New [Ring of Fire railroad] deal and port for ONTC? – by Liz Cowan (Northern Ontario Business – October 19, 2012)

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A “new deal” for Ontario Northland has been proposed by the association representing unionized employees at Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC).

The proposal calls for transferring ownership of the railroad and other assets of the provincially-held ONTC to a new ports authority to be operated under the Canada Marine Act.

The first step in this process was recently completed with the creation of The James Bay and Lowlands Ports Trustee Corporation.

“Not only will we save transportation services and hundreds of existing jobs in the North, but our plan will also create thousands more jobs by providing access to the Ring of Fire,” said Brian Stevens, representative of the General Chairperson’s Association (GCA).

The Canada Marine Act allows the federal government to create port authorities which are a Crown corporation of the federal government.

“So we created a trustee corporation and when we meet with the provincial government, we will ask them to hand over the assets of the ONTC, and in trusteeship, to continue to operate the rail, bus, and telecommunications, until the port authority gets incorporated by the federal government,” Stevens said.

The ports trustee corporation is currently under CEO Roy Hains, a former board member of the ONTC in the mid-2000s. According to news reports from 2003, he was also a consultant hired by the ONTC in 2001 for about two years who came under fire for making more than $770,000 in 22 months. He was working on the implementation of Ontario Northland Railway’s service improvement plan. He was also lead negotiator with Canadian National Railway when it put a bid to purchase the ONR.

Work on the plan started in April, following the March, 2012 provincial government announcement that it would divest the ONTC, and Stevens said a lid was kept on the behind-the-scenes work.

The GCA was initially offended by Minister of Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci’s statement, made during the divestment announcement, that the business lines are good but the business model isn’t.

“The more we thought about it, a port authority is perfect because it is responsible for economic development of the region and the benefits of the authority go back to the region,” Stevens said. “We think the business model is good. This is about stimulating, enhancing, economic development in the North for the North. No individual will get rich on this since goes back to the region.

Hains has facilitated advanced discussions on this initiative with First Nations in the James Bay Lowlands, the unions, and Ring of Fire claim holder Canada Chrome Corporation.

“With broad and building support, I am confident that this initiative is well on its way to success,” he said in a press release. “We are particularly excited about providing access to the Ring of Fire with a rail solution that is by far the most economic and environmentally friendly solution. This plan also keeps these important infrastructure assets in public hands for the benefit of all stakeholders. Canada Chrome’s work has been instrumental in building a solid base from which our plan can move forward.”

Cliffs Natural Resources, another player in the Ring of Fire, has not been involved in initial talks so far.

KWG Resources, of which Canada Chome is a wholly-wned subsisiary of, plans to continue discussions with the GCA and other stakeholders, according to a press release.

According to the press release, ONTC operations will be strengthened to ensure that they are economically sustainable. The new Ring of Fire rail line will be designed and built to ship thousands of tons per day of chromite, nickel and other minerals and finished products to markets around the world. “The employees have significant investments in pensions, benefits and their various collective agreements,” Stevens said. “We will leverage those investments with the provincial government as the New Deal moves forward.”

The initiative has support from a wide array of key stakeholders including First Nations communities, Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Jay Aspin, Northern Ontario communities, and mining and various business interests, among others.