The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
Northwestern Ontario community leaders were applauding Monday as newly minted Premier Kathleen Wynne kept the North in the loop with the appointment of two, home-grown cabinet ministers, including a seasoned veteran.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a pretty good day for Northwestern Ontario,” said Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs. “These people know the North, and the Northwest in particular.”
As many like Hobbs had hoped, Michael Gravelle (Thunder Bay-Superior North) was returned to head Northern Development and Mines, the important but tricky portfolio he oversaw for four years until 2011.
Gravelle, who remained on the job as Natural Resources minister after he was diagnosed with cancer last fall, said he was “thrilled” to be kept in cabinet. “We are at a pivotal and exciting time in the North’s history, and our ministry and government will be playing a tremendous role in ensuring opportunities are seized,” Gravelle, 64, said in a statement following his reappointment to cabinet.
“Clearly, mining continues to be a real pillar for Northern Ontario’s economy and certainly development in the far north and the Ring of Fire are top priorities for our government.”
Perhaps a slight surprise in Monday’s cabinet announcement was the appointment of Sault Ste. Marie MPP David Orazietti to take Gravelle’s job at Natural Resources.
Orazietti, 44, was sometimes viewed as bit of maverick, because as a backbencher he was never shy about proposing private member’s bills that weren’t always a top priority for the Liberal government.
The former Sault Ste. Marie city councillor lives in a city where the MNR looms large, particularly in terms of the province’s forest firefighting services.
Wynne apparently didn’t hold it against Gravelle, nor Orazietti, that neither supported her in last month’s leadership race.
“It’s not surprising that Kathleen appointed a couple of Northern boys,” said NDP MPP Mike Mantha (Algoma-Manitoulin).
“I find (Gravelle) to be responsive and a pretty good listener, but we have to remember that all of these people (in Wynne’s new cabinet) were around during the gas-plant cancellation and Ornge (air ambulance) scandal.”
The legislature resumes Feb. 19 following a hiatus of nearly five months.
It wasn’t yet known Monday if MPP Bill Mauro (Thunder Bay-Atikokan) would be kept on as MNDM’s parliamentary assistant.
Hobbs said in his view Mauro also deserved a cabinet post. Aboriginal Affairs, another mainly Northern ministry, was given to MPP David Zimmer, who represents a Toronto suburb.
Hobbs said he was also glad to see Glen Murray, a former Winnipeg mayor, in charge of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“Another person who knows the North,” said Hobbs.
Said Gravelle: “Certainly a focus on transportation infrastructure will continue to be central in building strong and prosperous communities across Northern Ontario.”
During Gravelle’s previous term as Mines minister, the road was occasionally rocky.
On Monday, Nishnawbe Aski Nation put Wynne on notice it would again be pushing the government to recognize treaty rights on traditional lands where new mines are being eyed.
“Whether it’s the Wynne government or the next, it is time for the government to begin negotiations with our First Nations on treaty-wide resource revenue sharing so development can proceed in the North,” NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said in a news release.
Yesno added: “Potential economic barriers such as the Far North Act must also be addressed, and movement on First Nations agreements and opportunities in the Ring of Fire are essential to Ontario’s future economic growth.”
Marathon Mayor Rick Dumas, whose town is on the cusp of having a new copper and palladium mine on its doorstep, said he’s relieved Gravelle got the nod to head the Mines portfolio.
“It’s huge for us to have a mining minister in our backyard right now,” said Dumas.
In his statement Monday, the typically upbeat Gravelle briefly referenced his illness: “I feel very well and strongly motivated to take on this (MNDM) role again.”
Dumas said that when he was chatting with Gravelle last week, he asked him about his health.
“He told me he had some off days, but that he was keeping a positive attitude. And you know, sometimes that can help you get through an illness.”