The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.
John Vanthof was on the road home Tuesday from Iroquois Falls to Englehart. And if people in southern Ontario can’t quite place those communities — or Latchford, Haileybury, Earlton — well, the rookie New Democratic MPP for Timiskaming—Cochrane would hardly be surprised.
To live in northern Ontario, especially in the wake of the province’s decision to sell off the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, is sometimes to feel you live not just in Ontario’s second solitude, but on another planet.
Vanthof was about 600 kilometres north of Toronto, fresh from a public meeting the night before in Timmins, where he and other local political leaders called for a grassroots uprising against a Liberal plan he fears would devastate the far-flung communities of Ontario’s northeast. “They really don’t have a clue, whoever made this decision,” he said over his car’s speaker phone.
This “is way more than the train. This is the whole system. This is our Internet system. . . It’s our freight system. There’s a rail-care refurbishment division in North Bay.”
And should privatization come to pass, home for Vanthof will definitely be where the hurt is.
“My hometown, Englehart, is like ONR central. Forty per cent of the people in Englehart are directly related to the ONR. The pensioners are all railroad families. There are people saying, if the ONTC actually closes, they’re gonna roll up the streets.”
In March, the government of Premier Dalton McGuinty announced it intended to wind down the ONTC, privatizing what parts could be sold off.
The province said ridership had stagnated, revenue had declined and the subsidy on the Northlander train was $400 a passenger.
It promised to maintain the Polar Bear Express rail service between Cochrane and Moosonee to serve the isolated native communities on the James Bay coast, but intended to replace the Cochrane-Toronto Northlander run with bus service and tender existing bus service and ONTC assets to private operators.
Far from Queen’s Park, critics objected to the process of the decision, the rationale behind it and the pejorative way it’s being sold — as if Northerners were a species of freeloaders.
“Everybody steps on the TTC, they’re subsidized,” Vanthof notes. “But in northern Ontario? ‘No, you guys are kind of second-class, the forgotten culture. That’s what we really feel — that we’re the forgotten culture.”
To Vanthof, the announcement was audacious for several reasons, not least of which was a photo from April 22, 2002.
In it, then-opposition leader Dalton McGuinty — campaigning in North Bay for a byelection — stands under flawless blue skies, in a shirt and tie under a leather jacket, signing a large placard held before him.
It was called a “contract” with the people of the riding. Among other things, it said: “The Ontario Northland is an essential cornerstone of northern Ontario’s economic transportation and infrastructure; the privatization of the ONTC will result in local jobs being lost . . . therefore I will guarantee the people of Nipissing that my government will not approve or allow the privatization of the ONTC.”
Even though he’s been an MPP for less than a year, not yet grown to cynicism, Vanthof understands that political promises are a lot like pie-crusts — made to be broken.
What he can’t get over is the wasted effort he put into helping develop a growth plan for northern Ontario for several years before he got elected.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1225072–northern-ontario-residents-feel-they-ve-been-forgotten-in-plan-to-sell-off-train-service