Health care was at the center of the Ontario NDP’s Northern platform with promises to hire 300 doctors in northern Ontario and improve the Northern Health Travel Grant.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath unveiled the platform in Sudbury, Ont., On Monday with several of the parties northeastern Ontario candidates.
“We need to fix things that are broken, like our health care system,” Horwath said. “We need to provide hope that the north can have a strong future.”
Horwath noted the Ontario Medical Association has said northern Ontario needs more than 300 new physicians to meet demand in the region.
She said the NDP would create more incentives for physicians and their families to move to northern Ontario. That would include ensuring their spouses have opportunities to work in the region as well, along with access to good schools, hospitals and communities.
France Gélinas, the NDP candidate in Nickel Belt, said there is a high need for family physicians across northern Ontario, and demand for specialists varies by region.
“The hospital in Timmins needs more cardiologists,” she said. “The hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, I think the last time they talked to me, it was more orthopedic surgeons.”
The party’s Northern platform said an NDP government would bring 100 specialists to the north, along with 40 mental health practitioners.
Because many northerners travel to southern Ontario for specialized medical care, Horwarth said her party would guarantee those people get reimbursed for their travel costs within 14 days.
Gélinas added the rates paid out by the Northern Health Travel Grant have not been updated in around 12 years.
“The cost of gas, the cost of accommodation in Toronto and Ottawa, where most people go, has increased a lot, and none of this has been taken into account,” she said.
Addressing northern Ontario’s opioid crisis was also a key plank in the platform.
“I’ve talked to so many seniors, so many representatives from northern communities who are just beside themselves with what’s happening with the opioid emergency, the opioid crisis,” Horwath said.
She said an NDP government would not have a cap on the number of safe consumption and treatment sites in the province.
The platform also promised 3,600 new units for supportive housing in northern Ontario to help people recover from mental health and addiction issues.
Laurentian ‘back on strong ground’
On education, Horwath said she would rebuild trust in Sudbury’s Laurentian University, which announced it was insolvent in February 2021. That April the university cut 69 programs and fired nearly 200 staff and faculty members.
“It didn’t have to go down that way. It would have never gone down that way with an NDP government,” Horwath said. “And so we’re also committed to making sure Laurentian is back on strong ground.”
The platform said it would also support the University of Sudbury, which plans to become a standalone French-language institution in northern Ontario.
PCs eye the north
Over the weekend Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford made campaign stops in Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins, where he made promises to invest more in Ontario’s critical mineral strategy and transportation.
Ford said he would commit $ 1 billion to build a road to the mineral-rich Ring of Fire, about 500 miles north of Thunder Bay.
He also promised $ 75 million to restore the Northlander passenger rail service between Toronto and Timmins, and to rebuild Highway 101 in the northeastern Ontario city.
The NDP’s Northern platform also promised to restore the Northlander service and to connect it with the Polar Express in Cochrane.
Ford and Horwarth will join Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner in the Northern Ontario Leaders Debate on Tuesday.