Published on: 2/28/2014 2:41:33 PM Print | Font Sizes:  Normal Text Large Text

Ontario Northland restructuring plan in minister’s hands

Ontario Northland management and unions co-authored a new business plan designed to keep the Crown agency off the province’s auction block.
Ontario Northland management and unions co-authored a new business plan designed to keep the Crown agency off the province’s auction block.

A report to restructure the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) has been delivered to Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle.

But one of the union bosses has a sneaking suspicion that Ontera, the ONTC’s telecommunications division, may still be on auction block.

Brian Kelly, spokesman for the General Chairperson’s Association (GCA) representing unionized employees, said rumours are spreading that Bell Aliant may be a frontrunner to acquire the assets of Ontera, all stemming from the Ontario government’s 2012 decision to divest itself of the ONTC.

“We’re really concerned about Ontera because of the rumblings in the community,” said Kelly. “The bureaucrats, in our mind, are out to kill Ontera so they can claim some kind of a moral victory.”

The unions and management have been collaborating on a so-called management options report in an attempt to head off Queen’s Park from dismantling the 112-year-old North Bay-based Crown agency and auction off its rail, bus and telecommunication assets.

After meeting with Premier Kathleen Wynne in early February, Kelly though they had eight weeks to complete the report, but Gravelle gave them the hurry-up call just recently.

The government told Kelly a plan for Ontera had to be finished by Feb. 24.

The unions have steadfastly maintained that the ONTC must remain in public hands and Ontera must be included. So the GCA and ONTC management decided to finish up the plan for the entire organization.

“We worked diligently and got a plan done in about two weeks,” said Kelly, which was presented to Gravelle and his advisory committee, Feb. 27.

Kelly said their proposal modernizes the organization “in a major way culturally” and reduces jobs primarily through attrition.

“We’re confident this plan will work.”

The report remains confidential report, but Kelly acknowledged it contains some recommendations that the ONTC must be a stand-alone agency that has the autonomy to make decisions and must be led by a qualified board of directors, not political appointees.

”We’ve been saying that as the GCA forever.” 

In a news release, Gravelle reiterated his previous statements “that the status quo is no longer an option, but that divestment is not the only path before us.”

“I appreciate the efforts of both management and labour and recognize that considerable work that has gone into the preparation of their integrated business plan. The report will be useful as we continue to explore options in moving forward with the ONTC transformation.”

Kelly said he was given no timelines when the Wynne government, which likely headed for election this spring, will make a final decision on the agency.

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