The provincial government is standing by its decision to sell Ontario Northland. And Northern Ontarians are taking it personally.
“Funny, it’s only when we invest in the North that we’re taking money away from education and health care. When we invest in the south, it’s fine,” Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas said.
Gelinas’s comments come days after Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci announced the province is divesting itself of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, a Crown agency that offers rail and bus service in Northern Ontario. The government also announced that eight buildings across Ontario, including one in Sudbury, will be sold.
Ontario Northland was at the heart of a question raised by John Vanthof, MPP for Te m i s k a m i n g-Cochrane, in provincial legislature on Monday. “I accused (Bartolucci) of killing the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission. (He said) they’re not killing it. They’re divesting themselves of it. Basically, they’re privatizing it,” he said, adding that he was shocked when the decision was made.
“It was like a kick in the gut. … There was no prior warning. The mayors were called into a conference call and we were given a news release.”
While announcing the decision on Friday, Bartolucci, the minister of Northern Development and Mines, said provincial government funding of Ontario Northland has gone up from $27.6 million in 2003 to $103.2 million this year. Its ridership, on the other hand, remained stagnant, and sales revenues declined from $140 million in 2005 to $100 million this year.
In an interview Monday, Bartolucci stood by the government’s decision.
“The reality is, the government can not afford to subsidize (Ontario Northland) to the tune of in excess of $100 million a year. This type of (business) model is just not sustainable … We have to move toward a sustainable model,” he said.
In 2002, Bartolucci defended Ontario Northland against privatization while a Conservative government was in power.
“I stood there and said, ‘ You haven’t tried the many things we could try to make this an entity,’ ” he said, adding that, in the last 10 years, many of the options have been explored.
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