Ring of Fire missing [Ontario budget] – by Jamie Smith (tbnewswatch.com – March 27, 2012)


Some local officials were surprised the Ring of Fire was largely absent from Tuesday’s provincial budget.

In his speech, which went beyond the 28 minute mark, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan didn’t mention the potential multi-billion dollar money maker once. Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president Harold Wilson said he thought this was going to be the budget where the province outlined its plan, with dollar figures, on how to get the minerals shipped and power running in the Far North.

“That I thought would have been front and centre,” Wilson said. “We didn’t see any of that and that would have been great.” Mayor Keith Hobbs was disappointed about the province’s Ring of Fire plan, a document he has yet to see.

“In infrastructure we’re waiting for a little more than what I see so far in the budget. The government says they have a plan in place for the Ring of Fire. We didn’t see any plan … I would really like to see specifics of that plan.

“The government says they have a plan. Well, show it to us, because municipalities in the Northwest in particular would like to see the plan and what the government has planned for infrastructure,” Hobbs said, “whether it’s roads, rail, etc. to bring that mining industry to the Northwest.”

But MPP Bill Mauro (Lib., Thunder Bay-Atikokan) said the plan shouldn’t be expected from a budget.

Mauro wanted to make it clear that the development is one of the province’s top priorities and that multiple ministries are working on the Ring of Fire and all Ontario mining activity all the time.

“This is an incredibly complex project. There are multiple pieces to it and while I understand some anxiety over the issue … those sorts of negotiations going on related to the Ring of Fire are not the type of issues that find themselves in a provincial budget,” he said.

Natural resources minister Michael Gravelle said Duncan’s speech was more about the government’s top priority, tackling the projected $15.3 billion deficit by 2017. Over the coming days and weeks, ministers will be highlighting specifics of the budget, which includes economic development.

“It’s crucial that we put ourselves in a position to balance the budget in the five-year plan that we have,” Gravelle said.

Part of that five-year plan is to convince the public sector to accept a two-year wage freeze or else the province will legislate it.

Around 50 per cent of the budget goes to wages and compensation. Mauro said with more than 3,200 doctors, 11,000 nurses, 13,000 more education support staff and thousands more teachers working since the Liberals took power, it’s important to protect those gains.

“We are hopeful that all of our broader public sector employees will understand that we’re trying to protect the jobs and the gains that we’ve made in healthcare and education and that to do that we need their co-operation,” Mauro said.
Given the minority government situation, that freeze could lead to an election. With Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak immediately condemning the Liberal budget, Hobbs said he can’t see any way the NDP will support the document either, although leader Andrea Horwath has said she needs time to consult the public.

Hobbs said the public sector is taking too much of a hit for the labour-driven NDP to vote yes, though leader Andrea Horwath has not said whether or not she’ll whip her party to vote against it.

“I would presume that the NDP aren’t going to support this budget. I could be totally wrong on that,” Hobbs said, noting it sounds like the minority Liberals are promising forced wage cuts for public sector servants, promising to save $6 billion in compensation costs.

“I don’ t think that’s going to sit well with unions. It is a savings measure for the government, but I just can’t see the NDP supporting it.”

Gravelle said he thinks people in Ontario are happy with the way the Liberals have handled such a serious fiscal challenge but he doesn’t know what the opposition will ultimately decide.

“It’s difficult to speculate on what the opposition will do,” Gravelle said.

Mauro said Horwath and the NDP need to decide if they’ll cooperate with the PCs or trigger a $60 to $80 million election less than six months after Ontario voted.

“It’s very much in her hands,” he said.

Wilson and Hobbs did highlight some good news as well.

Hobbs was pleased to see the province is increasing, if ever so slightly, the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund to $3.2 billion, mainly through uploading more District Social Services Administrative Board costs and taking on court security.

“The Drummond Report was talking earlier of putting that uploading over to 2020, and I see it’s still in 2018, so that’s a plus,” said Hobbs, who also hopes new regulations will help fill city coffers at the expense of ticket scofflaws.

“Thunder Bay is owed about $25.9 million in fines, so that would be a huge gain for us, potentially … as opposed to them sitting out there in no-man’s land,” Hobbs said.

For Wilson, an announced job and prosperity council could mean good things for Northern Ontario provided it is represented. And the fact that the $100 million Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation will remain is also positive.

“I like the idea about consolidating a lot of these funds and a lot of the ideas on skill training but we have to make sure that there are people that represent Northern Ontario, that represent regions outside of the GTA that are part of that,” he said.

Mauro said every Northern MPP will make sure that happens.