It’s not every day your local MPP stops by for lunch.
The Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce held their annual general meeting Tuesday at the Copper River Inn. MPP Greg Rickford was on hand to attend the meeting and deliver a talk as one of two guest speakers.
“This is the first time I think maybe since last September it hasn’t snowed,” Rickford joked about the number of trips he’s made to Fort Frances.
“And not just snowed but snowed sideways. We were just here last week and it should have been spring and it was winter and it got kind of crazy.”
Rickford took the opportunity to touch on a wide range of changes involved with the recent budget released by the PC Government.
“A harsh reality is that we are more than a third of a trillion dollars in debt as a province,” Rickford said.
“Not a country, as a province. The highest sub-national debt in the Western World of any state or province that you could name.”
To that end, Rickford said that the government had to manage the balancing act of appropriate spending and making headway to paying down the provincial deficit.
“We’ve been busy the last eight or nine months in Toronto,” Rickford explained.
“We eliminated the job-killing carbon tax that saw an immediate reduction of anywhere from five to 10 cents a litre off gasoline. No sooner did we get it eliminated when the federal government reintroduced that, but we’re in a court battle as we speak.”
Rickford also said that the government repealed the green energy act, which “took $790 million worth of industrial wind turbine and solar projects off the book off the grid.”
“That was important because those solar and wind projects were going to cost us somewhere in the range of 17 to 48 cents a kilowatt for electricity,” he explained.
More than simply looking at the past accomplishments of his government, Rickford also took the time to speak about some of the things he was working on for Northwestern Ontario in particular.
“We are, importantly, reviewing and overhauling the opportunities for bus passenger and freight rail in Northern Ontario,” Rickford said.
“But in particular for us, I’m determined to take some of those beautiful shiny buses that we own as part of the Northland Transportation Commission and bring them out here. We hope in the next couple of months we’re going to be able to bring some full-fledged bus services.”
There was also talk of government’s investment in an indigenous internship program through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
“Some of those folks have been held back by either a lack of a formal education or training that would create a pathway for them to become a red seal trades person,” Rickford said.
“And so the internship program is focused on helping them do training with a job in the line of sight.”
Rickford also listed the direct investments made to the district and local businesses, including:
•$1.35 million to Riverside Healthcare Network;
•$20 million in funding for the new OPP detachment being built at 200 McIrvine Road;
•$914,000 for Manitou Forest Products for new equipment and renovations; and
•$43,000 for the Nordic Ski Club to purchase new equipment and improve trail maintenance
This was in addition to the more than $6 million in funding that Rickford said had gone to municipalities across the district as part of what he called “pretty much the ‘No Strings Attached’ announcement.” Fort Frances received $689,000 as part of that announcement.
“I’ve heard already from councillors, including your own and around the riding that this was a much-needed infusion that gives you the flexibility to put that money where it matters the most,” Rickford told the Chamber.
Rickford said his government is also investing in local agriculture opportunities in the region as well.
There was also brief talk of the ongoing concern of the mil and potential buyers. Rickford said that there are a number of things happening that are locked down under non-disclosure agreements, but that he is still committed to the best possible outcome for those involved.
“What I can tell you folks is that on that point we’re committed to doing the right thing,” Rickford said.
“I operate on facts and June [Caul] and I have made a commitment to work with any and all stakeholders.”
Rickford concluded his speech by thanking the Chamber for the work it does within and for the community.
Meanwhile, OPP Const. Joe Machura was also at the meeting to discuss the rise of trespassing and shoplifting in the downtown core, and to listen to concerns from area business owners.
Const. Machura said that the OPP were enacting three new initiatives in response to the complaints raised by business owners.
“Moving forward what the OPP wants to work with the community members and the community businesses,” Const. Machura said.
“We’ve implemented a community mobilization plan, we’ve delegated two specific officers at the Fort Frances OPP detachment and they’re going to work collectively with those businesses in reducing the percentage of people being able to walk in and walk out with their merchandise.”
The OPP have also introduced a “focused patrol” initiative where officers will be delegated to the downtown core during business hours throughout the week, increasing the presence and response time in the area.
“Additionally, we’re rolling out a video camera initiative,” Const. Machura said.
“We’re going to approach the businesses within the downtown core and see which businesses actually have video cameras inside their businesses, as well as on the exterior of their businesses.”
Const. Machura said this last initiative will allow the OPP to create a database of which businesses can provide video footage in the event a crime is committed in the area.
He also suggested that business owners create a list of repeat offenders and share it amongst themselves and their staff, as well as to increase the front-line interactions with people walking into their stores, and to validate debit and credit cards, as well as cheques, to be sure the proper people are using them. He also urged business owners to contact the OPP when an incident occurs.
“If there’s an incident that has already happened and you’re calling to report it, [call] 1-888-310-1122,” Const. Machura said.
“If it’s an incident that’s happening right now, call 9-1-1. It’s rapid response. We can get there immediately.”
Business owners expressed their frustration with what they said was a lack of action on the parts of the courts in relation to shoplifters and trespassers, but thanked Const. Machura and the OPP for taking businesses concerns into consideration, and stepping up their presence in the downtown area.
The Chamber meeting also heard from various committees regarding upcoming events, bylaws, and Chamber finances.