Premier Kathleen Wynne says the future of the Thunder Bay Generating Station is still up in the air.
The Ontario leader, in the city for a series of events this week, including Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle’s nomination Tuesday night, said the conversation about the plant is ongoing, but no decisions have been made.
Last year the province decided to halt the conversion from coal to natural gas, stating it would save $400 million.
The Ontario Power Authority also said the power it creates won’t be needed down the road, though the region’s energy task forced begged to differ, presenting a much different – and more prosperous – outlook for Northwestern Ontario’s mining sector.
“It’s one of those fundamentals of infrastructure and conditions that has to be in place for job creation to happen and economic development to happen and economic growth to happen,” Wynne said in a brief media availability on Tuesday morning.
“So we’re committed to making sure that power supply is there and the specifics on that conversion are ongoing,” she said.
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs, who said face-to-face time with the premier is always welcome, said he did use his share of the morning roundtable with local leaders in education, business and health care to reiterate the importance of the plant to the area’s future.
Hobbs said it’s time the Ontario government reached out to all corners of the province, not just select cities.
“I talked about how Toronto-centric this province is and that we need to be more Northern Ontario-centric as well. I talked about the energy produced in the plant here and how vital it is to the overall plan. You can’t just take that as one piece. It’s a big part of the plan and a big part of the puzzle,” Hobbs said.
“I’m hoping that they get that. I thanked them for the extra year, but we need to keep that going and I stressed that again.”
He acknowledged no promises were made Tuesday.
“Not at this point, as far as the plant is concerned. But we didn’t go into depth. It was a roundtable discussion and all the parties together. But we did talk about how it was a piece of the puzzle, how the Ontario Power Authority didn’t get it and how our experts here in Thunder Bay educated them.”
Hobbs echoed his delegation to the recent Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual conference, who said the premier gets the North.
“I think so, I have a lot of faith in her … She knows that Thunder Bay and the Northwest and the Aboriginal communities are vital to the growth of this province. They’re in a deficit situation. They need to get those revenues going and those revenue streams are in the North and Northwest.”
Wynne also addressed the province’s stance on Thunder Bay’s proposed event centre, though made no promises on whether or not funding would be forthcoming.
“My understanding is there is a very good conversation happening right now. I think the fact is the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation funds have been very instrumental in supporting development in the region and my hope is we’ll see some next steps very soon,” she said.
On the Ring of Fire and the possibility of housing a ferrachrome processing plant in the city, as suggested this week by mining analyst Stan Sudol, the premier said the decision to locate it in Sudbury was made for business purposes, suggesting the government won’t get involved.
“What I’m pleased about is the decision was made to have that processor here in Ontario. Those are Ontario jobs and that’s an Ontario plant,” said Wynne, reconfirming her support for the Ring of Fire. “We’re going to have the ongoing discussion with businesses, First Nations and government and we’ll make sure the conditions are in place so that abundant resource can be developed. We’re not going to sacrifice environmental protections, we’re not going to sacrifice the opportunities for First Nations, and we’re going to work to keep jobs in Ontario.”
Wynne did she thinks spinoff industries will land in the region as a result of the processor.
That’s how Thunder Bay and other communities in the area can benefit best from the Ring of Fire and promised the province will make the necessary investments to make it happen.