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.
Yasir Naqvi held cabinet portfolios under former premier Kathleen Wynne between 2013 and 2018, and has served federally as the Ottawa Centre MP since 2021.
Q: How do you 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?
Naqvi: You have to show up.
I live in eastern Ontario; each part of this province is different and Northern Ontario is even more unique. You have to keep coming here again.
I want to as a leader visit Northern Ontario every quarter to be able to visit all kinds of different communities because it's a big part of Ontario to work with local Liberals [and ensure that] our riding associations are strong.
[I also want to] listen to health care providers, our education sector and social service and community service providers, [which will help us] to build a platform that not only speaks to Northern issues, but actually will be implemented in the north, which is very different than Southern Ontario.”
Q: What is your intention as leader for the resource sector? How do you balance environmental impacts to the land around forestry?
Naqvi: We cannot look at the growth of Northern Ontario's economy in isolation, it has a huge impact for all of Ontario. In fact, globally, as we move towards a net zero world, we need some of the most important critical minerals that are found in the north to fuel the net zero economy.
We have to work with industry and communities, but most importantly, we have to work with indigenous communities.
You need a leader who's actually a team builder who can develop that consensus can bring people together.
Doug Ford's approach of threatening or getting on a bulldozer [won’t] work.
We need somebody who has actually have the experience of working with indigenous communities, and building the natural resource extraction and processing sector and economy in a way that benefits all of [Northern Ontario] including indigenous communities.”
Q: Do you intend to consult with the First Nations groups that are impacted by the Ring of Fire development?
Naqvi: You need a leader who treats them as equal partners.
Indigenous communities have a very strong voice and a say, but also a leader who shows respect to them, who does not bully them [and doesn’t say] my way or the highway. That is not how we are able to going to develop a ring of fire. So I will spend the time I will sit down with Indigenous communities, I will build that relationship and that trust to find a way that we all benefit.
It helps grow the economy for Northern Ontario, but also helps grow Indigenous communities.”
Q: Do you have a strategy to recruit and retain health care workers, especially for smaller markets within Northwestern Ontario?
Naqvi: We need to find more health care workers, including the doctors and nurses and other health care professionals.
I have the strongest plan on how we get internationally trained doctors and nurses licensed as quickly as possible. [This way] they can practice and provide services all across Ontario.
In my plan, I talk about creating incentives for those professionals will work in northern and rural communities, we will work with them to ensure that they actually choose northern communities to provide services.
I have had the opportunity to speak with a lot of internationally trained doctors [who are willing] at a moment's notice to move to Northern Ontario. I [have] met doctors who come from other parts of the world who are actually now practicing in Northern Ontario, and they love it.
We have to [work towards building] incentives to build criteria that will require those professionals to come and live for a sustainable period of time in Northern Ontario.”
Q: How do you plan to address housing shortages across Northwestern Ontario, particularly in smaller communities?
Naqvi: [There are three] important things I would say [about this issue].
Number one is creating that incentive to bring housing prices down and uploading development charges, getting them away from the consumers is one way of significantly bringing the cost of housing development. But then using that money to the municipalities to create an incentive for them to approve as much as possible.
The second thing we need to do is that province owns a lot of land, developed lands [which is] not agricultural lands. We need to start developing that [and give it] at a nominal price, especially for affordable and social housing so that we can bring the cost of land acquisition out of the system and bring more affordable housing at a cheaper price.
Number three, we need to create the demand in the north. And we need to bring a lot of newcomers who are making Ontario their home instead of they're all living in Greater Toronto area or Ottawa. Let's find ways that they choose to live in Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie, Thunder Bay, Kenora, Fort Frances and Dryden and the list goes on because all those communities are looking for people to live.
But for that, we need to improve connectivity. We need to improve highway infrastructure [which is] the public transit in the north.”
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.