Town reps push local issues with ministers

Duane Hicks

Whether it was about funding or recycling, local delegates got a chance to speak with provincial representatives about issues pertinent to Fort Frances at the 2010 Ontario Good Roads Association/Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference Feb. 21-24 in Toronto.
Mayor Roy Avis attended, along with Couns. Ken Perry and Andrew Hallikas and Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig.
They met with Northern Development, Mines and Forestry minister Michael Gravelle regarding both the future of “Connecting Link” funding for Fort Frances and possible Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. dollars for upgrades at Sunny Cove Camp here.
Mayor Avis said they were told the “Connecting Link” funding is being reviewed by a committee, but got no other answer as to whether the town—or any other communities—will continue to get the funding, which pays for road projects on major highways.
For example, “Connecting Link” funding helped pay for the majority of the work on Central Avenue here in recent years.
But last year, the town did not get any money to reconstruct Scott Street from Reid Avenue to Colonization Road East, leaving council to wonder what’s going on.
“The ‘Connecting Link’ funding is for the main route in Fort Frances—King’s Highway, Colonization Road East, and Scott Street, and Central Avenue to the bridge,” Mayor Avis noted.
“That is the heaviest-travelled area in town, with the big trucks and tourist traffic,” he explained.
“That, generally, in the past has been funded at a 90/10 split—90 percent by the province—and by losing this funding, it’s a very, very big loss to the community,” the mayor stressed.
“If we had to convert that to taxation in order to do those roads, we would have a tremendous problem,” he warned.
The local delegates also met with Laura Albanese, parliamentary assistant to Tourism and Culture minister Michael Chan, regarding a Trillium Foundation grant for upgrades to Sunny Cove Camp.
“We wanted to know what our paths were to Trillium funding,” Mayor Avis said. “We sent in an application to that, and wanted to let them know this application got in and it’s a very critical area.
“In the future, it’s a facility we hope we can expand on,” the mayor noted. “By getting Trillium funding, it would make it [Sunny Cove] more accessible, under the Accessibility Act, and help us proceed in a positive manner.
“Right now, if we apply for grants, we might be able to get them and do much work at a time,” he added later.
“We’re not going and do all the repairs if we don’t get grants—we’re just going to make sure it stays the way it is, and operates the way it is.”
Meanwhile, an issue that rears its head every budget year—recycling—was brought before Environment minister John Gerretsen.
“We felt that one system doesn’t fit all for Ontario,” said Mayor Avis. “In Northwestern Ontario, our costs are higher because we have such long distances to travel.
“For us to ship a tonne of recyclables, it costs us $355.81. To put that waste in our landfill would only cost us $39.99,” he noted.
“We want to be good, corporate citizens,” the mayor stressed. “It’s not a requirement for any municipality under 15,000 citizens to recycle, and we have a landfill that has many years ahead of it.
“It could save the taxpayers a tremendous amount of dollars by not recycling, but I don’t believe that’s the right thing to do,” he reiterated.
“So we’re showing them how much more it costs to do this job in the north, in comparison to southern Ontario, and asking them [the province] for consideration in that respect.”
The delegates also got to speak to Aboriginal Affairs minister Chris Bentley about the Pither’s Point Park lease, which continues to be in negotiation, and then Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs minister Carol Mitchell about “Building Canada” funding.
“What’s happened there is all those project we’ve done in the last year, the ‘Building Canada’ fund projects, we’ve got approval for them but the money isn’t coming very fast,” Mayor Avis said.
“The government hasn’t been paying their bills,” he remarked. “We just wanted to bring it to their attention and say, ‘Hey, we have outstanding accounts, and if we’re going to spend that kind of money, we need to have our assistance get to us faster.
“Otherwise, we have an operating budget deficit and it costs us a lot of money to carry that.”
Referring to all these meetings last week, Mayor Avis conceded they were more of a chance to exchange information than anything else and did not necessarily yield definite answers.
In addition to various workshops, such as “This Could Be The Start of a Beautiful Friendship: Consulting with Aboriginal People” and “If You Build It, They Will Come: The Detroit River International Crossing,” the local delegates also attended quite a few plenary sessions in Toronto with speakers such as Globe and Mail national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson, Premier Dalton McGuinty, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, and Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak.
They also attended a ministerial forum (or “bear pit” session), where municipalities got to ask questions of the ministers in attendance.
It’s at times like those, said Mayor Avis, that it is clear rural municipalities in Ontario face many of the same problems.
“The biggest problem in all municipalities is infrastructure—your sewer and water, your roads, and where you’re going to get the funding to do that in the next few years,” he noted.
“That’s a major issue at the present time.
“If you look at Fort Frances, we’ve got some sewer and water systems that are in the ground that are up to 90 years old and it has to be changed, it has to be done,” the mayor stressed.
“When you do that, you have to do the roads, and you keep adding costs. It’s really, really hard,” Mayor Avis added.
“The future looks pretty bleak, to be honest with you,” he warned.