What a difference two months can make, especially if the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne is prepared to do everything it can to retain power now and following the next provincial election.
In February, newly minted Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle told The Nugget that divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission would continue and there would be no dramatic shift in direction.
He did leave the door open to “significant community input into that process” and formed a minister’s advisory committee, which included Mayor Al McDonald and other northern mayors who have a stake in the divestment outcome. Gravelle even came to North Bay to sit down with the committee and hear their concerns.
Today, there has indeed been a shift in direction, or at least in what’s said publicly. At the Federation of Northern Ontario Muncipalities’ conference in Parry Sound, Gravelle hinted that divestment may not be the only option. That was not lost on McDonald, who tweeted the news immediately.
Premier Wynne, speaking at the same conference, went further. She said ONTC and Metrolinx need to work together, echoing talk prior to the divestment announcement that a strategic alliance between the two agencies might make sense and provide ongoing refurbishment work for Ontario Northland shops.
Cynics will argue it’s merely electioneering by a government desperate to do what it takes to retain power. Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli says that’s exactly what it is; that the government realizes instead of a $265 million savings through divestment that it will in fact cost $265 million, a swing of $530 million. But ask anyone in North Bay or any other community who works at the Crown agency or is served by Ontario Northland, like Earlton or Cochrane, and they’ll likely say, “who cares?” To them, it’s a seismic shift in direction. Gravelle has given them renewed hope and optimism.
We acknowledged in February that the governing Liberals can change their minds on divestment at any time. They’ve done it before, most notably with switching gas plant locations in southern Ontario at the 11th hour to secure a riding win in the last provincial election.
Have they done so here? Not specifically, but a change in tone and talking points can often speak volumes, whatever’s behind it.
Since becoming premier, Wynne has been quick to mend fences and dole out money in areas where the Liberals had become vulnerable. She made nice with teachers’ unions and she’s even tried to distance herself from the mistakes of her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, at times to some success. How someone in cabinet can say they didn’t know about the gas plants change would make many question her judgment and political acumen but she’s emerged relatively unscathed.
Gravelle and his advisory committee plan to meet Thursday to discuss the other options besides divestment. Whatever the outcome, even Brian Kelly, spokesman for the General Chairpersons Association, says the unions recognize the status quo is not working and welcomes the opportunity to discuss rebuilding rather than divestment.
We’ll see what this week’s meeting brings. We’ve been down this track before, of course. McGuinty made a promise, then broke it. Let’s hope for better this time.
For the original version, click here: http://www.nugget.ca/2013/05/10/gravelle-signals-possible-shift-in-direction