Local delegates will continue to lobby for the province to address the dire need for access to justice in Rainy River District, among other demands, when they attend the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference Jan. 21-23 in Toronto.
Couns. June Caul and Ken Perry, along with Fort Frances CAO Doug Brown, will be meeting with the Ministry of the Attorney General to not only demand a full-time Crown Attorney here but adding a permanent assistant Crown Attorney and reinstate a sitting judge.
“Those three things aren’t going away,” Brown told the Times.
“I think the First Nations’ communities and all of the municipalities in Rainy River District are fully in support of this,” he added.
“We’re just making sure that this happens.”
Brown stressed this issue has been brought up time and again but the town will not back down–after all, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
“The bottom line is if they [the province] doesn’t hear from the town that there’s any concerns, they think everything’s beautiful in Fort Frances,” he remarked.
“Having a substandard justice system in Rainy River District is unacceptable to us,” Brown added. “The lawyers, the politicians, the municipalities are all saying, ‘We need a Crown Attorney that represents Rainy River District.’
“Our workload is increasing because there’s more people living in the area, the mine’s going, there’s more cases the Crown Attorney has to handle, so we want an assistant assigned to help,” he noted.
Brown said former Crown Attorney Robert “Buster” Young was a “very seasoned” Crown Attorney but since he left, those who have come here haven’t been able to handle the caseload.
“The last Crown Attorney lasted from April 21-Sept. 15, and one of her main citings was ‘excessive workload.’ There’s too much for one person to handle,” he remarked.
“If we don’t keep complaining about this, we’re never going to get this resolved.”
The local delegates also will have a meeting with the Ministry of Transportation to ask for “Connecting Link” funding–dollars earmarked for municipalities to repair and replace roads and bridges that run through communities and connect to provincial highways.
“Last year we got zero,” noted Brown.
“We have got all of the engineering work done and the design work to rehab the overpass structure on Mill Road,” he said.
“That’s about a $2.8-million project so we’re trying to make sure we get the funding this year,” he added. “Keep trying to push the government to make a decision.
“This year, they’ve increased the funding for the whole ‘Connecting Link’ program from $25 million to $30 million.”
Brown reasoned that “Connecting Link” roads, such as Scott Street, have to put up with heavy traffic. The trouble is, much of that traffic isn’t local.
“We’ve got a major international border crossing,” he said. “There’s tourists, there’s rock from Vermilion Bay, the lumber from the sawmills in the northwest–most of them come through the Fort Frances port of entry.
“Our roads take a beating, it’s not fair to our taxpayer to pay for these roads,” Brown argued. “Why should the taxpayers of Fort Frances pay for the overpass rebuild when it’s on a ‘Connecting Link’ highway that services the border.
“It doesn’t make sense.”
Brown noted the public is starting to complain more about local roads needing to be fixed. When it comes to “Connecting Link” roads, the province is supposed to pay 90 cents on the dollar to fix them.
“Why wouldn’t we keep hammering the government to make sure they fulfil their obligation here?” he mused.
As well, the delegates will make sure to lobby in regards to the enhanced Sustainable Forest Licence (eSFL) program that will take effect in 2020.
“We just want to make sure there’s a secure, competitive fibre source for the mill if it ever gets sold to someone else and they want to reopen it,” explained Brown.
Under the new forest tenure system, the Crossroute Forest and the Sapawe Forest are going to combine into one forest and be managed differently.
Right now, the former is run by Resolute and the latter by the Rainy River Tribal Council.
“This whole new process is to make sure that local people, local communities–First Nations and municipalities–have their say on how the bush is going to be operated,” said Brown.
“If competitors want the wood, they can bid on it–so the one that holds the licence doesn’t control everything.”
He noted the local mill has been sitting idle, and it’s the belief of town council that even if it never restarts as a pulp and paper mill, it should be used to make some kind of “widget” utilizing the sustainable resources around us.
Brown acknowledged the local economy has improved thanks to the New Gold mine north of Barwick, “but the ultimate goal is to have someone operating that mill, providing jobs and making something out of the bush for the long-term.”
“All we can do is work with all of the parties to try and make this happen,” he remarked.
“I think a lot of people think it’s our role to try and get more jobs back in the Fort, and make sure that property is being utilized.”
The trio also will meet with Northern Development and Mines minister Michael Gravelle and tell him about the various issues they’re lobbying with the other ministries.
Town delegates did not get a meeting regarding railway tax reformation but Coun. Perry, who initiated the push for it here, is not expected to let up on the issue anytime soon, said Brown.
Last spring, the province set a minimum of $80 an acre for property tax rates in municipalities if a rail line goes through it.
While this is an improvement from $35 an acre, if a railway taxation system based on tonnage was in place, like it is in some other provinces, Ontario municipalities could be reaping hundreds of thousands–or even millions–of dollars.
In addition to the meetings with the various ministries, the local delegates will join others from across Ontario in attending workshops and presentations.
Keynote speakers include researcher James Raffan, who connects the challenges and the importance of local government to the changing rural landscape, and award-winning business journalist Amanda Lang, who will speak on what it takes to attract business to rural Ontario.
Due to delegates attending the ROMA conference, the next regular council meeting won’t be until Monday, Feb. 12.