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Mushkegowuk-James Bay candidates get feisty talking forestry jobs and francophone rights

The candidates running in Ontario’s smallest riding spent much of their only English-language debate attacking the brand of opposing parties.

CBC radio organized a Zoom debate for the candidates in Mushkegowuk-James Bay, which has a population of just 30,000 people.

Morning North23:04Candidates for Mushkegowuk-James Bay debate Francophone rights and forest industry

Markus moderates a Zoom debate for the candidates in Mushkegowuk-James Bay. PC candidate Eric Côté bowed out, but we were joined by New Democrat Guy Bourgouin and Liberal Matthew Pronovost.

Incumbent New Democrat Guy Bourgouin says forestry workers in the area haven’t forgiven the provincial Liberals for turning their back on mill towns when the industry collapsed in 2008.

“This is the reason why you will never see probably another Liberal MPP, because you brought it to where it is now. You put these communities at risk,” said Bourgouin, who was a union leader at the time.

“That is your legacy.”

But Liberal candidate Matthew Pronovost, who says he personally saw his wages in the mill cut during that downturn, says the riding has little to show for 30 years of NDP representation.

“Difference is though that the Conservatives have not kept 37 per cent of their promises and the NDP have kept zero, because they’ve never been elected in the last 25 years,” said Pronovost.

“We expect to have results. Trying is not enough, Mr. Bourgouin.”

New Democrat Guy Bourgouin (left) has served the last four years as the first MPP for Mushkegowuk-James Bay. (Guy Bourgouin)

It ended up being a head-to-head debate, after Progressive Conservative Eric Côté backed out, saying he isn’t doing any all-candidate meetings during this campaign.

Pronovost also criticized Bourgouin’s work as a critic, speaking for the NDP on Francophone affairs.

“It’s great to post on Franco-Ontarian flag day, on the St. Jean Baptiste and the rest of the year be silent, but as a critic I think he has been ineffective and failed,” he said.

But Bourgouin says he’s proud of his record fighting the French program cuts at Laurentian University and pushing for l’Université de Sudbury to emerge from the financial crisis as an independent francophone university.

“I’m sorry Matthew, you should have listened. You should have done your homework,” said Bourgouin.

“We were the first to go and talk right at Laurentien and say that Universite de Sudbury should be for and by francophones.”

Matthew Pronovost, the Liberal candidate for Mushkegowuk-James Bay, says the riding has little to show after decades of NDP representation. (Matthew Pronovost)

Pronovost said as a francophone educator, he’s noticed some “disturbing” differences between the French and English curricula that he’d like to fix as MPP.

With the Liberals promising to create five new provincial parks, he says he is pushing for them to instead re-open Greenwater Provincial Park near Smooth Rock Falls, one of several parks closed by the previous Liberal government.

Bourgouin says if re-elected, he will push to have the Ontario government use more French translation services in the province instead of sending that work to Quebec firms.

Progressive Conservative candidate Eric Côté says he isn’t participating in any debates during this provincial election campaign. (Eric Cote)

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bourgouin also wants to see public health units required to provide services in French.

“French people were going to these health units, asking for French services to understand what was happening,” he said.

Mike Buckley of the New Blue Party, Catherine Jones of the Green Party and Fauzia Sadiq of the Ontario Provincial Confederation of Regions Party are also on the ballot in Mushkegowuk-James Bay for the June 2 election.

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