NORTH BAY, Ont.—As campaigns heat up in the vote for a new Ontario Liberal Party leader, an open letter has been issued to candidates urging them not to forget about the north.
The General Chairperson’s Association (GCA), an organization representing unionized employees at provincially-owned Ontario Northland transportation, issued the letter urging candidates to familiarize themselves with plans to revitalize the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC), a proposal it says will create “significant” new economic opportunities in Ontario’s north.
“Often things north of Eglinton Avenue (in Toronto) don’t get Queen’s Park’s attention,” GCA representative Brian Stevens said in an interview.
That revitalization plan is the GCA’s New Deal, an initiative developed in response to the announced divestiture of ONTC, a rail, bus and ferry transportation network Stevens says is vital to northern Ontario.
“Ontario Northland is intricately weaved into every community in northern Ontario along the Highway 11 corridor all the way to Hearst,” he said.
The New Deal initiative involves maintaining ONTC freight and passenger service while proposing a so-called ’23-cent solution’, which would amalgamate Northland with the province’s Metrolinx service in order to preserve the longstanding northern operations by tacking on an extra 23-cents to the existing $5 Metrolinx passenger subsidy.
Together with the Ring of Fire deal proposed in October, preserving ONTC service would deliver what the GCA is calling “the most economic and environmentally-friendly” method of shipping potentially thousands of tonnes per day of nickel, chromite and other minerals, as well as finished products, to market.
Under the current divestiture plan, the provincial government plans to sell each ONTC business individually.
This is concerning, according to Stevens, as private sector ownership puts each service at risk of closure if profitability slips.
“Certainly there’s a role for the private sector to play, however it’s demonstrated in regions that are sparsely populated such as northern Ontario where the private sector isn’t able to satisfy its shareholders (and) they bail,” he said.
According to Stevens, what the GCA is attempting to achieve through publishing the letter is both educational and beneficial to prosperity in the north.
“We wanted to make sure the next premier didn’t knowingly walk into a firestorm in northern Ontario over the divestiture of Ontario Northland,” he said, noting the GCA is openly requesting a sit-down with each candidate to discuss the New Deal.