Reaction mixed to Cabinet shuffle

Local business and community leaders held their breath Monday as Premier Ernie Eves announced his new cabinet.
And most are taking a wait-and-see approach before declaring if this region was a winner in the latest round of ministerial musical chairs.
Perhaps the biggest change in this region came with the naming of Jim Wilson, former Energy, Science and Technology minister, to head the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.
“I’m really looking forward to the new job,” Wilson said from his Toronto office yesterday. “I’m really looking forward to getting out and meeting the people of Northern Ontario.
“I know there’s a lot of challenges there.”
While Wilson has had experience in health care and job creation in previous ministries, he admitted he has some learning to do when it comes to the north.
His first act will be to tour Northern Ontario. He was to begin today by travelling to Nipissing and later Sudbury, but expected to reach this end of the province in the next couple of weeks.
“My first obligation is to listen to the people, and to see what concerns they have and what solutions they want brought to the cabinet table,” he said.
“I’m going to focus on giving the best service possible to the people of Northern Ontario and make sure that their concerns are heard and dealt with at Queen’s Park,” he vowed.
Even though Wilson, who represents the riding of Simcoe-Grey, which encompasses Barrie, Ont., is not from Northern Ontario, he still feels he’d be a strong voice for the region.
“I’m a senior minister and continue to be fourth in charge in the province . . . you’re receiving a senior minister in the Ernie Eves government,” he added.
Reaction was mixed to his appointment.
“He should be a good minister. It’s tough role to fill because many of the politicians from down east don’t want to do it,” Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said Monday.
“Hopefully, interest in the north is in his heart.”
“He’s obviously handled in the past large ministries,” said Tannis Drysdale of Fort Frances, president of the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce.
“It would be my belief that he has a gained a significant amount of respect from his fellow cabinet members and, as such, hopefully we will have a stronger northern voice in cabinet.”
“As with everyone, there will be an education process,” Drysdale added. “We want to stay positive and he’ll come to love the north as we all do and we’ll benefit from his experience as a minister.”
But NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton was clearly opposed to the change.
“Putting job-killing Jim Wilson in charge of the northern economy is like asking a black bear to protect the berry patch—you’re heading for disaster,” Hampton charged.
“Quite frankly, Wilson is the last person the north needs now.”
Hampton argued Wilson’s past actions as former Energy minister were responsible for putting thousands of jobs in the mining and forestry industries at risk by heading the move to privatize Ontario’s public power system.
“You can’t develop the north without affordable, reliable public power. And Jim Wilson has made it his mission to rip that away from the people,” Hampton said.
“You should ask Mr. Hampton why the unions are on side, why the unions bought part of the Bruce nuclear plant . . .,” Wilson retorted. “Also ask Mr. Hampton why most environmental groups are on side because for the first time it will allow green power.”
Wilson disagreed with Hampton’s claim that the privatization of Ontario power will hurt northern business.
“His whole campaign is just bizarre and it’s hard to combat because there isn’t an ounce of truth in it. He’s just scare-mongering in the province,” Wilson argued.
Meanwhile, local educators also are holding their collective breaths as former Environment minister and leadership candidate Elizabeth Witmer was named deputy premier and Education minister.
The director of education for the Northwest Catholic District School Board wasn’t sure if the switch from Janet Ecker, who is now Finance minister, would mean any dramatic changes to the current education system.
“What I’ve been hearing is that we don’t need to expect a lot of additional change, but rather the implementation of some of the changes that have already been introduced,” John Madigan said yesterday.
“I think everybody involved in education welcomes a settling down of changes,” he added. “There’s been an avalanche of changes in the last five years and there needs to be time to implement them.”
When campaigning in the recent leadership race, Witmer said she would conduct a review of the funding formula within the first 90 days of the new government, and institute multi-year funding for school boards.
Warren Hoshizaki, director of education for the Rainy River District School Board, hopes she does just that.
“Hopefully she’ll have an opportunity to review the funding formula and how it is affecting the classroom.
“We have started some programs in Northwestern Ontario that are very unique to this part of the province and I am hoping she will recognize the uniqueness of Northwestern Ontario,” he added.
Some other notable Cabinet changes that will affect this area include Jerry Ouellette replacing John Snobelen as minister of Natural Resources, and Helen Johns taking over Agriculture and Food from Brian Coburn.
Cam Jackson is the new minister of Tourism and Recreation.