Labour finally invited into ONTC talks – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – December 2, 2013)

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business

The unions at the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) say they’ve won a small victory in being asked to participate in the provincial process to determine the future of the Crown-owned agency.

“It’s great news,” said Brian Kelly, spokesman for the General Chairperson’s Association. “This is what we’ve been looking for. This is actually a very good day as far as we’re concerned.”

Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle issued a Dec. 2 release that the provincial government’s previous 2012 marching orders to sell off the assets of the ONTC have been officially “revised” to look at other options.

In signalling a stark change in policy direction, Gravelle said the memorandum of understanding has changed from a “mandate for divestment to a mandate for transformation of the ONTC.”

Divestment still remains on the table along with options to restructure or change the delivery of the commission’s rail, bus and telecommunications services.

No mention was made in Gravelle’s release that the unions have been invited as stakeholders, but Kelly said he was assured by a member of Gravelle’s special advisory committee that union reps have a date to meet with the minister Dec. 9 in Toronto.

“It sounds like they’re going to invite us to meet with them to put together a business plan finally that would a viable option other than divestment.”

The unions have been lobbying to be able to participate on the advisory committee to enter into stakeholder talks to decide the ONTC’s fate.

Kelly is further hopeful that the government will finally open the books on each of the ONTC’s business units.

“All we’ve had is the info we know because we work here, but the financials are just whatever the government produces in their annual report. I would assume getting in with the senior management team we’ll be able to see all the real numbers and get a better idea of what’s actually going on and where the growth opportunities are.”

The unions have staunchly supported an inland port authority concept that would make the ONTC the exclusive hauler of chromite and nickel ore out of the Ring of Fire.

In March 2012, the Ontario government under then-Northern Development Minister Rick Bartolucci announced it was divesting all business lines of the ONTC. Only Ontera, the telecommunications branch, was put out to tender until the process was halted following the transition from Dalton McGuinty to Kathleen Wynne.

Kelly said he’s heard of no date on when a final decision will be forthcoming, but couldn’t resist taking a jab at the former Northern Ontario cabinet minister.

“Bartolucci wanted it done by March 2013, and now it’s December.”

He also has no indication on what final shape the ONTC will take. “I assume we’ll hear from the minister when we hear from him next Monday.

“It sounds like he’s (Gravelle) heading in the direction that we’ve been asking for; to allow us to be part of a potential solution.”