Local issues dominate first local election debate

Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

GRAVENHURST — Local issues dominated the first of three Ontario election debates in Parry Sound-Muskoka Tuesday night.

Matt Richter, left, Norm Miller, Erin Horvath and Brenda Rhodes gave voters their first chance to compare the candidates face-to-face in a debate at the Gravenhurst Opera House Tuesday night.

The hospital and Muskoka Centre were top of mind at the Gravenhurst Opera House, where a two-thirds house heard from MPP Norm Miller and the three challengers looking to unseat the incumbent.

Veteran Green Party candidate Matt Richter sat to Miller’s right on the stage, while New Democrat newbie Erin Horvath was to his left, and returning Liberal Brenda Rhodes sat two over to his left.

Miller, who could finally cross the floor to the government side of the legislative benches if his leader Doug Ford continues his leading polling numbers, had the most facts at his disposal, naturally.

He got a bonus earlier in the day with more bad news coming out of Ontario Hydro, with huge bonuses revealed for the Liberal-privatized company.

Miller has been a strong opponent of high hydro rates, especially here in Northern Ontario for businesses.

Rhodes, who ran against Miller a couple of terms back, was left to defend Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal provincial government.

And she did her best under trying circumstances.

She was lucky to have gotten some personal one-one-tips last Friday when Wynne was in Parry Sound for the FONOM (Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities) conference and Leadership Debate.

Rhodes sat down with Wynne for a chat and even got in a game of table-top hockey in the Bobby Orr museum at the Stockey Centre, where the debate was.

Rhodes said it exposed the premier’s competitive skills needed to win.

The two also took part in a short jog around Parry Sound also.

Not to be outdone, Horvath — not to be confused with her Andrea Horwath — got to spend some brief quality time with her NDP leader.

That, too, may account for her strong showing Tuesday night, where for a first-timer she held her own against the other three more experienced candidates, according to one longtime Tory supporter.

Richter, as usual, was the more down to earth (no pun) of those on stage, trying to inject practical solutions to the province’s problems.

The second debate this week is Wednesday night in Parry Sound, and Thursday in Huntsville.