NORTH BAY – Mayors from Northern Ontario’s five largest cities gathered in North Bay on June 15, to discuss a series of northern issues during their Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors (NOLUM) meeting.
Mayor Al McDonald was joined by Mayor Keith Hobbs, Thunder Bay, Mayor Steve Black, Timmins, Mayor Brian Bigger, Greater Sudbury, and Mayor Christian Provenzano, Sault Ste. Marie at the meeting where they held open and productive discussions on a number of northern issues including economic development, rising energy costs, FedNor funding, the Ring of Fire, and the impact of reimbursements from the Municipal Property Assessment Commission (MPAC).
Mayor Hobbs reports, “Discussions were held on many issues that are facing all our municipalities. Energy pricing emerged as the key issue. To attract new business to the North we have to be competitive with Quebec and Manitoba and we aren’t”.
“Another issue and one that has been on the radar for 6 years at least is the Ring of Fire. All Mayors recognize the substantial benefit to our communities if and when the Ring of Fire becomes operational. We support the East-West road so that Noront Resources can get production moving and get their Copper/Nickel to market,” stated the Mayor. “Sudbury will benefit as the host for processing and we will all benefit from the value added business related. We want to see the Infrastructure built that will benefit our communities and First Nation communities”.
A presentation by the Northern Policy Institute and also by NOHFC and FEDNOR was very informative as we discussed funding opportunities upcoming.
“We were very encouraged by our discussions today,” said Mayor McDonald. “It’s important that we work closely together in our partnership to ensure smart and effective decisions and investments that will help to grow our local economies and protect the sustainability of Northern Ontario.”
One of the main concerns coming out of the meeting was the impact of rising energy costs on Northern Ontario.
“We are very concerned about the steadily rising cost of energy,” said Mayor Black. “As the cost of energy rises it becomes harder for businesses to remain competitive and less attractive for them to remain in our communities. We also have a large population on fixed income as well as an aging population that just can’t afford increasing electricity prices.”
While other provinces in Canada have found ways to move forward without cost increases transferred to industry and residents, Ontario energy prices keep increasing. According to the mayors, competitive energy rates are vitally important for residents and businesses in all of Ontario, not just Northern Ontario. The mayors are calling on the Ministry of Energy to pay immediate attention to the issue.
Concerns were also brought forward about the Municipal Property Assessment Commission (MPAC) assessment and appeal process.
“Recent changes to the assessment and appeal process are putting significant pressure on revenue streams from taxation, which is a critical issue for municipalities,” said Mayor Bigger.
The group is calling for a more stable and predictable source of revenue for municipalities. NOLUM will be putting a request through to the Association of Ontario Municipalities (AMO) to meet with the Ministry of Finance surrounding this issue.
NOLUM members also initiated discussion on the Ring of Fire. Considered a huge economic benefit to Northern Ontario, the mayors outlined the need to move forward with the development of infrastructure for the Ring, including the establishment of an east-west corridor route that would enable adequate transportation to the site.
“We’ve been talking about developing the Ring of Fire for years, but there has been little progress to-date,” said Mayor Hobbs. “The Ring of Fire is a huge priority for Northern Ontario. The development has large economic potential for the local mining industry, the construction industry, the financial industry, not to mention the overall economic benefits for First Nations communities and the province, and we need to move forward.”
As well, the mayors called for increased funding to FedNor, the government body responsible for providing financial support to Northern Ontario communities.
“Currently, there is inequity between funding for Northern Ontario and other regions in Canada,” said Mayor Provenzano. “For example, Atlantic Canada has little more than three times the population, but receives six times more funding to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).”
To encourage infrastructure development and job creation in Northern Ontario, the mayors requested that FedNor funding be reviewed and provided based on the same ratio as other parts of Canada.
NOLUM will hold its next meeting in November in Sault Ste. Marie.