The spectre of Essar Steel Algoma being plasma-torched and sold off in pieces was raised yesterday by provincial byelection candidate Joe Krmpotich.
"If it is liquidated, and it does fail, it's gonna impact on 50,000 people in this municipality. Between workers and between surrounding business and between the pensioners," Krmpotich, the NDP candidate, said during a candidates' debate organized by the Sault Ste. Marie Real Estate Board.
"That's how critical it is, for real estate jobs, for people's property and everyone else that lives in the surrounding areas, including Sault Ste. Marie," Krmpotich said of the local steelmaker, which is still struggling to emerge from the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act proceedings that have protected it from creditors since November 2015.
"What we have to do, is we have to make sure those jobs are there for our young people, so they're able to come and purchase new homes the same way we had that opportunity when we were their age. That's what we gotta do. The Number 1 thing is to make sure those 3,000 jobs are there."
Krmpotich cited J.D. Aero Technical as a local success story.
Working in partnership with Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corp., the company has grown from the original three employees to more than 75.
J.D. Aero specializes in maintaining aircraft including the De Havilland Dash 8 family, Bombardier Canadair CRJ family and the Fairchild Metro.
"These are good jobs for our young people. That's the way we have to do it," Krmpotich said.
"We've gotta work together in partnerships with business, with the EDC and others to be able to grow our local economy and make sure that these jobs are still there for our children."
Green Party candidate Kara Flannigan also talked yesterday about Essar Steel Algoma.
"Our single biggest industry is withholding their taxes," Flannigan told the Realtors.
Although the steelmaker recently agreed to make partial payments on its municipal property taxes going forward, Flannigan pointed out that the $25 million Essar Algoma's owes for back taxes isn't being addressed.
"That's holding our community over a barrel," she said. "We're really challenged and crippled in making the decisions that will make us healthy, happy, productive and connected."
Flannigan expressed hope that the Superior Court justice presiding over Essar's insolvency proceedings "has an outcome soon, and it benefits all of us."
"Every community has skin in this game, of being affected should corporations decide not to pay their taxes," she said.
Flannigan came to yesterday's meeting with Green Party Ontario leader Mike Schreiner.
"Kara and I have been visiting businesses and knocking on doors and I think it's clear that people want change,"Schreiner told SooToday.
"Voting for any of the three status quo candidates will change nothing... But if you bring in a new voice with new ideas that's part of a new party, that can shake things up at Queen's Park and benefit the people of the Sault."
The byelection will take place on June 1 with polls open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Here's the official list of the seven official candidates:
- Amaroso, Debbie - Ontario Liberal Party
- Balfour, Gene - Ontario Libertarian Party
- Flannigan, Kara - Green Party of Ontario
- Krmpotich, Joe - New Democratic Party of Ontario
- Romano, Ross - Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
- Turmel, John, Pauper Party of Ontario
- Znoneofthe, Above - None of the Above Party
All of the candidates except Balfour and Turmel attended yesterday's session with the Realtors.
The five candidates present were asked to comment on the province's proposed mandatory Home Energy Rating and Disclosure Program, which would force sellers to obtain an energy audit before homes are listed for sale on a multiple listing database, requiring the auditor’s report and energy rating to be included in the listing.
"It is not mandatory for those who wish to sell their homes privately," said Kim Clouthier, president of the Sault Ste. Marie Real Estate Association, indicating that this is an issue for Realtors.
"The concerns that I have heard about it are: Are you now going to implement something to help those who have a poor energy rating, fix their home?" Clouthier said.
Conservative Romano said the energy audits are expected to cost $250 and should be voluntary. "You're pushing people as sellers to not want to use Realtors," he said.
Liberal Amaroso expressed concern about the fairness of the way the energy audits are being implemented.
New Democrat Krmpotich said his party supports making information about energy efficiency available to prospective home buyers. "Any mandatory energy audits must provide financial support to Ontario families seeking to lower their energy bills."
Flannigan of the Green Party said supported home energy retrofits but said that energy audits should be voluntary. "It's only fitting that certified home inspectors are also qualified to do a home energy audit as well."
Znone agreed that home inspectors should also be allowed to conduct energy audits.