More action needed to woo North voters – by Brian MacLeod (Sudbury Star – December 5, 2013)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

The concession northerners managed to extract from the province about the future of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission this week is remarkable. But why did it happen?

The Liberal government has been doing a long, slow dance on the Dalton McGuinty’s government’s decision to sell off the agency since Premier Kathleen Wynne took power, finally getting Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development and Mines, to put in writing that the ONTC’s mandate is no longer to be sold off in pieces, but that it is to undergo a “transformation.”

It’s a fuzzy term for restructuring, and still possible divestment, but the main goal is no longer to kill off the 101-year-old agency that would put the 1,000 or so jobs in the North in jeopardy. About 600 of those jobs are located in North Bay.

The ONTC runs bus service communities located mostly along the Hwy. 11 and Hwy. 17 corridors from Toronto to Hearst. The long-running Northlander passenger train to Cochrane ended in September. The agency also operates an Internet and communications company that services the North. What’s remarkable about the Liberal government’s concession is that the ridings directly affected by this about-face are not Liberal. They’re Progressive Conservatives and New Democrat.

PC Norm Miller, the Northern Development and Mines critic, represents Parry Sound-Muskoka; Vic Fedeli, the PC finance critic, is in Nipissing (which contains North Bay), the NDP’s John Vanthof represents Timiskaming-Cochrane and NDP Transportation critic and House Leader Gilles Bisson is in Timmins-James Bay.

In March 2012, Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci, then Northern Development and Mines minister, made the original announcement, arguing the $439 million in subsidies the province had put into the ONTC wasn’t boosting ridership. He was immediately denounced by some as having let down the North. Laurentian University Prof. David Leadbeater called it a “ruthless blow to the North.”

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