Budget provides leverage opportunity to save ONTC – by Ron Grech (Timmins Daily Press – April 1, 2012)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

If selling off the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission will hinder economic opportunities for this region as badly as we’re being told by local politicians, then our provincial representatives in the North need to do what they can to stop it.

That includes bringing down the Liberal government. Interestingly, that opportunity appeared just one day after Ontario Northern Development Minister Rick Bartolucci announced the province would be divesting itself of the ONTC.

It was that following day, Dalton McGuintry’s Liberal minority government presented its spring budget. Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives have already indicated they are going to vote against it. If Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats follow suit, the Liberal government falls and the ONTC gains a reprieve.

Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson told The Daily Press Friday his party’s preference would be to avoid forcing a provincial election just six months after the last one was held.

He said over the next couple weeks, his party will engage the Liberal government in discussions. The prospect of the Opposition parties bringing down the government will hang over the Liberals’ heads and be used as leverage in negotiations, Bisson added.

The planned privatization of the ONTC is expected to be among key topics of discussion in those negotiations.

For those unsympathetic to Northern concerns, using the budget as leverage to maintaining the ONTC might seem like using a sledgehammer to kill a termite.

But when that termite has the potential of taking your house down, you take whatever opportunity you have to squashing that bug.

Timmins had been actively courting Cliffs Natural Resources to establish a ferrochrome production facility in connection with the Ring of Fire development and was viewed as Sudbury’s key competitor as a potential location. Timmins’ proposal depended on the ONTC’s involvement by providing and extending freight rail service northward.

By taking the legs out from under Timmins’ bid, Bartolucci may have effectively eliminated the key competitor to his own riding. Taking down the Liberal government would remove his influence out of the equation.

The main thing for us, now, is the assured retention and potential enhancement of freight rail service throughout this region.

If our Northern NDP representatives allow the Ontario Liberals to derail the ONTC without taking down the government first, then they have failed us.