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.

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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.”

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AUDIO: North Bay mayor hopes ONTC can help Ring of Fire (CBC News Sudbury – November 12, 2013)

Morning North – Future of ONTC still unclear

The mayor of North Bay is is hoping the conversation about how to get to the Ring of Fire mining region will include the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

The ONTC is still in limbo more than a year after the province announced it would be broken up and sold off. Last week, the province announced a new development corporation will help sort out a transportation link to the Ring of Fire in the far north.

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald wants to see the ONTC included in the plan. “It’s interesting that the government wants to set up this corporation,” said McDonald, who sits on a committee advising on the future of the ONTC.

“In the meantime, they are going down the road of divesting another corporation that has served us for 100 years.” Few details have been released on how the new development corporation will decide how to best access the Ring of Fire.

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Union wants ONTC to play role [in Ring of Fire] – by Gord Young (North Bay Nugget – November 11, 2013)

The Ontario Northland Transportation Commission should play an integral role in providing access to the Ring of Fire, says the group representing its unionized workers.

“We are the transportation corporation for Northern Ontario. I don’t see why the government wouldn’t want the ONTC to be involved,” said Brian Kelly, spokesman for the ONTC’s General Chairperson’s Association.

His comments come on the heels of an announcement by the province Friday of plans to create a development corporation for the chromite deposit that will bring together private and public parties to address infrastructure needs.

The province also called on the federal government Friday to help cover the costs of the infrastructure needed to access the remote area in the James Bay Lowlands.

“Ontario is prepared to make a substantial contribution to the infrastructure needed to access the resources,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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Minister says MPP spouts ‘unhelpful rhetoric’ – by Michael Gravelle (Timmins Daily Press – October 2, 2013)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

TIMMINS – Over the past five months I have worked with my Minister’s Advisory Committee and we have gained a better appreciation for the current operations of each ONTC business line and the realities of the public sector working in a competitive marketplace.

We have had a number of important discussions to date and our work is ongoing. I am convinced, as are members of the committee, that the status quo is no longer an option. It is disappointing that Mr. Fedeli (MPP Vic Fedeli, PC — Nipissing) continues to claim costs to taxpayers when in fact no decisions have been made on the future of this important asset.

It is in the interests of his constituents, ONTC employees, and all Northerners that Mr. Fedeli move away from his unhelpful rhetoric and actually make a useful contribution to this conversation.

In order to provide an accurate representation, the ONTC business case reviewed all of the financial issues facing the ONTC. The numbers shared by Mr. Fedeli would see absolutely no job retention and shows no consideration for the socio-economic development needs of the region.

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Northlander: A solemn anniversary – by PJ Wilson (North Bay Nugget – September 28, 2013)

There is still a feeling the axe is going to fall on Englehart, a year after the Northlander passenger train made its final run. “We’re all still very nervous,” says Val Kennedy, a union representative for Ontario Northland.

The small community midway between North Bay and Cochrane was devastated when former Northern Development and Mines minister Rick Bartolucci announced the province was going to sell the Crown corporation in March, 2012.

At the time, Ontario Northland employed about 1,000 people in Northeastern Ontario. More than 10% of those employees worked out of Englehart. The community has been hard hit by the uncertainty. “Who’s going to buy a car?” Kennedy asks.

A general store, in business a number of years, is closing down, she says. She blames its loss on the nervousness and fear in the community. On Sept. 28 last year, the Northlander made its final run, one passenger train southbound from Cochrane to Toronto, the other northbound from Toronto to Cochrane.

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Derailing passenger train to Ontario north costly blunder – by Christina Blizzard (Toronto Sun – September 27, 2013)

TORONTO — Think of it as Northern Ontario’s very own $1-billion gas plant boondoggle. Except it’s not about moving generating plants.

It’s about the way former premier Dalton McGuinty and his finance minister, Dwight Duncan, shut down Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC), once a vital link for communities like North Bay, Cochrane and Timmins.

