(This is a variation of a column that appeared in The Sault Star on May 17. Check out the full version there, if you like.)
Holding a Northern Ontario debate in Parry Sound, as was done May 11, is like building a Fake Lake on Toronto’s CNE grounds for the G20 summit in Muskoka, as they did a few years ago.
Everyone (except a couple of governments) know the French River is the Mason-Dixon Line between north and south in Ontario.
The men and women who want to be premier should experience Northern Ontario reality, not call an afternoon in cottage country their northern adventure. That’s why I propose a real Northern Ontario debate be held around a campfire, way, way back in the bush.
It could be somewhere easily accessible by passenger rail, if that mode of transportation had not been obliterated by politicians on auto-pilot. In other words, a long and tortuous journey outside the GTA bubble.
We wouldn’t dream of flying our leaders up to the debate site; airlines cancel flights on northern routes randomly and for nebullous reasons. And we wouldn’t ask them to ride up in their campaign buses; think of the cost of a fill-up at pump prices north of Sault Ste. Marie.
Instead, they could take the Ontario Northland bus from Toronto to Wawa — only 15 delightful hours with a transfer at North Bay. Or two hours less on the Greyhound.
That’s unless the two-lane highway is closed, with no detour, because a tractor-trailer jackknifed to avoid a moose.
As they crossed the French River they’d be handed plaid jackets in the colours of their party.
Upon alighting at SPG Pump and Go in Wawa, doubtless raving over the comforts and ambiance of bus travel in Northern Ontario, they’d be bundled into SUV 4x4s and trek into the bush. Politicians would not be expected to help winch their vehicles over washouts.
Arriving at the campfire, each candidate would be handed a beer that would explode into foam when the cap was twisted off — it came up the same bush road as they did, after all.
Their opening speeches would be disrupted by a helicopter swooping down on the scene, bearing two conservation officers and a dog bent on keeping the bush safe from expired Outdoors Cards.
The dog, trained to sniff out fish, would bark incessantly at all of the candidates, apparently having put his nose to their campaign promises.
They would be fined for having too many lines.
The last party leader to run screaming to a 4 x 4 cab, pursued by hordes of blackflies, would be declared the winner and awarded all 12 Northern Ontario seats.
We’d throw in Parry Sound-Muskoka, too, just so they’d know those ridings really were in the North.