The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
The axe has started to fall on Ontario services in advance of Tuesday’s spring budget. The Liberal government announced Friday it is divesting itself of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, a Crown agency offering rail and bus ser vice, and telecommunications in Northern Ontario.
The agency employs almost 1,000 employees, most unionized. The move will save the government $103 million in operating costs annually. Sales of buildings and equipment could net the province “hundreds of millions” more in assets, said Ted Hargreaves, chair of the ONTC board.
The announcement was made Friday in Sudbury by Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci on the seventh floor of his ministry’s building at 159 Cedar St. While reporters were being briefed about Ontario Northland, Infrastructure Ontario issued a news release that the building in which the news conference was being held was going on the auction block.
The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines building, one of the newest and most modern office towers in downtown Sudbury, will be sold on the condition the ministry can lease it for 25 years.
It is one of eight buildings the province hopes will generate $500 million to help pay down the $16-billion provincial deficit.
Bartolucci told reporters Ontario government funding of Ontario Northland has increased 274% from $27.6 million in 2003 to $103.2 million this year.
At the same time, ridership has been “stagnant,” said Bartolucci, and sales revenues have declined from $140 million in 2005 to $100 million this year.
Ontario Northland will continue to operate as is while a transition board appointed to implement the divestment does what the government has ordered it to do.
That includes cancelling Northlander train service from Toronto to Cochrane, and replacing it with enhanced bus service.
Bus services for existing routes will be tendered to other operators.
The ferry service between Moosonee and Moose Factory will be consolidated with other provincial ferry services.
The board is to ensure the Polar Bear Express continues to operate.
It will also oversee the sales of such assets as rail freight, rail refurbishment and Ontera telecommunications.
Bartolucci told reporters it was “an extremely difficult decision.”
Nickel Belt New Democrat MPP France Gelinas attended the news conference, sitting among reporters.
Gelinas later slammed the Liberals for getting rid of what she called a “strategic asset for the Province of Ontario. It cannot be sold off to the highest bidder. It cannot be privatized without have a tremendous negative effect on the businesses that are trying to get back on their feet after the forestry collapse,” said Gelinas.
Gelinas recalled how in Opposition, Bartolucci had “spoken eloquently for the need for this strategic asset (Ontario Northland) to be kept public. Now he has changed his mind. He has turned his back on the North,” said Gelinas. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
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