Network battling to restore passenger rail in northeastern Ontario – by PJ Wilson (North Bay Nugget – November 23, 2016)

Every person in Ontario pays $155.62 a year to support the GO trains and buses that operate in southern Ontario. Meanwhile, the provincial subsidy for the now-defunct Northlander passenger train cost 86 cents for every man, woman and child in the province, according to Eric Boutilier.

Boutilier, a member of the Northern and Eastern Ontario Rail Network, said Tuesday it is possible to bring passenger rail service back to northeastern Ontario. It’s going to take a fight to do so, he said, but it’s a fight that’s well worth the effort.

“In Northern Ontario, we have very limited options for transportation,” Boutilier said. “If you want to get anywhere, you have to take the highway.” But particularly in winter, he said, that option is not always do-able.

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North Bay residents up in arms over TransCanada plan to switch crude oil for gas in local pipeline – by Raveen Aulakh (Toronto Star – September 28, 2014)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

TransCanada Corp. plans to repurpose a pipeline running through North Bay, Ont., from carrying natural gas to crude oil. Locals worry about potential environmental damage.

NORTH BAY, ONT.—From his many-windowed fifth-floor office at city hall, Mayor Al McDonald points to the Laurentian escarpment to the north, then to the shimmering blue waters of Trout Lake to the east. Vast Lake Nipissing is visible to the west, though you have to crane your neck to see it. Below are the Victorian buildings and tree-lined streets of the downtown.

McDonald clearly loves showing off the view. But it also pitches him into anxiety. “If something happens to Energy East here, if there is a spill, we’ll be ruined,” he says. “Who would want to come here then?”

Somewhere near the escarpment and Trout Lake, there is a natural gas pipeline. It has been there for four decades, but has become a source of concern in this northeastern Ontario city.

TransCanada Corp., the Alberta-based oil giant, wants to repurpose the pipeline, now carrying natural gas, to transport crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands to New Brunswick. Dubbed Energy East, the project is TransCanada’s $12-billion oil dream.

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[Ontario Northland] ONTC workers still wondering about their future – by Jennifer Hamilton-McCharles (North Bay Nugget – July 8, 2014)

While Ontera comes to grips with the news Tuesday that they will lose half of their workforce once the sale is completed with Bell Aliant, Ontario Northland Transportation Commission employees are left wondering about their fate.

Brian Kelly, spokesman for the General Chairperson’s Association, said the government hasn’t been clear about the future of the ONTC.

“Are we going to form a strategic alliance with Metrolinx? Are we going to be part of the Ring of Fire development? There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now,” he said. Kelly said the future of the ONTC remains up in the air.

“The government has given us no indication what the plan is,” he said. “The work in the shops is slowly drying up. The contracts should be completed by the end of the year and then there will be very little work in refurbishment,” he said.

“It’s nice the government is not selling the ONTC, but employees want to know ‘what’s the rest of the story?’” The Liberal government announced in 2012 the divestment of the ONTC, however they have since changed their position and decided to leave the majority of the corporation in public hands.

ONTC’s telecommunications division, Ontera, is scheduled to be sold to Bell Aliant by the end of the summer. The transition will mean the loss of about 66 jobs.

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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.

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Ontera vital to growth in Northeastern Ontario – by Wayne Snider (Timmins Daily Press – April 8, 2014)

TIMMINS – The ONTC saga came to a head late last week in the form of an announcement by Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle.

Gravelle said the provincial government would be selling off Ontera and keeping four other divisions of the Crown agency.

Thus ends the two-year debate on divesting the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, which was introduced in the provincial spring budget of 2012 — and supported by both the Liberals and NDP.

At the time, the plan was to shut down the Northlander passenger rail service and sell off the remaining pieces of the ONTC.

In reaction to the following outcry by Northerners, Gravelle — to his credit — formed an advisory committee with stakeholders to look at completing the rest of the plan. Gravelle later said that privatization wasn’t the only possible solution for dealing with all of the ONTC’s assets.

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PoV: Grits tried to fool us, but ONTC gets reprieve – by Brian MacLeod (Sudbury Star – April 6, 2014)

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

It’s impressive to watch the magnitude of the climb down the Ontario government is doing on the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission. To what end remains to be seen.

Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle announced Friday that four divisions of the ONTC–buses, the Polar Bear Express, rail freight and refurbishment services –will continue to be government-owned and run. At issue is almost 1,000 jobs in the North, nearly 600 of which are based in North Bay.

In March 2012, the Liberals said the sale of the ONTC was a necessity that would save $266 million over three years. This would be needed to achieve some of the far-reaching cost-savings required to balance the province’s budget by 2017-18. The Drummond Report briefly alluded to the ONTC, advising that its services “could be provided more effectively and efficiently through private-sector involvement.”

The North was expected to do its part in budget savings and the ONTC was a heavily subsidized operation. Hence the storied Northlander passenger train between Toronto and Cochrane ended in September 2012. But two things happened. There was a massive and sustained revolt along the Highway 11 corridor, especially in North Bay –a Tory-held riding that was once Liberal– and in Timmins.

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ONTC divisions to remain public; Ontera to be sold – by PJ Wilson (North Bay Nugget – April 4, 2014)

The provincial government is selling the communications arm of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, but will keep the other four divisions of the Crown agency.

In an announcement at the ONTC bus garage on Wallace Road Friday, Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said the motor coach, Polar Bear Express, rail freight and refurbishment services will remain in public hands.

The decision, he said, will bring some needed sustainability to the ONTC after two years of uncertainty springing from the province’s decision to wind down operations of the company two years ago.

Gravelle also announced that the province will pump $6.2 million into the company over three years to purchase new motor coaches, as well as $17 million for the refurbishment of the Polar Bear Express rolling stock.

The announcement, Gravelle said, will also pave the way for serious discussions between the ONTC and Crown agency Metrolinx on a new strategic alliance for the refurbishment of GO Transit equipment.

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News Release: Transforming the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission

Ontario Investing in Northeastern Transportation Services and Infrastructure

April 4, 2014 11:07 a.m.Ministry of Northern Development and Mines

Ontario will continue to operate the motor coach, Polar Bear Express, rail freight, and refurbishment services of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) as a government-owned transportation company.

The province will make new strategic investments to ensure ONTC’s transportation services and infrastructure continue to support economic growth in northeastern Ontario.

The investments include more than $23 million over three years, subject to annual budget approvals, to purchase new motor coaches for its bus line and to refurbish rail coaches for the Polar Bear Express. This will maintain and improve vital transportation services, and provide new work for the ONTC refurbishment division.

Ontario has also reached an agreement with Bell Aliant to purchase Ontera. Proceeds from the sale include $6 million in cash and will result in long-term revenue to ONTC estimated at $10 million. The province and Bell Aliant will each commit $15.1 million as part of a $30.2 million public-private investment in telecommunications infrastructure in northeastern Ontario.

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A new ONTC must move forward – by John R. Hunt (North Bay Nugget – March 4, 2014)

The mountain has laboured and produced a plan. The ONTC rail unions and management have got their act together and sent their plan for a new ONTC to Toronto.

Both sides agree that change is necessary and it appears that the unions have accepted some reduction in the labour force. However, this will be achieved through attrition. The plan will be studied by Northern Development And Mines Minister Michael Gravelle and his advisory committee.

The success or failure of this plan is of vital importance to North Bay although the minister is apparently considering a number of options.

The unions are afraid that Ontera, the ONTC’s communication wing, may be sold before a decision is reached. This would be grossly unfair and if Ontera is profitable it makes little sense to sell it.

It should be remembered that the Ontario Northland Railway pioneered long distance telephone service in the Northeast.

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Stalled at a railroad crossing – by Dave Dale (North Bay Nugget – February 13, 2014)

It’s like watching the slowest train wreck in history. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne visited North Bay last week to do what leaders of a party and province are expected to do in an election year.

Wynne highlighted a funding grant to a mining service company, a primary vertebrae in the economic backbone of this diversified yet strained regional economy.

She also gave the official nod to the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission managers to sit down with the unions and finalize a three-year business plan “template.”

