May 26, 2014 12:18 pm

Wynne, Horwath face off in northern debate, while Hudak tours Toronto area

THUNDER BAY, Ont. – Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath face off today in a debate on northern Ontario issues, while Tory Leader Tim Hudak tours the Peterborough and greater Toronto area.

Wynne says it’s “inexplicable” that Hudak wouldn’t show up and it would never have occurred to her to miss the debate in Thunder Bay.

Her predecessor Dalton McGuinty was absent during the 2011 election, but she says she wasn’t the premier then.

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Hudak says he couldn’t make it because of a scheduling conflict, but adds neither of the two other party leaders have spent more time travelling northern Ontario than he has.

READ MORE: Privatizing Toronto’s public transit an option if it would ease gridlock: Hudak

The Liberals issued a news release Sunday night with a list of flights to Thunder Bay with available seats that Hudak could use to still get to today’s debate.

All three parties have made different promises to woo northern Ontario voters, including developing the massive Ring of Fire chromite deposit.

Both Hudak and Horwath have promised to help develop the mining project, but neither has said how much money they’d spend.

Wynne is promising to spend $1 billion over 10 years to help build a much-needed transportation route to the remote area, even if the federal Conservatives don’t help out.

It’s not clear where or when it would be built if the Liberals are re-elected on June 12, or how they’ll find another $1 billion to complete the route in the remote region if Ottawa won’t provide the funds.

The Liberals say those decisions will be up to a development corporation that they’ll create within 60 days of taking office and will include both levels of government, First Nations and private companies.

READ MORE: Liberals promise $1 billion for Ring of Fire

Wynne said the Liberals would also expand major highways to four lanes, including Highway 69 between Parry Sound and Sudbury, the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 11/17 between Thunder Bay and Nipigon.

The New Democrats have promised to spend $250 million to widen 60 kilometres of highways across Ontario each year, at least of which will be in the north.

They say they’ll spend another $20 million a year to restore passenger service on Ontario Northland Rail and $40 million on 200 more snowplows and trucks to improve winter road safety.

The NDP has also promised to begin investing in infrastructure for the Ring of Fire “without delay” if elected, but didn’t allocate any money for it in its platform.

Hudak, who served as northern development and mines minister under the former Conservative government, said he’d merge the Ministry of Natural Resources with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to create one powerful northern minister.

The Tory platform also promises to repeal the Far North Act, saying it would open up the north to more investment opportunities and jobs.

The party’s reach only extends up to the North Bay riding of Nipissing. The Liberals hold four northern seats, while the NDP have five.

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