NORTH BAY – The telecommunications arm of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission is back on the table for options other than divestment.
Local politicians are hoping that won’t matter as they anticipate an announcement from the province that could bode well for the future of the Crown agency put up for sale by the province 14 months ago.
“I believe this issue will be resolved very quickly this summer,” said Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli. “The Liberals will want this resolved before the auditor general comes out with his report. Once his report comes out, they’ll have to end the fire sale.”
Fedeli called in the auditor general to look into ONTC divestment which he said would cost $530 million in pension, benefits, workers’ compensation, severance and other liabilities based on ONTC financial statements, contradicting the government’s projected savings of $265 million.
Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle penned letters as recently as April 29 indicating the divestment process was still underway, and softened the government stance after those numbers were made public by suggesting there are options to divestment, Fedeli said.
“Either they truly didn’t know how expensive this was going to be, or they were given numbers by their finance department that were wrong,” he said.
North Bay Mayor Al McDonald is part of a ministry advisory committee formed earlier this year by Premier Kathleen Wynne’s newly minted Liberal government.
Ontera, the first division of the ONTC to be put up for sale, was off the table when the committee first met in March, and at a second meeting last week was brought back into the discussion, McDonald said.
Ontera is the telecommunications division of ONTC providing Internet, long-distance telephone and mobile phone service in the region.
McDonald has rallied to keep the ONTC and its assets in public hands, and that includes Ontera, rail freight and passenger service, bus service and rail car refurbishment.
He also expects the province to make a decision soon about the future of the ONTC. He dismisses the argument selling the Crown agency is an opportunity for new private sector investment in Northern Ontario, saying the monopoly position would hurt industry and service.
“There isn’t competition. The private sector will not go into Temagami or Elk Lake and provide bus service because they can’t make money at it,” he said.
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