Some mayors unhappy with plan, candidate says
Kathleen Wynne said if she becomes Ontario's next premier Jan. 26, she'll take a critical look at the regional planning documents in the province, including the Northern Ontario Growth Plan.
The growth plan, a 25-year blueprint for provincial decision-making and investment in Northern Ontario, was released in 2011 after several years of consultations.
Wynne, considered one of the frontrunners in the Liberal leadership race, said she plans to speak to northern mayors about how the plan “is working for them.”
She said she's heard “hints” from mayors in small northern municipalities that they're not happy with how the document is working so far.
“If we have a blueprint that is only working for part of the north, then that doesn't make sense,” Wynne said. “I just want to make sure we're on the right track.”
The Don Valley West MPP made the statements Jan. 3 during a conference call with reporters from across the province.
While the conference call was about increasing support for municipalities and increasing their autonomy, Wynne addressed a wide range of subjects, many of them with specific resonance in the north.
In response to a question from Northern Life, Wynne said she'd create a Northern Ontario Cabinet Committee, in which northern MPPs would have a chance to examine policies affecting the region before they're passed into law.
“It would be an opportunity for ministers and backbenchers from various ministries and regions to apply a northern lens to those policies to make sure we were taking into account the issues of the north.”
She said she hopes the Northern Ontario Policy Institute, an initiative of the growth plan, will be able to provide some answers as to how this “northern lens” can be applied to government policies.
When speaking about her promises to develop regional transportation strategies, Wynne touched on the divestiture of Ontario Northland.
While unclear about whether or not she'd continue with the divestiture, she said there's been a “lot of consternation about some of the changes in transportation network, particularly in the northeast.”
In a Jan. 4 email statement, Wynne said there needs to be a “sustainable transportation network in the north, making sure we have the right blend of publicly funded transportation, private sector transit, and funding for roads and bridges.”
The candidate said she'd like to increase municipal autonomy, specifically with regards to the siting of green energy projects and OLG infrastructure.
She said it's important to get “community buy-in” through processes such as consultations and even referendums before going ahead with these projects.
The province announced last year it wants to develop more casinos, including one in Greater Sudbury.
“Whether we're talking about casinos or energy infrastructure, we need to make sure we have willing hosts,” Wynne said.
She was also asked by a reporter about her support for the horse-racing industry. Last year, alongside its plans to build more casinos, the province announced the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks program.
Sudbury Downs has said that decision has had a major negative impact, and closed its doors, likely for the last time, last year.
Wynne said she plans to use the report put out by a panel on the future of horse racing as “the starting point for making sure that the industry can be sustainable.”
“I certainly do not see a future where we don't have a horse-racing industry in the province,” she said. “I'll be working closely with the sector to make sure we get there.”
A reporter also asked Wynne, who has served as education minister, transportation minister and municipal affairs and housing minister during her years on cabinet, about her chances of winning the leadership race.
“I think a lot of this is going to happen on the convention floor,” she said.
“We're working as hard as we can to connect with Liberals across the province. I'm very confident in the process. I've got a shot at it.”
Wynne pointed out she has a seat in the legislature, unlike her fellow leadership frontrunners, Gerard Kennedy and Sandra Pupatello, and is ready to govern.
If she does become premier, Wynne said she's not interested in triggering an election, but will be prepared if the opposition parties do so.