I was fortunate to spend November constituency week with France in Nickel Belt. I couldn’t wait to broaden my understanding of Ontario. I didn’t know much about Nickel Belt, let alone Northern Ontario more broadly. I’m a city boy through and through, born and raised in Toronto. Let’s face it. I don’t even have my full ‘G’ driver’s license because I take the TTC everywhere. The most I’d ever heard about the North came from two close friends of mine who hail from Temiskaming Shores. Feeling unsure about how to prepare for my Northern experience, I asked Damien, France’s legislative assistant, for tips on what to pack. He said, “snow pants.”
I settled in to my new environment pretty quick. There was only a little bit of snow when I touched down at Sudbury Airport, Damien was pulling my leg! France was nice enough to pick me up and we headed off to our first of three Remembrance Day ceremonies. I got to see the communities of Falconbridge, Onaping and Lockerby. Each had their own charm. At the Lockerby Legion I had an inspiring conversation with a veteran who fought in the Dieppe Raid.
The next day I took Greater Sudbury Transit to the constituency office in Hanmer. It was so nice to meet the CO staff, Monique, Nicole and Lynn, whom I had already phoned many times from Queen’s Park. They are an experienced group and obviously a primary reason why France has accomplished so much during her time as an MPP. By mid-afternoon I was in the car with France for a tour of downtown Sudbury. She showed me the Big Nickel, Science North, Laurentien University, the Superstack, Health Sciences North, and of course, all the best places to eat.
On Wednesday, France and I got a tour of Rainbow Concrete by owner Boris Naneff. We learned about the increasing problem of deteriorating culverts and the need for better road infrastructure. It was nice to see some good ol’ Canadian manufacturing in action. Then we were off to lunch at Club 50, a seniors’ club in the francophone community of Chelmsford – delicious food, great company and a perfect opportunity to practice my French.
On Thursday, France took me to the Whitefish Lake First Nation reserve and gave me some insight on aboriginal issues in Nickel Belt. We saw the new housing development led by HGTV’s Holmes on Homes and I visited my first smoke shack. This was a timely visit as France reintroduced her bill to ban flavoured tobacco products the next week. In the evening we went to Sudbury’s Top 40 under 40 event where I met many very accomplished people from in and around the riding.
The week ended with an eventful Friday morning. France and I had an interesting meeting with the president of Collège Boréal before going to Capreol to meet with Cliffs Natural Resources who took us on a tour of their new smelter site. Also on the visit were Members of Parliament Claude Gravelle for Nickel Belt and Glenn Thibeault for Sudbury.
Overall, the week was an experience of a lifetime. France took me to everything and we had many informative conversations in the car while in transit. I got a broader perspective of not only Northern Ontario, but also the work of an MPP. It truly is 24/7. I’m impressed we even made it to the gym almost every morning. On top of all the events, meetings, emails and media interviews, France always makes time to speak with constituents one on one. This was inspiring for me as a person who firmly believes in the public service aspect of politics. I have a great deal of respect for France as a person and as an MPP.
Finally, I must say a big “thank you” to France and her husband Keith for inviting me to stay at their home for the week!