts. If you spend wisely, you can spend more. There are places where we need to spend and it cannot be cut. On health care, we need to spend and it cannot be cut. On schooling, we need to spend and it cannot be cut.”

Education

When the floor was opened up to public questions, education became a subject of discussion. Former Flin Flon School Division trustee Angie Simpson asked about the candidate’s views on the ongoing K-12 education review spearheaded by the provincial government. In the past, trustees have voiced concerns about the review potentially amalgamating school divisions and boards or simply doing away with them altogether.

All four candidates in the room pledged to support local education when asked.

Full video of the candidates’ forum can be found on The Reminder Facebook page.

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