Northern community leaders used the annual Ontario Good Roads convention to do some heavy arm-twisting with provincial cabinet ministers.
The cost of industrial power, transmission capacity and transportation infrastructure spending to support the Ring of Fire mineral deposits was the minds of mayors at the Toronto conference in March.
Spacek raised concerns about the glacial pace of planning by the Ontario Power Authority in upgrading and extending transmission across the region to support many mine developments and expansions coming onstream.
The timelines from conceptual planning to operation can take as long as 10 years.
“I said, that's not acceptable,” said Spacek, who added Bentley seemed to agree that these forecasts needed revisiting.
Both mayors were representing the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities.
In a meeting with Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci, Spacek said the Sudbury MPP promised that the Liberals would make good on a campaign promise to make the current Northern industrial energy rate a permanent fixture. “That would be significant,” said Spacek, to add stability for future economic development.
Spacek said he'll have to accept the minister's answer on faith.
“We've been told on more than one occasion that the government is on top of this.”
With Ring of Fire miner Cliffs Natural Resources still undecided on where to place a ferrochrome smelter, Spacek said a provincial investment in transportation infrastructure is another tool to ensure Ontario stays competitive.
Greenstone Mayor Ron Beaulieu was frustrated by the government's lack of a clear commitment to invest in the Ring of Fire.
“Nothing is being said, basically the whole thing is on Cliffs to make the decision.”
After watching three area forestry mills close in the last decade, Beaulieu said the opportunity is there to replace those hundreds of lost jobs.
His municipality is competing against Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Timmins to land the ferrochrome smelter.
“We want to see action and want the work to be done here to create the jobs, and then we'll be off the government's back.”
Beaulieu wants to see the same funding commitment for Ontario's North as the Quebec government is pledging with its $80-billion Plan Nord.
“There is a lot of hype about this (Ring of Fire), but this province isn't engaged.”
During a March pit stop in Thunder Bay, Premier Dalton McGuinty told local media that the province will spend $35 billion in Ontario infrastructure over the next three years. The Ring of Fire will get a sizeable chunk.
That rankled O'Connor Township Mayor Ron Nelson, who said no mention of that money, or Northern Ontario, was made in the premier's speech at Good Roads, “which was very disappointing.”
As president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, Nelson wants to see Plan Nord-like money attached to the Northern Ontario Growth Plan and is waiting on the province to make good on forming a Northern Policy Institute, a $5-million provincial budget item in 2011.
NOMA wants investments made in roads, rail, shipping and power transmission capacity to integrate with new mines now under development.
With dire predictions and tough cost-cutting recommendations in the Drummond Report, Nelson finds the province has lost track of what it means to be 'open for business.'
“With the Drummond Report coming out, we're hearing that we're broke. To me, you can't be crying broke. We've brought all our issues to the table for the third year in a row, somebody's not listening.
“We're seeing there is a reluctance to move forward.”