Health care, business support and regional development are top priorities for Thunder Bay-Superior North voters
The winds of change are certainly blowing on the north shore of Lake Superior.
For the first time in 42 years, voters in Thunder Bay-Superior North will not have the opportunity to re-elect their incumbent when they step into the voting booth on June 2. Just weeks before the election, longtime Liberal Michael Gravelle announced he would not run for health reasons. Gravelle has represented the riding since 1995.
Thunder Bay holds the lion’s share of votes in the riding which also includes rural communities, small resource-dependent municipalities and First Nations.
The candidates vying to replace Gravelle are as follows:
- Lise Vaugeois, NDP
- Shelby Ch’ng, Liberal Party
- Peng you, PC
- Tracey MacKinnon, Green Party
- Katherine Suutari, New Blue
- Adam Cherry, Ontario Consensus
- Stephen Hufnagel, Ontario Party
- Andy Wolff, Northern Ontario Party
Health care is the perennial election issue in Ontario, but the aging population amplifies a post-pandemic dimension. Thunder Bay’s population is two years older than the provincial average, highlighting concerns about assisted living and long-term care.
Barbara D’Silva is a retired geologist and prospector in her early 60s who lives with her husband and 25-year-old son in the Bay and Algoma region of Thunder Bay. Her mother is on a three-year waiting list for a long-term care home.
She says making sure these services are there for her mother, and her own generation after, starts with taking care of frontline staff.
“There is a lack of trained personal support workers, personal support workers – and all of these health care workers, especially personal support workers, are paid poverty wages. are essential workers,” she said. “It needs to be addressed because they need more money to do this job, which is not the best, caring for the elderly and sick.”
D’Silva has seen the pressure put on the regional hospital, as well as some long-term care homes that don’t meet provincial standards for care. She would task the next government to mobilize more civic engagement to meet the needs of voters by helping to design the kind of health care system they want.
“I can see what’s going on and I think other people in the audience can see what’s going on. Some of them probably have good ideas on how to improve the situation and I think they should have the opportunity to do that. The way I see that happens by electing the right people and having them listen to what people are saying.”
Thunder Bay via Webequie First Nation
Leslie Myles of Webequie First Nation got stuck in Thunder Bay when the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown started in 2020 and he hasn’t left yet.
The two-spirit resident of Mariday Park, 31, is the primary carer for his five-year-old niece. He is also the Community Coordinator for the proposed Webequie Supply Route. He says the next provincial government needs to be on the same wavelength as the federal government, not just on roads, but on drinking water systems and First Nations social infrastructure.
“In my community, we are trying to get the Government of Canada to work with the provincial government to work together to support our future,” he said. “We’re trying to hold them to account and to be responsible too.”
He is also deeply concerned about the safety of First Nations youth in Thunder Bay. He wants to see governments rally behind educating non-Indigenous people, going beyond workplace seminars to help them value culture and understand the impacts of historic and ongoing colonialism.
“There are two paths. There is a path of destruction and there is a path of healing. Which path do we take now?” he asks.
“I hear there’s racism. It needs to be worked on, especially what’s happening with our indigenous people as well, with the homeless. Services, mental health services and healing. People need to be aware of people’s trauma that has been passed down from residency schools.”
The new Greenstone Gold mine on the outskirts of Geraldton is transforming the town which has seen little growth for a generation. An explosion of well-paying jobs should benefit the small business economy, but a sudden boom has brought new challenges.
Rick Michaud has worked at Barino Construction since he was 13 years old. Anticipating the need for construction amid increased mining activity, he and a few others purchased the business, along with the RONA store in nearby Longlac.
Now he says he has more work than he can handle.
“When the guys get their paycheck, they’re happier. I guess they have a lot of hours. The hours are there. But we have to be careful not to burn the guys out and also burn us out as owners because I’ve basically been working seven days a week since the start of the mine.”
Michaud also still sees supply chain issues that have developed during the pandemic slowing parts availability. He says that between these challenges and the rising cost of living, government has a role to play in stabilizing business costs and facilitating worker training.
“I think giving people more opportunities, like getting their driver’s license or AZT and…truck and trailer stuff,” he said. “Also…wages are tough. It makes it hard for people. Fuel. Fuel kills people. Like right now, this summer, the way it’s starting to go with fuel prices, at how high they are, it makes it much harder to be competitive.”