Mayor Al McDonald described it as the best news we’ve heard since the governing Liberals decided two years ago they wanted to chop up and sell the Ministry of Northern Development and Mine’s wart.

I call it a wart because it’s consistently viewed by successive Ontario governments as a financial liability instead of an economic engine.

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Wynne discusses ONTC – by Jennifer Hamilton-McCharles (North Bay Nugget – February 6, 2014)

It was the meeting the union at Ontario Northland had been waiting for. Brian Kelly, spokesman for the General Chairperson’s Association, had a 30-minute meeting with Premier Kathleen Wynne Wednesday to discuss the future of the ONTC.

He was joined by Mayor Al McDonald, ONTC President Paul Goulet and Ted Hargreaves – ONTC Chair – who serves in an Ex Officio capacity as a resource for the committee.

“The premier reiterated that no final decision has been made. She wants to see a plan before that happens,” Kelly said. He said for the first time the premier has asked the union and ONTC senior management to meet and devise a plan for the future of the ONTC.

“We will keep ONTC in one piece and we want our employees to know there is a future for them at the Ontario Northland.”  McDonald said it was the best news in the last two years. He said the plan created by the union and Ontario Northland senior management will be presented to the Minister’s Advisory Committee.

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ONTC was given the short shrift – by Tom Mills (Sault Star – December 14, 2013)

Does it surprise anyone that this provincial government apparently didn’t bother to find out how much it would cost to shut down the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission before announcing the move?

Or that taxpayers will foot the bill for another Liberal financial “oopsy”? Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk reported Tuesday that costs of the ONTC selloff could top $820 million.

That makes the projected savings of $265.9 million over three years, which the government trumpeted in its 2012 budget, seem like a figure pulled out of a hat. Or perhaps it was pulled out of that part of a finance minister’s anatomy where the sun don’t shine.

A cynic might point out that the difference between a $266-million savings and an $820-million cost isn’t much more than the amount taxpayers have paid to give a succession of Crown corporation executives some of the most obscene golden parachutes and platinum-plated expense accounts around.

But in this case the money itself might not be the most disturbing revelation in Lysyk’s investigation.

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Taxpayers run over by Liberals’ Ontario Northland boondoggle – by Christina Blizzard (Toronto Sun – December 11, 2013)

TORONTO – So, you say you’re seeing a light at the end of the long, dark gas plant tunnel? I have bad news. It’s an Ontario Northland ghost train coming at you. And it’s burning your dollars just as fast as the gas plants did. Shutting down the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) is turning into the next $1-billion boondoggle.

In its 2012 budget, then-finance minister Dwight Duncan announced the government would sell off ONTC — shutting down a northern Ontario transportation lifeline. At the time, the government said they’d save nearly $266 million over the next three years. Provincial auditor general Bonnie Lysyk released her annual report Tuesday.

Turns out that we were being — how shall I put it — oh, railroaded. Like a scene from an old movie, taxpayers were tied to the tracks and run over by a slow-moving train. It’s not going to save any money. In fact, we’re going to be on the hook for some rich buyout packages.

“The known costs may be as high as $820 million, and recouping this amount by the government no longer paying the ONTC the normal annual operating and capital subsidies it has been providing could well take a decade or longer,” the report says.

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ONTC selloff costs pegged at $820 million – auditor – by Gord Young (North Bay Nugget – December 11, 2013)

The costs associated with selling off the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission could be more than $820 million, something the provincial government was unaware of when it announced plans to divest itself of the Crown agency.

In a report released Tuesday, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk confirmed that the costs and liabilities associated with divestment far outweigh the projected savings of $265.9 million over three years. And she said the province did not clearly or fairly communicate the full impact of selling off the ONTC.

“The government made the divestment announcement before doing a comprehensive business-case analysis,” Lysyk said, in a release after tabling the report. “As a result, the government did not initially have an accurate picture of the possible costs and impacts of the ONTC divestment.”

Lysyk said the estimated known costs and liabilities could be as high as $820 million and that the price could soar even higher when coupled with as-yet-unknown costs of environmental clean-up of ONTC properties and the duty to consult with aboriginal peoples.

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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.

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