John Vanthof has served as the MPP of Timiskaming-Cochrane for 11 years, but he is not making any assumptions and is in full swing campaign mode. He was putting up signs when we reached him, and had to pull over to the side of the road. “I’ve been here a long time so I hear from people what their issues are,” he said, adding that currently the overarching issues revolve around affordability. “Whatever your income level you are feeling the crunch, and the lower income levels are really feeling it. We’re putting forward plans to help that.”
Northern highways have been high on his agenda. “It’s loud and clear; our northern highways and winter maintenance – people afraid to drive on our highways.” He says there have been some improvements, more equipment, but he feels that things need to move quicker, that people don’t like the tragic cost in lives, and that there is also an economic impact. He also asserts that the costs of COVID still need to be reviewed. “The crises in mental health, the crises with medical care; hospitals, front line workers are being worked off their feet. COVID is certainly not over for them… living with COVID doesn’t mean ignoring COVID. We had cracks in our medical system before COVID and those cracks have turned into canyons and they are still there. …We’re bleeding health care workers, it’s hard to retain them, hard to entice new workers to come in. One thing that’s hurting them is Bill 124 where public workers are capped at 1%, especially essential workers. People are looking at other job opportunities – looking to get into other sectors, because they are not being treated well by the government. One of the first things we would do in government is eliminate the portion that caps their wages.”
As the incumbent, Vanthof knows the riding well, from top to bottom. He also commented on the inflated housing market in parts of the riding, the number of new residents moving north, the shortages of skilled labour they need for renovations, the hit on local economies. “It’s across the north, across the province. Here it’s very evident. Our municipalities are smaller so the pool is smaller. We’re proposing to increase trades training in the north, similar to what [is being done in medicine]. We have a shortage of doctors as well; the bright spot is NOSM (Northern Ontario School of Medicine), and we would greatly increase the number of students allowed in the school. We believe with trades it’s the same thing – if you want people to come and stay, your best opportunity for training is with people who are here already. We have the people who want to be trained, we just don’t have the opportunity to be trained here.”
Asked if he is confident of a win, Vanthof demurred, “I never assume anything like winning. We are running a full campaign. People need to see that you’re willing to work for your job and that means being present for your campaign. Being an MPP isn’t an easy job, but you have to show people you’re willing to work. I’m still unique in that we have no staff at Queen’s Park, all my staff is in the riding. That’s because our riding doesn’t have one community of interest, it has 5 communities of interest, of which West Nipissing is the biggest one. That’s why we have a staff stationed in West Nipissing and we will commit to doing that, and we commit to work with anyone. We’ve always done that. It is a partisan job and I am partisan when I have to be, but I think we have demonstrated over the years that in northern Ontario our numbers are too small to spend time on party politics. We work with anyone we can to get the results that people need.”
Asked if he feels his position in West Nipissing may be challenged by the Green candidate, Kris Rivard, who is local, Vanthof said he was looking forward to meeting Rivard. “Some of our policies are similar to the Green Party. I have very good relations with the leader of the Green Party, Mr. Schreiner.” Vanthof is adamant he wants to work with everyone. “We’ve seen in West Nipissing what happens when you can’t work together. I’ve done as much as I can over the last 11 years to work with everyone, and I’ve done that in Queen’s Park as well. (…) There are policies in the Ford government that I think are completely going in the wrong direction and I’m willing to fight them. But anything I can do to help the residents, I’m fully willing to do that.”
Vanthof is now 59 years old. He’s got his eyes on seniors and knows, “They are feeling the crunch both service wise and financially. We’re proposing to revamp the homecare system, not just funds, but in emphasis. Homecare is much like long-term care; it’s been farmed out to private sector and were finding in many rural areas it is just not working. We have many residents who qualify for homecare and they are not getting it. Everyone wants, when they get old, to enjoy the golden years at home. When you think about it, the longer we can keep people at home, it’s much better for the quality of life also, and much better for long-term cost to the government. We’re proposing dental care and pharmacare for all, and that’s for those people who don’t have benefits… I’ve run into so many people who have an illness, don’t have benefits, can’t afford their prescriptions, and they end up in emergency rooms or the hospital. If I can get prescriptions to those people and keep them healthy in the long run, I can improve their quality of life, and not as an unnecessary burden to the health care system. Same with dental care; many people end up in hospital due to dental pain. If government can keep people out of the emergency room and into the dentist chair for regular dental work, it improves their quality of life and improves the bottom line for the government.”
John Vanthof will be at the All Candidates evening in West Nipissing on May 26.