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Northerner leaders were united in their representations this week

By Len Gillis

Northerner leaders were united in their representations this week

Northerner leaders were united in their representations this week

 Several well known Northerner leaders were united in their representations this week to the Ontario Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.

The committee travels the province each spring gathering submissions prior to the release of the provincial budget. The committee, comprised of MPPs from the three major parties at Queen’s Park, held hearings in Timmins.

Among the key issues that came forward were concerns about the high cost of electrical energy for industry, the growing cost of infrastructure and the impact of the government decision to sell off the assets of Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

The speakers included Kapuskasing mayor Al Spacek, Timmins mayor Tom Laughren, and Cochrane mayor Peter Politis.

Spacek, who is also president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) said a major issue is the fact that more and more Ontario government policies are put into place by Queen’s Park without seeking the input and opinions of the people most affected.

The Kap mayor was not able to actually get to the hearings since there was a crash on Highway 11 Tuesday. The committee agreed that Spacek could make his submission by telephone.

“It really boils down to one underlying issue which spreads across all the areas that affect Northern Ontario and Northerners now, and that is the lack of consultation for Northerners for policies and legislation that affects them dramatically,” said Spacek.

He said a prime example was decision by the Queen’s Park Liberals to divest Ontario Northland of its assets such as passenger rail, freight rail and the long distance and telecommunications network.

“That is a very important asset for Northern Ontario, not only from a social standpoint, but also for economic development,” said Spacek.

“All of our major industrial players in Northern Ontario, the Xstrata, the Tembec, the Resolute forest products etcetera, rely on this key transportation infrastructure and it has caused a substantial amount of uncertainty in the industry as a result of this government’s decision.”

Spacek said the one-year anniversary of the ONTC announcement is approaching, “And we still have no clear path or direction on where we’re going and what it is going to cost and what the savings would be, or could be, for the Ontario government,” Spacek told the committee members.

He said another major concern for smaller Northern Ontario communities is how to cope with the rising costs of infrastructure improvements; things likes roads, water mains and sewer lines. Spacek said smaller communities just don’t have the tax base or enough local assessment to finance the improvements, many of which are mandated by the province.

Spacek asked the committee to carry the message to Queen’s Park that FONOM member municipalities needs an increase in the Northern Communities Grant.

“We are asking for an increase of $75 per household and that amounts to about $25 million a year, for all of Northeast and Northwest Ontario,” Spacek said.

“We’ve done the math on that, we’ve done our homework on that and that would go a substantial way supporting the declining infrastructure,” he told the committee. 

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