Ontera – The Liberal Anchor – by Phil Koning (Northern Ontario – Political Issues Blog – April 13, 2014)


After two more years of turmoil at the hands of the Liberal government, ONTC has suffered another debilitating attack, by a party eager to appease the corporate world. The Liberal party is trying to convince the corporate world they have the ability and discipline to govern after their unbelievable indifference to the cost of gas plant relocation’s and subsequent coverup. The fact that Ontera is being gifted to Bell as the result of a process defined by the problems the passenger and freight rail divisions have endured over the past two decades defies any logic or grasp of good government policy.

Although we do not know the details of the proposed firesale, and likely never will, it is hard to believe that Bell will even maintain service levels in the marginal areas that Ontera has provided service, let along protect price levels with a clear monopoly in the North.

So, with the absence of any reason that makes sense in providing good government we are left to speculate why the Liberals have headed down another road to self destruction.

The creation of the new Development corporation could be a clue. Why the Ring of Fire needs a completely new corporation with all the cost that goes along with that, to develop the infrastructure for the mining industry is a secret known only to the Liberal strategists. The fact is, Ontario Northland has been doing exactly the same job for over one hundred years, the vast majority of which were at a profit. If the object were to provide infrastructure for a mining industry to utilize to extract the resources of the land, Ontario Northland is the company with a history of doing the same thing in the same environment.

With the record of MNDM in failing to protect and utilize ONTC, one wonders if they have advised the government that the transfer of assets from ONTC to the development corporation would trigger an opportunity under the Pension Benefits Act (PBA 69.1 (f)) to wind up the ONTC pension fund. In their zeal to eliminate ONTC they may yet again misread the public relations nightmare that would create for the governing party.

All financing for ONTC has to go through the government and when that government is struggling with a deficit the size of the current one, those funds have to be prioritized. Unfortunately, the Northern region does not represent much opportunity for Liberal votes, therefore the priority has been very low. The new focus on transit as a solution to gridlock presents an opportunity to establish a new revenue stream in a politically acceptable way and create a political platform in the Liberal vote-rich GTA.

So if Green Bonds are the preferred way to fund transit improvements, any projects would have to be fully geared toward an environmentally superior organization, not hard to do, given the efficiency of rail transportation. A telecommunications division in the middle of it however, may gum up the works and it needed to be surgically removed.

This is where MNDM hands the Liberals their electoral anchor. Instead of protecting telecom competition in the north and making a deal likely to gain CRTC approval, the government just turns to the most willing corporation with the deepest pockets to get what pittance they can out of the infrastructure.

It would have made much more sense to spin the division into its own crown agency, like they did with Owen Sound Transportation Commission after the last selloff attempt, or merge it with Hydro One Telecom, where the synergies may have given both government entities a boost.

Now they are at the mercy of a federal organization who must decide whether or not the deal is in the best interests of the public it serves. Depending on the timing the results of that decision could add to the downward pressure on Liberal fortunes in the coming provincial election.


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