Town reps bend ministers’ ears

Delegates from Fort Frances got a chance to give their input to the provincial government on issues ranging from social services to the location of the tourist information centre here at the annual general meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario last week in Toronto.
Following the theme, “Creating a New Municipal Landscape,” Mayor Dan Onichuk, Coun. Tannis Drysdale, and CAO Mark McCaig joined hundred of others from across Ontario attending seminars at the Westin Harbour Castle.
Coun. Drysdale, who also went as a representative of the Rainy River District Social Services Board and Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, said yesterday one piece of promising news that came out of the AMO conference regarded a resolution Fort Frances town council had forwarded to NOMA back in March.
This resolution called on the province to review the lottery licence legislation since it currently denies municipalities the eligibility to obtain a lottery licence or acquire revenue for disbursement from the proceeds of a lottery—an issue that came up when the town was looking for a way to help the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship this past spring.
“The Fort Frances delegates were not successful in meeting [Public Infrastructure Renewal minister] David Caplan, but the Dryden delegation was,” noted Coun. Drysdale.
“I met them shortly after their meeting and they discussed the matter with minister, who now will be reviewing the matter,” she said.
“I’ll be keeping in touch with the Dryden delegation and providing support for their lobby efforts,” Coun. Drysdale added. “I believe there was some understanding, or sympathy, for our resolution.
“We may find ourselves with a positive result on that.”
Coun. Drysdale said we always need to remember how important it is we work together as a region.
“For instance, I can take a few moments and represent an issue for Atikokan if we get a meeting with a minister they didn’t,” she explained. “In turn, when another municipality gets a meeting we didn’t, they can represent our interests there.
“The movement on the lottery licence was huge. Now, we just have to keep the pressure on.”
Coun. Drysdale said the Fort Frances delegates also met with Bill Mauro, parliamentary assistant to Northern Development and Mines minister Rick Bartolucci, Amy DiMatteo, general manager of Northern Ontario Heritage Funding Corp., and several Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership reps regarding relocating the Ontario Tourist Information Centre here.
“It looks like we may have an opportunity to move forward,” she said, adding criteria has been laid out as to what is necessary to get the centre moved.
“Ontario Tourism has been very clear with us as to what sites will be acceptable to them, and what conditions for sites will be acceptable to them,” Coun. Drysdale noted.
“Then, there’s a whole bunch of pieces that need to be fitted together, such as strategic partnerships which would actually finance the cost of building the building.
“And there’s conditions on the development corporation, who’ve made some preliminary commitments to finance the cost,” she said. “There absolutely has to be some economic development opportunities, like a Discovery Centre or something of that nature.
“And if there is not, there won’t be any NOHFC funding—they don’t finance the cost of the tourism information centre, they finance tourism infrastructure,” Coun. Drysdale added.
“There’s a whole bunch of balls up in the air. We will have to continue to work on it. But we’re heading in the right direction.”
Coun. Drysdale stressed Mayor Onichuk has a committee in place working on a recommendation regarding a new location for the centre that will be brought forth at a future council meeting.
She also noted McCaig and Mayor Onichuk went to a meeting with Energy minister Dwight Duncan regarding the loss of Atikokan coal-fired generating station and its impact on the district.
(Coun. Drysdale also had attended a meeting with NOMA on the subject during the conference).
“It would appear the government is not going to, at this point, reconsider its decision regarding the coal-fired plant,” she said. “It’s now about encouraging the government to really take another look at the peat-fired process.
“We want to be as supportive as possible to the folks in Atikokan to encourage the government to look at that alternative.
“At the NOMA meeting, we received word that the minister would co-operate with NOMA to develop a Northwestern Ontario energy strategy which would include the broader discussion of regional locational pricing. We’ll study that.
“You have to be careful what you ask for,” Coun. Drysdale warned. “That’s what we have with gas prices and I don’t notice they’re dramatically cheaper.
“But the study and the co-operation with the ministry will be valuable,”
As the Fort Frances rep on the local DSSAB board, Coun. Drysdale also attended a meeting with fellow board member Gary Gamsby, Brenda Cook (representing Emo), and DSSAB Social Housing manager Cathe Hoszowski with Ministry of Finance officials.
“We discussed some of the funding issues that have plagued us at the DSSAB board,” she noted. “Some of the differences in needs, like social housing, in northern and rural communities such as Fort Frances. And land ambulance costs.
“We also discussed the potential impact from the coal-fired plant assessment drop for DSSAB in the amount of $397,000,” added Coun. Drysdale.
“I will work with the ministry to run the numbers going forward, to provide some assurance that those numbers could be mitigated through a Ontario Municipal Partnership funding arrangement.
“So through our transfer grants, it’s the ministry’s belief that $397,000 could be accommodated. But we need to spend some time crunching the numbers just to make sure.
“It’s not a certainty, but it was still very positive,” Coun. Drysdale said.
Beyond the meetings, delegates also got a chance to attend seminars on topics such as planning for social housing needs, water and sewer infrastructure funding, and community revitalization.
And also at last week’s conference, Northwestern Ontario saw one of its leaders—Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown—elected to the AMO’s board of directors.
As a member of the board and the northern caucus, Mayor Brown will help set policy for AMO and serve as a key municipal leader in the province.
“I am pleased to announce that Dennis has joined the 2005-06 board team,” AMO president Roger Anderson said in a press release last week.
“There is much yet to achieve on the municipal government agenda,” he added. “AMO and Ontario’s municipal sector will benefit from the expertise and dedication that people like Dennis bring to our board.”