(While the end of the line was Marathon, a bus took passengers on to Timmins.) Abruptly last year, the government shut down the rail link from Toronto, leaving in place only the Polar Bear Express from Cochrane to Moosonee.

The last train rattled out of Union Station last September and since then Nipissing Tory MPP Vic Fedeli has been asking questions about the government’s figures.

Announcing the shutdown, Duncan claimed it would save $265 million. Documents made public along with the gas plant material put the lie to that, Fedeli says. “If they go ahead with the full sale, it will cost the treasury $790 million. That’s a $1-billion gap from saving $265 to costing $790 million,” he told me.

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Rail best option for Ring of Fire, union says – by Staff (North Bay Nugget – September 13,2013)

The best, most cost-efficient and environmentally responsible manner to provide transportation into and out of the Ring of Fire development is a railway, according to Ontario Northland’s General Chairperson’s Association.

Brian Kelly issued the statement Thursday in response to this week’s decision by the Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner to dismiss the application by Cliffs Natural Resources for an easement to allow that company to build an all-weather road over mining claims staked by KWG Resources.

“A private, provincially funded $700 million-plus road is in no one’s best interest, least of all taxpayers,” the GCA spokesperson said.

“This Mining and Land Commissioner decision finally quashes this ill-conceived scheme to sink millions upon millions of taxpayers’ dollars into a private road built through muskeg that would require millions upon millions of more tax dollars to maintain the road on a yearly basis. This single purpose road would do nothing to improve the social and economic development for First Nation’s communities in the region.”

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NEWS RELEASE: GCA comments on Ring of Fire right of way decision

NORTH BAY, ON, Sept. 12, 2013 /CNW/ – The General Chairperson’s Association (GCA) representing unionized employees at Ontario Northland is pleased with this week’s decision by the Ontario Mining and Lands Commissioner to dismiss the application by Cliffs Natural Resources for an easement to allow that company to build an all-weather road over mining claims staked by KWG Resources.

“The GCA believes the best, most cost efficient and environmentally responsible manner to provide transportation into and out of the Ring of Fire development for all stakeholders is a railway. A private, provincially funded $700M + road is in no one’s best interest, least of all taxpayers” said GCA spokesperson Brian Kelly

In the fall of 2012, the GCA unveiled a high level proposal that would, in consultation with the Government of Ontario, Government of Canada and First Nations create a new federal crown corporation that would see all ONTC assets including its telecom division ONTERA transferred. This new crown corporation would provide an expanded and revitalized, integrated transportation and communication system across the north while having the ability to obtain financing to design and build a railway into the Ring of Fire that would ship thousands of tons per day of chromite, nickel, other minerals and finished products to markets around the world.

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Fedeli eyes ONTC as finance critic (North Bay Nugget – September 10, 2013)

Secret documents that were blacked out and deemed classified information might see the light of day to learn more about the sale of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

“Those are the kinds of documents I fully expect to see as finance critic,” said Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli. Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak tagged Fedeli as the new finance critic Tuesday in a move that is speculated to anticipate a fall election.

Fedeli remains as energy critic leading a committee looking into cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga ahead of the 2011 provincial election that cost the province $585 million.

Documents Fedeli accessed as energy critic indicate selling the ONTC is expected to cost $790 million mainly due to severance, pensions and other liabilities. The Liberals said selling the ONTC would save the province $265 million.

“I’m looking to find out how long this has been going on, how long ago did this fire sale first get hatched. Those are the issues that I find critical,” Fedeli said.

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Sell-off [Ontario Northland] “not only option” – by Wayne Snider (Timmins Daily Press – August 28, 2013)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

TIMMINS – As Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Michael Gravelle is arguably the most important link to Queen’s Park for Northerners.

Gravelle took time out of his schedule to sit down with editorial staff at The Daily Press for an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

The minister discussed at length provincial issues specific to the region. He admitted one of the biggest bones of contention in the Northeast is the divestiture of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

“In the 2012 budget the decision was made,” Gravelle said. “There certainly was some very clear fiscal challenges and there was a decision made at that time, obviously in terms of the budget that indeed the divestment of the ONTC was the direction the government needed to go in. It was certainly a very tough decision at the time and one that (drew) a very strong reaction from Northern Ontario.”

