Hampton warns of more burdens ahead

Local MPP and Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton had a simple but direct message for the Rainy River District Municipal Association on Saturday—keep your heads up.
Hampton was at the RRDMA’s annual meeting in Devlin, where he introduced guest speaker Peter Spuzak, but before doing so, he dropped the gloves and lashed out at both senior levels of government.
“Don’t expect any gifts from the province—certainly not this year or next,” Hampton warned. “In fact, I would say there will be some nasty surprises in the budget this spring.”
As an example, Hampton reminded delegates the whole idea of highway transportation is now up for review.
“I believe what that means for rural municipalities is that some highways, which in the past have been secondary provincial highways, will very soon be your highways.”
Hampton cited the example of Kenora, where 150 km of provincial highway is now that municipality’s responsibility to maintain.
Another target for Hampton’s jabs was the issue of closure and consolidation of government offices.
“I say to the people of Fort Frances, keep your head up,” he remarked. “Fort Frances has fought twice now to maintain the jail and I think you’ll also have to fight to keep the land registry office open.”
Hampton noted at least 36 jobs were at stake there as well as several dozen jobs in various law offices.
“It won’t be called municipal downloading. It will be called consolidation and efficiency,” he added.
Hampton also predicted there will be a new series of user fees over the next few months, blaming the problem on the series of tax cuts brought in by the previous Conservative government at Queen’s Park.
Hampton then reiterated his support for the ongoing efforts to build an abattoir in the district before turning the microphone over to Spuzak, president of the Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association.
Spuzak gave delegates an update on the abattoir and its potential impact on the district. That facility, he said, will provide some much-needed relief for district cattle farmers by providing an affordable destination for their stock.
There has been considerable speculation lately as to where the facility will be built and to what standard.
Originally, the idea was to build it to federal standards so its production could be marketed overseas, but since the BSE crisis, foreign exports are a thing of the past and, at best, the distant future.
“A federally-inspected abattoir is extremely expensive,” Spuzak noted.
That’s why the principal investor in the project has lowered his sights. “Russell Pollard intends to scale it down to a provincial standard,” Spuzak announced.
Pollard is the district businessman who has the greatest vested interest in the project, which also has attracted investments from other producers. There also is a significant amount of money set aside from the province through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
Spuzak noted the difference in designation will be largely on paper. The proposal is for the plant to be built to federal standards, but licensed as a provincial facility.
That way, much of the administrative expense and delay can be deferred until such time as it is worth it to seek the higher designation. Since the physical and technical requirements already will be in place, presumably the transition would be smoother than doing it the other way around.
“It’s a lot easier to go from a federal standard to a provincial standard than the other way around,” Spuzak reasoned.
The current thinking is the facility would be able to process 20-50 animals per day and provide consumers access to locally-raised meat at substantial savings.
Spuzak stressed the current glut of beef on the domestic market is not being reflected in lower prices to the consumer.
“The only people making money are the big kill plants in southern Ontario,” he charged. “They’re not passing the savings on to you.”
The ability to slaughter and process here at home should substantially lower those prices, as well as provide a much-needed outlet for surplus cattle. In addition, the abattoir should provide additional jobs in the district.
(Fort Frances Times)