Toronto MP Nate Erskine-Smith was in Sault Ste. Marie Tuesday. The Beaches-York MP is one of four candidates bidding for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party.
Erskine-Smith, in the midst of a campaign tour through Northern Ontario, spoke to supporters at the Sault’s Marconi Club.
He was the first of the four candidates to toss his hat in the ring. The party is now running their race on a one-member, one-vote system, the last of of the major parties to move from the delegated conventions. The party votes Nov. 25-26 and the new leader will be announced Dec. 2.
The 39-year-old former lawyer sat down with First Local News reporter Ron Jokelainen for an interview.
Q&A with Nathaniel Erskine-Smith…
FLN: The Ontario Liberal Party is rebuilding. What, in your view went wrong the past five
years with the party? Where did they go wrong?
“I think governments, over time, make decisions that wear on them. It’s really important that as we look to build something new that we have a new direction and a new leader, that brings change. I think generational change is incredibly important.
I think we saw a situation where the party hasn’t maintained an active presence and a serious presence in every corner of the province. Learning that lesson and acting on that lesson has been a central part of this leadership campaign.
This is our seventh tour to Northern Ontario and my second stop in the Sault. It’s incredibly important to have strong voices. Whether or not a community has an MPP at Queen’s Park, every community deserves a strong voice in the party.
I think in the last election in particular, we were the not-Doug-Ford Party. There are a few of those in the province of Ontario. It’s really important that we draw sharp contrasts.
I don’t see the confidence, compassion and integrity that I want to see at Queen’s Park. I don’t see the seriousness that I want to see at Queen’s Park from this (Ford) government.
We have to embody those values and it can’t just be taking Doug Ford down. It’s also going to be standing on our own principles and values and articulating serious solutions to big challenges…on healthcare, education, housing, economic opportunities and environmental protection.”
FLN: David Peterson’s 1987 Liberals won 95 seats, the second largest majority in history.
What takeaways do you see from their success? “I just spoke to David today. I told him I was driving from Blind River to the Sault and he said ‘that’s exactly what you need to be doing.’
He criss-crossed the province. He built this party by building relationships across communities and that’s exactly what we need to do again.”
FLN: What do you tell Saultites that tell you Queen’s Park ignores Sault Ste. Marie and
“I would say, don’t just take me at my word. Look at what I have done for eight years. I have been a very strong voice on behalf of my community. I haven’t always agreed with my own government. I’ve spoken my mind and I’ve pushed the government to be better and I want that same kind of a team as I rebuild this party and this province. I want really strong local voices from the Sault and strong voices from across Northern Ontario. That is why I have come here seven times already and I’m just getting started.
I’d say, come build this with me. If you believe in making a difference. Politics, for all its faults is the most important way we can make a difference.”
FLN: What would you tell a packed house of Sault citizens about jobs in Sault Ste. Marie?
“Broadly speaking there are three things we have to look at for a strong economic agenda. We have to make sure we address productivity and that means economic opportunities and that means investing in housing and in education and making sure that we’re tackling the productivity challenge. You don’t just want to grow the economy, you want to make sure workers are benefitting from that growth. That’s the second thing to emphasize. You want to make sure the growth benefits people across the board.
And three, we want to make sure we’re putting consumers first as part of a really strong economic agenda.
Looking specifically at the Sault, you want to sit down with the Chamber, and with council and community leaders and say “where are the opportunities here in the Sault?’ With federal and provincial investments, we can create economic opportunities.”
FLN: Where is Ontario heading with respect to green jobs and what will it mean for
“Making sure climate action is also about creating economic at the same time is a huge part of any serious economic plan. When we look at green steel, and the battery supply chain…we have to make sure we look at the complete supply chain and how we make sure we maintain that supply chain as much as possible in Ontario.
We’ve seen major federal leadership on this, and we need to make sure the provincial government shows a similar amount of leadership.
There are huge economic opportunities on the industrial side and huge opportunities on the transportation side as well as the building side. Those are the three greatest areas of emissions but they’re also the three greatest areas of opportunity, when it comes to retrofits and changing home energy solutions.
The provincial government has a very small scale plan to help people acquire heat pumps, for example. To address the scale of the crisis, number one, but also deliver on the economic opportunity, we need to match the scale of the challenge with provincial investment.
FLN: Saultites will tell you, with safety the number one concern, that Highway 17 needs
four lanes. Will they ever see it?
“I’ve heard many times in the course of my travels, and I agree, that you can’t have policies designed in southern Ontario that ignore the north.
We have a Premier who at times it looks like he’d rather be Mayor of Toronto, and a Premier who has committed to build an entirely new highway in the GTA, on a timeline when residents of Northern Ontario have been calling for expanding highways for safety and economic reasons and yet a highway in the GTA has been prioritized.
There are common challenges across the province, but overwhelmingly, the priority that comes up no matter where I am in the north is accessibility and transportation. Needing to be connected. If you don’t have a provincial government that takes that seriously, then they’re not taking the north seriously.”