Ontario Northland – Bisson vs Gravelle in QP

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Ontario Northlander train
Ontario Northlander train

Ontario Northlander train
Ontario Northlander train

QUEENS PARK – Ontario Northland Transportation Corporation was the subject of a dispute in Queens Park on Tuesday. NDP MPP Gilles Bisson was questioning Minister Michael Gravelle over the planned privatization of the transportation system. The engagement between the two MPPs resulted in Bisson disputing the answers from the Minister.

“Pursuant to standing order 38(a), the member from Timmins–James Bay has given notice of dissatisfaction with the answer to his question given by the Minister of Northern Development and Mines concerning privatization of the ONTC. This matter will be debated today at 6PM,” reported the Legislature’s Speaker.

The New Democrats are opposed to the proposed sale of the Ontario Northland. They have contrasted the huge investments into public transit in the Toronto area, and the growing needs for the North, including the Ring of Fire for a rail system.

Ontario Northland Transportation Commission

Mr. Gilles Bisson: My question is to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. Minister, you know that people in northern Ontario have been upset at your government for the move to privatize the ONTC. People across the north—be it municipalities, be it workers, be it shippers, be it passengers—don’t agree that privatization is the option.

There was a Liberal leadership race in which a number of your leadership candidates said that they were prepared to put a pause on privatization and consult with northerners when it comes to what we do with the ONTC. We see that you formed the committee, but according to your particular comments on Monday, the northern transportation commission is still on the auction block.

You’re trying to position yourself as a new Ontario government. Can you tell me what’s new about that position?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: I appreciate the opportunity to respond. I was very much pleased to be in North Bay yesterday for the first gathering of the ministerial advisory committee for the discussions related to a number of stakeholders to help us make the right decisions related to the divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission: municipal leaders, First Nations, Métis, industry—various stakeholders that obviously are going to help us make decisions related to how we do this the right way. Certainly, the discussion was an open one, a very transparent one and, I think, one that we can lead forward. We think there’s a great opportunity for the people that are on that committee to help advise us as to how we can move forward.

It’s a very tough decision related to the divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission. The priority for the Premier—made very, very clear—was that we need to make sure that we put in place a northern transportation strategy that makes sense for northerners and meets the economic development needs that are there in the northeast, and that’s indeed what we intend to do.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Gilles Bisson: This government is trying to say they’re a new Ontario government. I fail to see what is new in this. The only thing that’s new: You’ve taken the mayors of northern Ontario and you’ve said, “Please help us privatize this entity.” That’s not what northerners want and that’s not what New Democrats have called for. What we’ve asked you to do is to put a pause on this entire thing and to give northerners an ability to look at the ONTC and how we can run it as a publicly funded corporation, as we do with GO Transit and many other such entities across this province.

I ask you again: Will you not pause the privatization of the ONTC, once and for all?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: What we’re committed to—and I believe the members on that side of the House are committed as well, as we all are—is having a sustainable transportation system in northeastern Ontario. We all know that there were significant dollars spent in terms of the ONTC, a heavily subsidized operation. We believe that this can be done in a better way, and quite frankly, I believe the members of the ministerial advisory committee can provide us with that advice as well. How can we, for example, set up criteria for potential future divestment that make sense so that we can meet those goals of making sure that a transportation system or a telecommunication system in the north is one that’s sustainable over the long term and can provide the kind of employment opportunities that we know are so important to everybody in the northeast? We are very committed to this; Premier Wynne is very committed to this. We set this up as a—..