The Ontario government wants to make Northerners feel safe when travelling on highways, wants to better facilitate the movement of goods, and all while pumping up the regional economy.
So, it's setting up a task force.
In a Jan. 21 provincial news release, the establishment of a Northern Task Force — handling all matters having to do with transportation — is the government making good on that 60-some item to-do list from its 2020 study, Connecting the North: A Draft Transportation Plan for Northern Ontario.
The document was released more than a year ago, right about the same time the future of the Huron Central Railway, a short freight line between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, was in doubt.
The government said it's looking to round up people to sit on this group but so far it's signed up some mayors, chiefs, a tourism association CEO, the chair of a Crown-owned railway and bus company, a public policy wonk, and the owner of a trucking company.
Here's who they have:
- Danny Whalen (co-chair) president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) and Councillor with Temiskaming Shores
- Wendy Landry (co-chair) president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) and mayor of Shuniah
- Mayor Brian Bigger of Greater Sudbury
- Mayor Daniel Reynard of Kenora
- Mayor Dave Plourde of Kapuskasing
- Mayor Doug Lawrance of Sioux Lookout
- Mayor Johanne Baril of Val Rita-Harty and president of Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association
- Grand Chief Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, Grand Council Treaty #3 Chief
- Melvin Hardy, Northern Superior Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief, Anishinabek Nation
- Kevin Eshkawkogan, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario
- Alan Spacek, chair of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission
- Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of the Northern Policy Institute
- Ron Bumstead, owner of Bumstead Trucking
“Our government understands that Northern Ontario has unique transportation needs that can make travelling between local communities more challenging for people, and we continue to take action to alleviate these challenges and make travel safer,” said Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney in a statement. “The Northern Task Force will ensure transportation plans reflect the diverse voices within the community and inform our government of the most important local needs.”
“Getting the North moving is a top priority for our government,” said Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Greg Rickford. “Establishing the Northern Task Force is another critical step in our government’s plan to build a better transportation network for Northern Ontarians. "
"The minister has heard the concerns of Northerners with regards to transportation needs and the safety of our northern highways, said Whalen. "The quality of the people appointed to this Transportation Task Force ensure reasonable and responsible results.”
The government said it's committed $641 million to expand and repair Northern highways and bridges in 2021-22, which will create or sustain approximately 4,487 direct and indirect constructions jobs in Northern Ontario.