Christmas time is nearly upon us and the mess of politics usually winds down, leaving little news for us to digest. However, building on the momentum of many provincial Liberal leadership candidates questioning the ONTC divestment plan, the ONTC's General Chairperson's Association has chosen to ramp up its campaign for a new deal and has launched a new website - newdealnorth.ca - to promote their plan for the ONTC to be transferred to a port authority.
What began as a union-driven movement to stop the divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission has evolved into a campaign to protect infrastructure in northern Ontario and boost ecomonic and job growth through expanded transport links and new mining operations. The new plan - to transfer the ONTC to a port authority under the federal Canada Marine Act - would see the ONTC protected, a new line built to the 'Ring of Fire' and increased jobs through the mining sector and the services necessary to support it. Since April, the negotiations have included native groups who are well represented in the plan. Municipalities, reserves, politicians, ONTC employees and mining companies all support the plan.
I think that the plan can work. It protects, and even improves, infrastructure services to northern Ontario while allowing the provincial government to bow out gracefully and move away from what has become a mess. I think that if native groups are respected and the mining is conducted in a responsible, sustainable manner this will be a great opportunity for the north. Not only will the existing ONTC services be protected, but the plan also calls for reinstatement of some form of passenger rail along the Highway 11 corridor. Let's hope this works!