Focus on transformation, not sell-off, of ONTC – by Wayne Snider (Timmins Daily Press – December 3, 2013)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

TIMMINS – Selling off the remaining assets of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission is no longer the primary option for restructuring the Crown corporation.

Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said Monday the mandate for the ONTC is now transformation rather than divestment. The announcement came following Monday’s meeting of the Minister’s ONTC Advisory Committee, which includes stakeholders from business, industry, labour and Northern municipalities.

“Together, we took the opportunity to further explore options as we move forward with the ONTC transformation,” Gravelle said in a press release. “There was very valuable discussion around the table related to the sustainability of the ONTC.

“Our goal throughout this process remains unchanged; ensuring northern communities and industries benefit from viable, efficient and sustainable transportation and communications systems. At today’s minister’s advisory meeting, I was pleased to reaffirm my commitment to look at all options. In conjunction with this direction the ONTC Commission has revised its Memorandum of Understanding with my ministry from a mandate for divestment to a mandate for transformation of the ONTC. This transformation may include restructuring, alternative service delivery, and divestment.”

In the 2012 provincial budget, the government announced plans to selloff the ONTC. The ONTC’s Northlander passenger rail service was shut down in the fall of 2012.

Monday’s announcement confirmed Gravelle’s position, stated in an interview with The Daily Press in August, where he said divestment was not the only option for the ONTC.

“We will continue our work and thoroughly examine all options with the goal of finding a sustainable solution for the ONTC that serves the interests of Northerners,” Gravelle said Monday. “Ultimately, both our government and the Minister’s Advisory Committee, recognize the importance of a resilient, prosperous regional economy that attracts people and investments to Northern Ontario.”

The announcement came as good news to Kapuskasing Mayor Al Spacek, president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) and a member of the advisory committee. Spacek admitted, however, there is still much work to be done if the ONTC is to be preserved.

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