Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
Friends and foes alike of the federal Conservatives are hoping that a re-focused FedNor agency under Tory MP Greg Rickford will be a boon for some large-scale Northwestern Ontario economic development projects like the Ring of Fire. Rickford, 46, who is from Kenora, was put in charge of FedNor Monday in a cabinet shuffle that also made him Science and Technology minister.
A Northerner hasn’t headed the FedNor file since 2005, when former Liberal MP Joe Comuzzi was the agency’s minister.
“I’m just ecstatic about it,” said Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs. “A lot can get accomplished in two years (before the next federal election).”
“I know (Rickford) was champing at the bit to get into cabinet, and I think he’s going to be a great guy for the job,” added Hobbs, who is a personal friend of Rickford. Though Rickford represents the riding of Kenora, “I’ve always considered him an MP for Thunder Bay,” said Hobbs.
NDP MP John Rafferty (Thunder Bay-Rainy River) said it’s a good thing to have a Northerner in charge of an agency (FedNor) that is devoted to Northern projects. According to Rafferty, FedNor was neglected under Industry Minister Tony Clement “who did not consider FedNor as one of his top priorities.”
Clement, who oversaw the FedNor portfolio for the last seven years, countered that on his watch the agency “supported more than 1,500 projects throughout Northern Ontario representing $358-million in investment.”
“Northern Ontario has seen unprecedented success from FedNor measures,” Clement, who is based in Parry Sound, Ont., said in a news release.
Rafferty, who called Rickford “a good soldier for the Conservatives,” said FedNor’s budget was cut by $23 million this year.
An MP since 2008, the bilingual Rickford has one of the most diverse backgrounds in the House of Commons. As a nurse, he has worked in Northern Ontario’s remote First Nations. He is also a lawyer and holds an MBA degree.
Ontario’s Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle praised Rickford’s appointment, particularly in regard to the Ring of Fire mining belt.
“There is a very significant role the federal government can and must play with this project,” said Gravelle.
Gravelle noted a “synergy” between FedNor and the provincial equivalent agency he oversees — the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation. FedNor and NOHFC often jointly fund Northern infrastructure projects.
Hobbs said he hopes the Ring of Fire file, as well as Thunder Bay’s proposed event centre, will get Rickford’s attention.
“I think the only knock against him is that he’s a Toronto Maple Leafs fan,” Hobbs quipped.
Rickford did not respond to a request for a statement Monday.
A spokesman for Industry Canada, which is the umbrella ministry for both Science and Technology as well as the Small Business and Tourism ministry, said Rickford’s office is in the process of arranging for a spokesman.