Derailing passenger train to Ontario north costly blunder – by Christina Blizzard (Toronto Sun – September 27, 2013)

TORONTO — Think of it as Northern Ontario’s very own $1-billion gas plant boondoggle. Except it’s not about moving generating plants.

It’s about the way former premier Dalton McGuinty and his finance minister, Dwight Duncan, shut down Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC), once a vital link for communities like North Bay, Cochrane and Timmins.

(While the end of the line was Marathon, a bus took passengers on to Timmins.) Abruptly last year, the government shut down the rail link from Toronto, leaving in place only the Polar Bear Express from Cochrane to Moosonee.

The last train rattled out of Union Station last September and since then Nipissing Tory MPP Vic Fedeli has been asking questions about the government’s figures.

Announcing the shutdown, Duncan claimed it would save $265 million. Documents made public along with the gas plant material put the lie to that, Fedeli says. “If they go ahead with the full sale, it will cost the treasury $790 million. That’s a $1-billion gap from saving $265 to costing $790 million,” he told me.

Included in those figures are:

** At least half the company employees have a 14-year severance package if they’re laid off. (Yep, you read that right: 14 years.)

** Duncan’s budget allowed for $25 million in severance. Now the government is saying $250 million. Fedeli estimates it could go as high as $450 million.

** A pension liability of $212 million. The government had budgeted $100 million.

** Benefits were originally budgeted at zero. Now it’s $56 million.

Fedeli says the government’s looking for ways to change direction.

“They’ve softened the language and I think they’re looking at a way to get out of it,” he said.

All the same, the passenger train is gone for good.

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