Budget addresses needs of Northern Ontario

In its first budget released yesterday, the new Liberal government announced plans to introduce legislation to establish a Northern Ontario “Grow Bonds” program to foster small- and medium-sized business development.
“We will move forward this year to establish a Northern Ontario ‘Grow Bonds’ program that would help new and expanding businesses in northern communities,” Finance minister Greg Sorbara said in his budget speech.
The Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce had been lobbying the provincial government for some time to introduce this legislation.
“I’m thrilled,” said Fort Frances Coun. Tannis Drysdale, a former NOACC president.
“I know there are projects right here in the Rainy River District that have been waiting for this program—that are contingent on the government passing this piece of legislation,” she noted.
“As a citizen, it’s an opportunity—for the first time—to invest in my own home community,” she added.
Drysdale noted each level of government will have its role to play, including the federal government making the “Grow Bonds” RRSP eligible and the province in guaranteeing the bonds.
“We don’t know what the final framework will be,” she said. “Businesses receiving the ‘Grow Bonds’ will have to fit with the municipality’s larger economic strategies.”
But NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton warned the program may not be what business leaders were looking for, saying it is only a pilot project.
“They may select a community or a couple of communities and try this out as a pilot project,” he remarked yesterday.
Budget Paper B, which deals with Ontario’s economy, reads, “In 2004-05, the government proposes to establish a pilot program to issue provincially-guaranteed bonds and use the proceeds to provide loans to new and growing businesses in northern communities.”
Yesterday’s budget also promises a Northern Prosperity Plan to help northern communities attract and retain investment and jobs.
“Northern Ontario is a region of boundless potential,” said Sorbara. “The people who live there ask no more than to be given the opportunity to realize that potential.
“Our government will help make that happen.”
Sorbara also announced $10 million for the Government of Ontario (GO) North Investor Program, which will build on the “Grow Bonds” program.
The initiative is “designed to market the north’s inherent strengths across the continent and around the world,” he remarked.
“Ideally, these will be large-scale investments that promote innovation and growth in existing sectors such as mining and forestry, as well as new sectors for the north such as information technology.
“The focus of the program will be on increasing the north’s presence internationally through marketing efforts led by the ministries of Economic Development and Trade and Northern Development and Mines, and by working with northern municipalities to develop an inventory of available sites and assets to better present their communities’ potential to investors,” the budget reads.
Also, the government has promised to invest $285 million in improving the northern transportation system, including expanding portions of Highways 11 and 69, and transforming the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC).
“Another $135 million will be dedicated to investments in community infrastructure initiatives to help foster job creation through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund,” the budget reads.
Hampton noted most of that money likely will be used on upgrades to water and sewage systems.
The government also promised improvements to the Provincial Land Tax, which Hampton said likely would mean significant land tax increases to people living in unorganized areas.
Another $107 million has been earmarked to create new spaces at universities and community colleges, including the Northern Ontario Medical School which is expected to open in September, 2005.