No other government has done more than ours to try to make the ONTC viable. We have invested over $430 million to date - almost three times the funding provided by the last two governments combined. And while our support has increased, revenues generated by ONTC continue to decline and ridership is stagnant at best.
At a time when governments all over the world — including Ontario — are financially stretched to the limit, we must focus our limited resources on priorities such as education and health care.
And for northern Ontario, we need to protect the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, which is a known job creator for every community in northeastern Ontario and, in fact, all of northern Ontario.
I know the divestment decision has caused some uncertainty for passengers and ONTC employees in the 13 communities with ONTC operations. Given the longstanding presence of the ONTC in northeastern Ontario, I understand the emotional reaction this has provoked and the concern of workers with regard to next steps.
I met with some northeastern Ontario mayors in April to clarify issues of concern and strongly encouraged them to share their ideas as to how we can best move forward. I look forward to their input. Our government is certainly open to creative thinking and new ideas regarding divestment.
During my meeting with the mayors I reiterated that while the process is just getting underway and will take time to complete, there is a great deal of information they can reinforce within their home communities.
Our government will ensure key transportation services continue in the north, including the Polar Bear Express train service from Cochrane to Moosonee and bus service to communities served only by the ONTC.
We are honouring all pension commitments per existing legislation.
While it is too soon to determine what the impact or benefits resulting from divestment will be, we will continue to work to maximize opportunities for northerners.
Allegations by some that the ONTC assets will be sold at bargain basement prices are just plain inaccurate. These assets are valuable and we are working through a careful process to maximize opportunity on all fronts. In addition, I am confident that more efficient and sustainable services can be offered through the private sector.
Where there are business opportunities that sustain jobs, and increase revenues and the value of our operations, the ONTC has been encouraged to develop a sound business case and present it to the board for consideration.
This process is about moving forward and offering an opportunity for the private sector to provide services in a manner that can stimulate local economies, create jobs and provide viable transportation and telecommunications options.
In the meantime, I can say with confidence that no other government has consulted more widely and worked as closely with northern Ontario residents, as has ours.
In response to the needs of northern Ontario, our government refocused the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund (NOHFC) back to job creation and increased the fund from $60 million to $100 million. The north has reaped the benefit of the NOHFC with funds that create local jobs, enhance infrastructure and strengthen communities.
While there is always work to do, our government — and I personally as Northern Development and Mines Minister — will continue to work hard to ensure precious dollars are earmarked appropriately for the north so we can continue to maximize our potential.
Rick Bartolucci is the MPP for Sudbury, and the Minister of Northern Development and Mines.
Posted by Vivian Scinto