We’ve clearly responded to Northerners – Gravelle

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Michael GravelleTHUNDER BAY – Northern Caucus members and I are pleased to be releasing the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario. This Plan provides an economic and social vision for Northern Ontario for the next 25 years which includes short, medium and long term goals and objectives. These goals developed as a direct result of what we heard from Northerners in the 3 year consultation period for the Growth Plan. Once implemented, the Plan will enable us to build on the actions already taken by the McGuinty government and the Northern Caucus members at Queen’s Park. I’ve highlighted some initiatives that have already resulted from our Growth Plan consultations with Northerners.

The Ring of Fire development has been established as a priority under the McGuinty Government’s Open Ontario Plan. The hiring of a Ring of Fire coordinator, the establishment of a Ring of Fire Secretariat in the North and the commitment to see the ferrochrome processing facility located in Northern Ontario reflects the will of all our Northern Ontario residents. In addition to the investment we’ve made in the future of the Ring of Fire, we have recently seen several new mines open or start the process of opening. This includes the Young-Davidson Mine in Matachewan and the Detour Lake Gold Mine north of Cochrane, which will be the largest in North America, and will see expanded operations in both the Northeast and Northwest. We have also seen the re-opening of the Lac Des Iles Mine north of Thunder Bay. Our government’s significant reduction in the corporate tax structure, combined with the Modernization of Ontario’s Mining Act, has boosted investor confidence in the mining sector, ensuring Ontario remains the leading jurisdiction in non-fuel mineral production in Canada, and one of the top-ranking countries in the world for exploration spending.

In the forestry sector, the province has embarked on a wood supply competition which will free up almost 10 million cubic metres of Crown fibre that potentially see thousands of jobs created in Northern Ontario. By focusing on new entrants to the forestry sector and prioritizing Aboriginal partnerships, we will surely see a revitalized sector. Our proposed forest tenure legislation will also revitalize and restore competitiveness to the sector. By making changes to the forest tenure and pricing system, our proposed legislation will create new jobs and attract investment, while ensuring Ontario’s forests continue to be managed sustainably.

Energy is another area in which we’ve clearly responded to Northerners. Our Growth Plan consultations saw a virtually unanimous call for reductions in energy costs for Northern resource-based industries.  Northern Caucus government members took up that call. The Northern Industrial Energy Rebate Program, introduced in our 2010 Budget, creates a 3 year, $450 million rebate program that will reduce energy costs by 25 % for larger Northern industry in the forestry, mining and steel sectors. The Industrial Conservation Initiative (ICI) is another exciting new initiative. The ICI significantly reduces energy costs for the resource based sectors. By providing strong incentives for industrial companies to shift their electricity consumption to off-peak hours, over 200 of Ontario’s largest eligible energy consumers will save on costs.

In terms of capacity and demand—we’ve also responded. The Ministry of Energy’s Long Term Energy Plan lists the Pickle Lake and East-West Tie along Lake Superior in their top five priority transmission projects. These projects propose an expanded, more reliable system that can meet the demand that will come with new economic developments, while providing benefits to our remote First Nations communities, who currently rely on diesel generation for their supply of electricity.

When it comes to transportation, our Northern Caucus again responded to call for improved highway infrastructure and greater access between communities. The McGuinty Government is investing an unprecedented $773 million in Northern Highways this year. In contrast, the previous government’s highest allocation to the Northern Highways program was $290 million. In the Growth Plan, the proposed Northern Ontario Multi-Modal Transportation strategy responds to connectivity and access concerns. The strategy plans to enhance the connectivity among already existing transportation modes like rail, road, marine and air, and to strengthen the links between economic hubs in the North and our remote and rural communities. We, in response to our Aboriginal communities, have also invested $4.5 million to assist in the building of winter roads. In the near future, we hope to transition to building all-weather roads which will continue to reduce costs of consumer goods and fuels and bring increased economic activity to these remote communities.

The advocacy and activism of Northern members has also seen unprecedented investments and increases to Health care spending in the North. The creation of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in 2005, co-located in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, has clearly become a cornerstone of community health care in the North and will continue to positively contribute to improving the health of Northerners. Also, the North West and North East LHINs, or Local Health Integration Networks, have each seen about a 40% increase each in their funding since 2003. This has meant more funding to hospitals, to health care centres, family care centres, community care access centres and to mental health centres across both the western and eastern parts of the province.

Education is another area in which input from northerners and the Northern Caucus has played a crucial role. In this case, Northern Caucus has helped our friends at education understand the unique challenges that face Northerners. Our government has committed $43 million in new investments to Northern school boards. This has funded programs such as the transportation grant, the remote and rural allocation fund, which addresses the higher costs of goods in the North, and the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Supplement, which funds programs designed especially for Aboriginal students. This funding went where there was the greatest need, and shows that the McGuinty government is listening and responding to both Growth Plan consultations, and the action and advocacy of our Northern Caucus.

When it comes to investment in Aboriginal initiatives and communities, this government has an unmatchable record. Here are a few highlights: Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada to expressly recognize Aboriginal and treaty rights in its modernized mining legislation. Furthermore, the McGuinty Government has committed $45 million Northern/Aboriginal Training Partnership Fund to support the increased youth population that will form a significant part of our province’s workforce in the coming years. The Growth Plan will continue to build on programs like this fund, and other programs to encourage Aboriginal youth engagement in the workforce.

Finally, it must be emphasized that Northern Caucus was vital to seeing that Northerners’ concerns in consultation were expressed in the Growth Plan. The initiatives in this document prove that the McGuinty Government and Northern Caucus are listening to and acting on the recommendations of Northerners. Moving forward, we will rely on the strengths and expertise of all Northerners to see the Growth Plan implemented. We will ensure that we take advantage of the economic opportunities we have in Northern Ontario, and that our urban, rural, Aboriginal and remote communities see the benefits of this visionary document.

Sincerely,

Michael Gravelle

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