Liberal leadership candidates taking notice, position on restructured transportation network plans
NORTH BAY—Support is building around a campaign aimed at saving a long-standing northern Ontario transportation system on the brink of being dismantled.
After issuing an open letter to Ontario Liberal Party leadership candidates in November, the New Deal for Northern Ontario initiative aimed at revitalizing the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) seems to be picking up steam.
Liberal leadership candidate Harinder Takhar recently issued a policy statement calling for “Divestiture of the ONTC to an independent, self-sustaining organization, and the development of a new rail line for the Ring of Fire operations.”
Takhar’s statement is closely aligned with the General Chairperson’s Association (GCA) New Deal plan to transfer ownership of provincially-held ONTC’s railroad and other assets to a new ports authority to be operated under the Canada Marine Act.
The CGA says ONTC operations would be strengthened, and a new rail line to the Ring of Fire mineral deposits would be developed to ship chromite, nickel and other minerals and finished products to markets around the world.
MPP Glen Murray, another Liberal leadership candidate, has called on the government to “pause” its plan to divest the ONTC, while Gerard Kennedy is seeking a “review” of the sell-off decision and further examination of ONTC’s potential role in developing the Ring of Fire mineral deposits.
Candidate Charles Sousa, meanwhile, supports “a sustainable, reliable ONTC that connects the North and supports jobs.”
A growing number of Northern Ontario municipalities have also spoken up either directly in support of the New Deal or for a pause in the sell-off.
This includes North Bay City Council, which unanimously passed a resolution that “strongly supports the New Deal for (ONTC) and encourages all levels of government and other stakeholders to work cooperatively to ensure it is implemented expeditiously and successfully.”
The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) has spearheaded recent resolutions by at least 18 Northern Ontario municipalities urging the provincial government to “immediately suspend plans to divest from ONTC and to consult with local municipalities, stakeholders and regional economic development organizations regarding the long-term plans for improving the effectiveness of ONTC as a government asset.”
Previously, the New Deal has received the unanimous endorsement of unionized ONTC employees and retirees, which the GCA represents, and support from First Nations communities, Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Jay Aspin, and mining and other business interests.