Sell-off [Ontario Northland] “not only option” – by Wayne Snider (Timmins Daily Press – August 28, 2013)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

TIMMINS – As Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Michael Gravelle is arguably the most important link to Queen’s Park for Northerners.

Gravelle took time out of his schedule to sit down with editorial staff at The Daily Press for an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

The minister discussed at length provincial issues specific to the region. He admitted one of the biggest bones of contention in the Northeast is the divestiture of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

“In the 2012 budget the decision was made,” Gravelle said. “There certainly was some very clear fiscal challenges and there was a decision made at that time, obviously in terms of the budget that indeed the divestment of the ONTC was the direction the government needed to go in. It was certainly a very tough decision at the time and one that (drew) a very strong reaction from Northern Ontario.”

Since that time, there has been a change in the premiership, with Kathleen Wynne replacing Dalton McGuinty. The provincial government has somewhat softened its response on the ONTC sell-off, but has not yet made any concrete promises.

“Premier Wynne is a different premier,” Gravelle said. “Working her way through Northern Ontario during the leadership campaign, she certainly heard from a lot of people about it. We spoke about the fact that we needed to work with municipal leaders, First Nations, industry, Metis Nations. We needed to have the kinds of discussion that could bring us to a way that we had a sustainable, efficient and effective Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

“With the premier’s support, we formed the Ministerial Advisory Committee and it was something we felt was incredibly important. And it was welcomed by many of the Northern leaders as they felt they had not had an opportunity to have those kind of discussions.

“We’ve been looking at this very seriously. I came to the conclusion that divestment wasn’t the only option, that there are multiple options. And that’s the path that we’ve been going down.”

Committee meetings are ongoing. Without being able to provide specific details, due to the confidential nature of discussions, Gravelle was genuinely excited about progress made at the most recent meeting, held Monday.

“The reason why yesterday’s meeting was so effective and, what I would describe as one of the best ones, is we certainly had an extraordinary frank discussion about the financial realities of the ONTC,” he said. “There certainly are challenges from a fiscal point of view that everybody acknowledges. Everybody absolutely agrees that the status quo is not an option. But what we need to do is make decisions that are in the best interests of a transportation and telecommunications company that can actually operate in a sustainable way into the long-term future.

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