Since that time, there has been a change in the premiership, with Kathleen Wynne replacing Dalton McGuinty. The provincial government has somewhat softened its response on the ONTC sell-off, but has not yet made any concrete promises.

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Group pushes for railway expansion in Canada – by Simon Kent (Toronto Sun – August 24, 2013)

TORONTO – Around the world there is a quiet revolution brewing. Everywhere except Canada, that is. It’s based on shared principles and cuts across all political divides by uniting disparate communities through a single, common goal.

No, it’s not a religion, faith or creed. It wants a return to railways as an efficient way to move people and produce as modern roads and skies become more crowded by the day.

You can find new railways being built in Africa and Asia, Europe and the United States. Some are for fast passenger movement and more and more involve dedicated freight lines.

If this transport revolution is ever to reach critical mass here in Canada, a country that has lost more than 10,000 kilometres of track since 1990 in places as far apart as Vancouver Island and Quebec, it will need to start in the heavily populated province of Ontario.

The Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) is a lobby group dedicated to that goal. It launched a major push Monday to reawaken Canadians to the benefit of rail transport.

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Group fights for passenger trains – by PJ Wilson (North Bay Nugget – August 20, 2013)

Canada’s National Dream may have been derailed by politicians, but a grassroots organization is trying to get it back on track.

The Northern and Eastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) was launched at the Discovery North Bay Museum – the former CP Rail station – Monday in North Bay to not only unite rail supporters in the province, but to try to revive Ontario Northland’s Northlander passenger service.

“Rail service is in trouble in this country,” Peter Miasek, president of Transport Action Ontario, the umbrella organization, said to a small crowd of supporters.

In all the Group of Eight countries, Canada is the only nation that is not investing heavily in rail service, Miasek said. “Even in the United States, (President Barack) Obama is investing heavily in Amtrak” passenger train service, Miasek said.

The federal and provincial governments, he said, are trying to sink rail freight service through subsidies to the trucking industry, while “on the passenger rail side, the situation is even more dire.”

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ONTC solution must be built collaboratively – by Peter Politis (Timmins Daily Press – July 30, 2013)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

Peter Politis is the Mayor of the Town of Cochrane.

TIMMINS – In the latest CTV news piece around the Minister’s Advisory Committee on the ONTC, I again found myself feeling less than inspired about the future of this critical northern asset.

While the employees and families of the operation continue to express their desire to work with the province and the committee, the province strangely continues to be less than receptive.

Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle’s response to the employees, who are basically saying they understand that unusual changes are needed to the role employees play in the future of the ONTC, is to say thanks but you need to speak directly to the employer about that not me, or the committee.

Curiously though, Gravelle’s own ministry keeps telling the employees and the ONTC, their direction from the minister is to keep divesting and until that changes there is nothing to talk about.

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ONTC divestment could be costly for communities – by Lenny Carpenter (Wawatay News – July 18, 2013)

The Ontario government’s plans to sell off services of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) could lead to higher costs for members of the James Bay communities, according to Mushkegowuk Deputy Grand Chief Leo Friday.

Last year, the province announced it would be divesting the government-owned transportation commission after citing stagnant ridership and increasing costs to its bus and train services that operate mostly in northeastern Ontario.

One of those services in the Polar Bear Express train, which runs between Moosonee and Cochrane and serves as a vital link between the James Bay coast and the rest of Ontario.

Since 2003, the province increased funding by 274 per cent to subsidize the Polar Bear Express, a subsidy that averages to about $400 per passenger. If the province continues with its divestment plan to sell the train services to a private corporation, Friday believes the people of James Bay will face the most financial impact.

“The minute the other company operates that train, they will jack up the rates and it’s not going to run every day – maybe once or twice a week because of the cutbacks,” Friday said.

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