Support for ON [Ontario Northland jobs] ‘incredible’ – by PJ Wilson (North Bay Nugget – July 13, 2011)

The North Bay Nugget, established in 1907, is the daily newspaper for the northeastern Ontario community of North Bay.

Northern Ontario communities are banding together to protest the awarding of a rail car refurbishment contract to a Montreal firm over the Ontario Northland shops in North Bay.

Sudbury and West Nipissing mayors have offered their support for the North Bay-based Crown corporation’s bid to refurbish GO Transit cars in a five-year deal worth in excess of $120 million. Ontario Northland’s bid was about $2 million greater than the bid from a Quebec-based company.

“I want you to know that you have my full support in that the tendering process must be looked at as it is crucial that these jobs remain in our province,” Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk said in a letter to North Bay Mayor Al McDonald dated Tuesday.

“These contracts are critical to the growth and sustainability of our communities and it is imperative that this government (Metrolinx) rethink their decision. We must fight to keep jobs, not only in the North but in our province.”

Matichuk said she does not favour sole-sourced contracts, but “I do believe that this government should be looking beyond the price and consider the spin-off jobs and other factors that create wealth and help grow our communities and our tax base.”

McDonald said the support he has been receiving, including a letter from Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner, was “incredible.

“We’re getting resolutions forwarded to us every single day,” McDonald said Wednesday, and although most of that support has come from Northern Ontario municipalities, the city is reaching out to southern Ontario communities as well.

He said the city has contacted Toronto City Council and “is in conversation with them” on the issue.

McDonald said the city is continuing to work with the province to have the tender reviewed.

Earlier this week, Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson added his voice to the call to have the contract awarding the work to Montreal-area Canada Allied Diesel Railway Industries Ltd. reversed.

Critics of the deal argue the contract should have been awarded to Ontario Northland, a Crown corporation that is already doing GO Transit coach refurbishment.

They contend the potential costs associated with sending the work out of province far outweigh the savings that will be realized by awarding the contract to the lowest bidder.

They point to millions of dollars in revenue that would be generated from taxes on wages and supplies, not to mention severance that would have to be paid if Ontario Northland is unable to find other work.

“Our tax dollars should obtain value for money and support our local economies,” Schreiner said in a letter to the city. “The provincial government should take the lead in promoting resilient northern economies.

“The decision to choose an out-of-province firm for transit refurbishment instead of Ontario Northland, despite their excellent record on coach refurbishment and the strong connection to the local economy, is worrisome.”

McDonald said he talked to Minister of Transportation Kathleen Wynne Tuesday night, discussing the tender process and stating his position “that we would like to have the tender reviewed.”

He said he expects to hear back from her office by Friday.

As well, he said, he has been in talks with Nipissing MPP Monique Smith on the issue, and “we are all trying to find a solution.”

“I hope the economic debate will be seen in a positive light,” he said. “We hope for a positive outcome.”

In a news release, Bisson said the provincial NDP is proposing a Buy Ontario law that would ensure job creation in the province.

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