The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
Ontario’s premier is reassuring Northwestern Ontario residents that the region will have all the energy it needs, regardless of the eventual Thunder Bay Generating Station outcome.
The station’s conversion to run on natural gas has been put on hold by the Ontario Liberals, because the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) says there are better, and cheaper ways to power the North.
Halting the conversion, the OPA said, will save $400 million, and required power can be generated from other sources, such as southern Ontario via an expanded east-west tie-line. The government has not made a final decision about the conversion, as the OPA is still finalizing its alternative plan.
“The issue for us is not whether we have the power in place to meet those energy needs,” Premier Dalton McGuinty said in Thunder Bay on Thursday. “It’s, what’s the best way to do that? “I think everybody wants us to act responsibly in that regard.”
McGuinty said the conversion project was paused because the “experts are telling us that this is the best way to do it at this point in time.”
The timing, however, has come under fire.
The province is phasing out coal-fired power generation at plants like the Thunder Bay Generating Station. The deadline to be off coal completely is Dec. 31, 2014.
Meanwhile, Northwestern Ontario will require a great deal of power for its burgeoning mining industry.
There’s concern that mining development will falter if the power isn’t available.
The only way the power needs will be met, critics say, is if the Thunder Bay plant is converted and kept running.
At the same time, the Liberals are in the midst of a leadership race, with a new party leader to be elected in January, and the legislature remains suspended. McGuinty prorogued the legislature a month ago, the same time he announced he was stepping down as premier, saying the government needed the time to negotiate with the public sector on a wage freeze.
McGuinty, however, assured Thursday that the energy issue will be dealt with, no matter what’s going on at Queen’s Park.
“I’m going to make an assumption here,” he said after touring the Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training Services Centre on N. Cumberland Street.
“Meeting our power needs here in Northwestern Ontario is something that transcends any one particular leaning, view, perspective or philosophy, even within any one particular party, including my own.
“We’ve gotta make sure that people here have got the energy they need to develop this part of the economy. Simple as that.
“That’s not just in the interest of people living here in Thunder Bay and in the Northwest. It’s in the interest of the greater Ontario economy.”
McGuinty acknowledged his whirlwind visit to Thunder Bay on Thursday — in addition to touring the training centre, he was to attend a Liberal party fundraiser at the Italian Cultural Centre in the evening — may well be his final one as premier.
“I’ve always enjoyed visiting Thunder Bay,” he said. “Always enjoyed the warm welcome I’ve found here.
“It’s been a real honour to serve Ontarians.”
He was reluctant to name his biggest regret when it came to Northwestern Ontario — he said, chuckling, that he’d “let others talk about regrets” — but he said his biggest Northern triumph as premier was the beginning of the Ring of Fire development.
“I think if we take a look back maybe 50 years from now, we’ll see this is the beginning of an exciting new frontier for economic development, and participation by our First Nations, in a real way, in improving their economic opportunities,” McGuinty said.
“It’s as big as life; we’re talking about thousands of jobs.
“One of the things I like to brag about in southern Ontario is that we’ve got the biggest mining sector in North America,” he said.
“It’s growing in leaps and bounds. This is the new frontier for us. We’ve gotta pursue it.
“I know there’s always some impatience, that’s a good thing. There’s always an element of frustration, that’s understandable. But we’ve gotta work with the private sector, the people who are going to make the investments here. We’ve gotta work with all levels of government, we’ve gotta work with our First Nations communities.
“We’ve gotta make sure we squeeze as much by way of economic benefit out of this as we possibly can.”