Scott Robertson says he aspires to be the voice of the people in Ottawa while addressing the serious issues affecting our community.
"I don't have any other professional ambition other than being a champion for the issues that are happening in our district," says the NDP candidate for Nipissing–Timiskaming. "That's my ultimate professional ambition. I'm not interested in being the speaker of the house."
While he has been campaigning on the NDP platform, Robertson has also been narrowing his focus on the key local issues. These are the issues Robertson holds so dear and those he has heard most about during a relentless door-knocking campaign covering the vast geographical riding.
"It's painfully evident to me, as a resident of North Bay and northern Ontario that the housing crisis is a top risk factor for our communities," explains Robertson. "A lack of housing is one of the biggest barriers to health and well-being. Not just in North Bay — we're hearing the same thing in Mattawa and New Liskeard and East Ferris and all across the district."
Robertson has taken a leave of absence from his position as a city councillor in North Bay to run in the election. In both his professional and personal lives, he is a conscientious and thoughtful ally to many causes, performing discarded needle clean-up and volunteer outreach work in his own neighbourhood and beyond. Robertson has the real-life experience to not only identify but shape the needed conversation in Ottawa to help our most vulnerable.
"Access to affordable housing and the rising cost of housing, in general, is the top priority for everybody we talk to," Robertson shares. "It's the number one thing we are hearing at people's doors. It's a priority for the community, for me personally, and for my party."
The NDP's philosophy, says Robertson, is one of housing first. "It is really difficult to lead a stable and healthy lifestyle — no matter what the circumstances of your life are — without access to safe, affordable housing. It's a foundation for a healthy life and if we have people in our community who are unable to access that, it affects the overall health and safety of our entire community."
Although the housing issue is multi-faceted and often complicated, Robertson notes there is one simple aspect that must be addressed first — the supply.
"We do not have enough supply of affordable housing. Plain and simple," he says. "We don't have an inventory of affordable housing in our communities. That is step number one. That's what the NDP's biggest priority is, to make a massive public investment in the supply of affordable housing by building 500,000 affordable units across the country."
Robertson says he knows people in North Bay who have experienced homelessness for the first this summer — not due to a change in income — but because there were no vacancies.
Robertson and his young family live near downtown North Bay, and he often uses his experiences as a homeowner to help form his social policy decisions. Robertson is known as both an advocate and proponent for green initiatives and he and his family are frequent users of the growing active transportation network in North Bay, as well as regular riders of the transit system.
"Just like housing, we need the federal government's support," on climate change Robertson observes. "It's absolutely an existential threat to our society. We need a government that is going to treat the issue with the sense of urgency it demands."
Robertson notes Canada is the only G7 country that has seen greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
"We are still subsidizing the fossil fuel industry with billions and billions of public dollars every year. The Liberal government even went and bought a pipeline with public dollars. We need to be using those public dollars to transition toward a net-zero economy and other clean industries," he says.
Thanks to that door-to-door human connection, a platform plank Robertson says he now has an even greater understanding of — and its importance to people's lives in the north — is pharmacare.
"I didn't realize how big of an impact this is having in our communities," he says. "We met a family in New Liskeard who have to travel down south once every three months with their sick child. That medication is not covered by OHIP so that money comes out of pocket. And, that's putting a really big strain on the family who is also struggling with affordable housing."
Robertson relays a discussion he had with an elderly man in North Bay. Despite him and his wife having worked their whole lives, they have lost her coverage due to the bankruptcy of Sears and this has left them in the position that they cannot afford their prescription medication.
"That's not normal. We're the only rich country in the world that has a universal health care system without pharmacare," Robertson advises. "It doesn't have to be that way. It doesn't serve the interests of our community," to have families unable to afford medication.
Robertson acknowledges these platform issues are accompanied by lofty goals. The common refrain from detractors of the NDP is, "How will you pay for it?"
Robertson responds quickly, "Of all the billions being promised in this election the NDP is the only party talking about meaningful revenue in order to pay for it. We want to move the top marginal tax rate — that's people earning $216,000 per year or more — from 33 per cent to 35 per cent. That's still well below countries that are at the top of the human development index.
Robertson says closing loopholes and making sure everyone pays their fair share will lead to tens of billions in revenue to pay for the NDP's action items.
"We want to have an extra one per cent annual wealth tax on people who have $10 million and up. We also want to address big corporations that aren't paying taxes in Canada, like Netflix and Amazon. We want to close loopholes for those who are avoiding paying taxes through offshore tax havens."
It's less than one week until election day and in the meantime, Robertson will aim for more strong local debate showings while continuing to knock on those doors and having conversations with the folks he hopes to represent in the nation's capital.