All-candidates forum flooded with promises – Candidates stress economy and healthcare

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Allyson Beauregard

CAMPBELL’S BAY – An all-candidates forum saw five candidates for the October 1 provincial election answer questions from the organizers, the Pontiac Chamber of Commerce and CHIP FM, plus the public, September 13 at the RA Hall.

Allyson Beauregard

CAMPBELL’S BAY – An all-candidates forum saw five candidates for the October 1 provincial election answer questions from the organizers, the Pontiac Chamber of Commerce and CHIP FM, plus the public, September 13 at the RA Hall.
Roger Fleury (Green), Olive Kamanyana (Coalition Avenir Quebec), André Fortin (Liberal), Julia Wilkie (Quebec Solidaire) and Louis Lang (Marxist-Leninist) briefly introduced themselves before responding to three questions from the hosts. Public
questions ended the evening. About 80 people participated.
Mr. Fleury’s priorities include a light-rail network, opposing the Chalk River radioactive dump, and ending the “theft” of Pontiac’s resources; he supports ending the top-down bureaucratic control by the province. He linked environmental concerns with a populist message of local decision-making and lower taxes.
Ms. Kamanyana stressed health care and education, and was very critical of lack of results from the years of Liberal rule stating their drive for a budget surplus has crippled local health care and local schools. She stressed her party’s federalist position.
Mr Fortin, the incumbent, emphasized his Pontiac roots and listed individual projects across the  MRC, which he has “helped”: Residence Meilleur, the dialysis project, the Marchand Bridge reconstruction, etc. “I won’t make promises I can’t keep,” he promised.
Ms. Wilkie stressed uniting the environment and the economy.  She wants Pontiac’s biggest beauty, the Ottawa River, protected, and argued that improving health-care here, including returning local management, will bring better health – and create jobs.
Mr. Lang called for a renewed electoral system that is more democratic, whereby citizens, not parties, chose their candidates. Parties now set the goals, he insisted, not the people in each riding; he referred to 22 parties running, most ignored by the media. Curiously, he tended to explain the causes of problems, rather than make more promises to ease them.
Candidates from the PQ, NDP-Q and Conservative party did not participate.
Question 1: “What steps will your party take to address the $250
million health-care system funding gap [unveiled in a recent study] to ensure the Pontiac receives its fair share of health funding?
Fleury:  the answer is increased accountability and transparency; he will end
the “cannibalizing” of the Pontiac’s health system. He said the government is
currently increasing specialist wages while ignoring nurses and support staff; Pontiac residents should be allowed to receive service in Ontario, rather than travel to Gatineau or Montreal.
Kamanyana insisted money is available, but isn’t being delivered. She noted her party’s commitment to build a new 170-bed hospital here (not specifying the location), keep the CLSCs working and decrease ambulance
wait times. To her, hospital management must be closer to the people, with rural Pontiac an autonomous region. 
 Fortin pointed to a recent $300 million announcement by his government to alleviate inequities. He said a new medicine faculty in Gatineau will generate more health professionals here, and said the province needs to recapture some money spent on services in Ontario – he said nearby Ontario facilities are part of the Outaouais’ actual healthcare infrastructure. He supported the 24-hour Pontiac CLSC E.R.
Wilkie will work to create 24/7 “community health care centres”. Her party opposes parking fees and is committed to a universal dental care plan. She equates improved health-care with more local jobs and an improved local economy.
Lang said the first step is to ask why we are lacking funds. “Too many parts of
the system are broken,” with continual funding cuts making working conditions worse. He opposes further privatization of care, and suggested that only the wealthy see health care as a right because they can afford private care.
Question 2: Whats steps will you take to help revitalize the Pontiac’s economy?
Kamanyana said the CAQ will stimulate under-developed regions – by diversifying opportunities, investing in agriculture, food production and tourism. Youth will stay
if there are full-time jobs.
She wants focused projects supported, not bureaucratic processes (“the SWAT team”), immigration encouraged, and tourism infrastructure built.
Fortin defended the SWAT team, claiming it brought in businesses like the Shawville abbatoir and is “prospecting” for other investments. He said the region needs to be made more attractive to residents and investors. He said he knows the region best.
Wilkie said QS’s minimum wage increase will put money into families’ pockets, which will improve the economy; QS’s program of a nationalized and extended fibre-optic service will encourage investors and new residents. Promoting a diversified economy and better public transportation are also necessary.
Lang asked if the reason the Pontiac is disadvantaged is because big-party governments focus on maximizing profits for corporations, not benefits to communities. He said holding MNAs to their promises can change this, but not if citizens merely vote every four years and do nothing in between. And making unused land available to new farmers would be one step to diversifying the economy.
Fleury said decision-making power must be returned to the Pontiac. For example, making the prices for fishing and hunting cheaper will attract more tourists. Quebec City bureaucrats see these prices as revenue streams, not tourism tools. He added
that “language extremes” intimidate newcomers.
Question 3: MRC Pontiac’s population has been in steady decline. What is your party’s primary measure to either help or attract new families and enhance the local quality of life? 
Fortin said better jobs and good services, plus improvements to education and health services (the 24/7 CLSC). He added high-speed internet and improved cell phone service, and said he has also committed “government support” to Piscine Pontiac (pool) and Villa James Shaw.
Wilkie noted that opposing the Chalk River radioactive dump is essential as no one will come here with that hanging over the region; she added aiding community centres and their activities, supporting innovative projects, encouraging farm family transfers, and developing tourism infrastructure. QS’s big promise is free education from “CPE to PhD”.  
Lang questioned if “quality of life” is limited to the economy. He noted that Highway 148 is dangerous, and rather than constant small renovations, which take years, improving public transportation will reduce traffic. Improving internet service, also, but regulating corporations and monopolies that provide it is necessary, but hard to imagine.
Fleury also encourages public transit, an inter-municipal pool and other daily-life services – plus bringing decision and taxation powers back to the region, since local people know best what they need, not Quebec City functionaires.
Kamanyana asked why so many people leave. She said youth leave for schooling, and better funding for nearby post-secondary schools (like UQO) will keep students in the region. The present government has under-funded UQO (as it has the health
system here). Internet and cellphone investments are needed and increased immigration will bring new consumers and  investors.
The public asks its questions
A group of students from ESSC asked how the candidates will help with the extra costs of pursuing studies – travel and rent. Kamanyana: offer UQO programs in rural areas; Fortin: local programs and free transit for students; Wilkie: free education and discounted public transit; Lang: free and improved local education; Fleury: satellite courses and free education.
Fred Ryan asked if the candidates will support independent community media, given the massive government advertising cuts for advisories and public notices, under the Liberals. All emphasized their support of community media, with the exception of Fortin, who said cheaper alternatives are needed. He cited funding programs available to help newspapers do away with newsprint and go digital. Ryan replied that the two programs have been cancelled.
Chris Judd asked if the candidates would maintain a Minister of English Affairs if they form the next government. All emphasized the right of citizens to receive information in their language of choice from all government services.
Albert Armstrong asked for the candidates’ views on separation. All opposed
separation, except for Wilkie who explained the QS plan to review Quebec’s status will be long and consultative, and Lang who said his party would support it if and when this is the desire of Quebec citizens.
To end the evening, Bill Aitken asked why the candidates thought the Pontiac is
in its current situation. Fleury: too much centralized, bureaucratic decision making; Kamanyana: reliance on one industry and being forgotten by Quebec City; Fortin: lack of diversity and being “sold a fake bill of goods” too many times; Wilkie: relying on one industry and the centralization of health services; Lang: people not having (nor taking) local decision-making power.