All three candidates vying to represent Thompson as MLA took the stage at the Manitoba Metis Federation hall in Thompson April 13, presenting their platforms to the audience and then taking their questions.
Each candidate had five minutes to make an opening statement and then two minutes each to answer questions posed by voters before finishing off with a three-minute closing statement.
The first question of the night came from Wayne Hall, who asked when more personal care home beds would be built in Thompson.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be in a position of governing, if elected, for one thing,” said Liberal candidate Inez Vystrcil-Spence. “What I know I can do is walk us through the process to prepare a strong proposal, a strong case to get what we need.”
NDP candidate Steve Ashton said the NDP had specifically identified the need to expand to Thompson. “For me, these things are community-driven,” he said, adding that the government would work with Thompson to see more personal care home spaces established.
Progressive Conservative candidate Kelly Bindle said his party had plans to build 1,200 more personal care home beds in the province before the end of their first term. “I can’t tell you exactly how many will be built in the north. I will tell you that I will fight to have as many as I can built in the north. It’s in our budget and we need it.”
The next questioner asked about what the candidates would do to ensure that women had access to abortion services in Thompson.
“Basically it’s just another service that our hospital doesn’t have up here,” said Bindle. “It leaves people in a situation where they have to drive to Winnipeg and in lots of cases people can’t afford to do that. Personally, I’m going to advocate for making Thompson a medical hub so you can save all that money from sending people and escorts to Winnipeg.”
“My first thought in terms of considering being able to provide the service to women in the north is privacy,” said Vystrcil-Spence. “It’s a small community. It would be hard to ensure a woman’s anonymity or confidentiality.”
Leslie Tucker asked why there seemed to be a lack of local contractors working on northern projects like Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask Generating Station.
Bindle said part of the problem was single-sourced contracts.
“I know of two contracts for sure in the tens of millions of dollars that were single-sourced,” he said.
Vystrcil-Spence said she believed that the priority given to unions might be excluding smaller private businesses from providing services. Ashton pointed out that $43 million worth of contracts for Bipole III and Keeyask had gone to Thompson companies.
The candidates were then asked if their parties had plans to establish all-weather road access to communities currently without it.
Vystrcil-Spence said she didn’t think the Liberals’ platform included a specific plan, while Ashton said the NDP had been spending $70 million a year for new all-weather roads and had plans to spend more if re-elected. Bindle said the PCs would set aside $1 billion a year for infrastructure which could include all-weather roads.
On the topic of what they would do to support the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community, Ashton said the NDP had plans to appoint a minister responsible for LGBTQ issues. Bindle pointed out that more mental health services were needed in the north and that his party opposed discrimination on any basis, while Vystrcil-Spence said she would definitely commit to being an advocate for the LGBTQ community.
Thompson councillor Kathy Valentino asked what the parties would do to compensate the City of Thompson for revenues it stands to lose as a result of fees for ambulance service being reduced as parties have promised.
“If the City of Thompson is making a profit above and beyond their operating fees, that’s wrong,” said Bindle, adding that the PCs would ensure that the city wasn’t being asked to provide ambulance services at a loss. Vystrcil-Spence noted that the Liberals had committed to giving municipalities one per cent of the provincial sales tax to spend as they see fit. Ashton said the province had provided dedicated funding for city firefighters and that Thompson wouldn’t be asked to pick up any financial shortfall as a result of reduced fees.
In response to Brenda Davidson’s question about how they would ensure that services required under the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, such as interpreters for the deaf, are available in Thompson.
“I think we need a stronger voice to represent our constituency,” said Vystrcil-Spence.
“We have to make sure it’s applied on the ground,” said Ashton, while Bindle said deafness was a disability that falls through the cracks because it isn’t visible.
Asked how they would help ensure that the province acts on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, Ashton said it was about making a commitment and Bindle stressed education to help eliminate institutionalized and internalized racism. Vystrcil-Spence said that Thompson was still a community divided by race, though less so than in the past, and that all people have to come together to achieve reconciliation.
On the subject of ensuring continued support for education, Ashton said the NDP had a track record of increasing education funding by at least the rate of growth in the economy, while Bindle said the PCs would be committed to providing quality education because it’s the future of the province.
In his closing statement, Bindle said it was clear from listening to northerners that they wanted change, while Ashton said he was proud to belong to a party that’s “been on the side of Northern Manitoba.
“I can take action when it needs to be taken,” said Vystrcil-Spence.