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Questions and answers: Jeff Wilkinson, None of the Above Party

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My Cochrane Now Dot Com sent a questionnaire to all eight candidates in Timiskaming-Cochrane in the June 8 provincial election.  One of two to respond is Jeff Wilkinson of the None of the Above Direct Democracy Party.

  1. How would you improve highways in the north, especially during the winter months?

The Doug Ford government has never taken the necessary steps to make sure our Northern roads are safer, especially in the winter months.

A private members’ bill from NDP MPP Guy Bourgouin that would have reclassified Highways 11 and 17 the same as the 400 series for winter maintenance was a good start. But the bill died on the order paper with the election call.

If elected, I won’t play politics with bills or proposals that would improve the lives of those living in Northern Ontario. Bourgouin’s bill would have saved lives. My opponent in this election campaign, incumbent John Vanthof has called Highway 11 a deathtrap.

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And I’m not afraid to say he’s right.

The None of the Above party supports proposals which protect or improve the lives of our citizens. And this was one of those proposals.

But more needs to be done.

As I wrote and researched answers to this question, I read a report about another Highway 11 crash — a transport truck rolled over on its side just south of North Bay a few days before I started writing this. Although this location is not in our riding, when there’s a crash anywhere on the Northern sections of Highway 11, we have a huge problem with snarled traffic, delays and costly delivery backlogs.

The Ontario government has to recognize the importance of Northern Ontario highways. We need to stop talking about making improvements to our highways and roads and start undertaking the necessary projects.

 

  1. Do you think Northlander passenger rail service should be restored before 2025, even on a gradual basis, ramping up to full service?

The Ford administration had announced a plan, just before the election call that was to include 14 confirmed stations from Cochrane to Toronto, two “sensitivity stations” in Kirkland Lake and South River and an express bus route from Matheson to Cochrane.

The project also included a connection to the Polar Bear Express from Cochrane to Moosonee.

It’s a very good start.

I believe the Northlander passenger train can be made viable if the delays, due to CN freight traffic, are worked out.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has suggested the restored passenger rail service could resume in the next three to six years or sooner. I like the “or sooner.” This restoration needs to start immediately. There needs to be a refurbishing of the locomotives and passenger cars. It’s going to cost a lot of money.

In April, Ontario Northland and Metrolinx released an updated business case that gave a cost estimate of restoring the service. It noted that while the rail service would generate economic benefits, they “are outweighed by the associated cost of delivering the service.” According to the business case, total costs to deliver the rail service for 60 years could range from $438 million to $666 million. A subsidy between $273 to $322 per new user would be required to sustain operations indefinitely, which is lower than the per rider subsidy of $400 per rider when the service ended in 2012.

I don’t think that subsidy is out of line. Having a reliable passenger rail link in Northern Ontario has a lot of benefits which can’t be measured in just dollars and cents.

 

  1. Gas prices are high everywhere but the north seems to get hit the most. How would you go about changing that?

Oil companies are raking in the bucks. And gas retailers are helping themselves to profits of about eight cents a litre. It’s really time for the provincial government to step up and start regulating gas prices. In figures released this month, Imperial Oil had its best opening quarter in 30 years, posting profits of $1.17-billion….in just one quarter! Suncor brought home $2.95-billion in quarter one, nearly quadrupling last year’s results of $800-million.

But when I’m suggesting regulating gas prices, I’m also suggesting that those gas prices should be set fairly across the regions in this province, including Northern Ontario.

There needs to be legislation to stop the price gouging and to stop the unfair treatment of Northern Ontario motorists.

 

  1. Most communities in our region are chronically under-serviced by doctors. How would you improve this?

What we need to do most of all to attract doctors to the North is to make the Northern hospitals and medical clinics more attractive to new doctors by providing them with a place to work that includes a lot of the tools they need to do their jobs.

A good example of that is the Kirkland Lake Medical Clinic, which brought doctors together under one roof and established a team that now includes nurse practitioners, X-ray technicians, lab technicians and more — all under one roof. We have to sell our communities to doctors. And that means we have to make it easier for them to do their jobs.

We need more family health teams and more one-stop medical clinics in the riding to make it easier for doctors to get the assistance they need. And, of course, we have to treat our doctors with the respect they deserve.

 

  1. What will your party do to address rising housing costs in terms of building, ownership and rental?

We have to get more shovels in the ground and build more houses to increase the housing supply and bring costs down.

We need zoning changes to increase residential areas and then we need incentives to get builders to build. That will help improve the housing market and bring prices down.

With rental units, we need to continue rent controls and protect our tenants from unreasonable rent increases. We need to build more geared-to-income housing to help our poorest residents live reasonable lives. And we need to ensure those living in geared-to-income units are truly people in need and not just people looking for a cheap place to live.

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