Budget, NOMA among League conference topics

·4 min read

Thunder Bay, Ont. — The Ontario government’s budget presented on Thursday was the hot topic during the second day of the Thunder Bay District Municipal League conference Friday at the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel.

Thunder Bay-Atikokan Progressive Conservative MPP Kevin Holland opened up the afternoon session touting the “all-Ontario budget” with a record $204.7 billion economic bar set by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government.

Holland spoke on the monies being doled out for highway safety, highway expansion, health/long term care, the mining sector, infrastructure, transit and education.

O’Connor Township Mayor Jim Vezina posed a question to Holland regarding the standards of highways in Northwestern Ontario, especially with the rapid rate of driving fatalities that happen in the region.

“You know full well that in our municipalities, a classified highway the standards are lower when you have to clean the snow off the roads and our roads are snow packed,” said Holland, who was mayor of Conmee Township from 1997 to 2022. “That’s just the reality of it.

“We are looking at those other series highways like the 500 series highways . . . in your community to determine whether the standards are adequate and we’re going to look at improving those standards. We started with Highway 11-17 and that’s what we implemented with my private members’ motion is increasing the bare pavement standard on that class of highway. We are continuing to look at the different standards of the other series highways in the province and determining what we have to go to if we’re going to change the laws. It’s an ongoing process, but it is being looked at.”

Holland also announced Friday that $14.7 million over the next two years will go towards a collaborative effort between Lakehead University and the University of Guelph for a veterinary sciences initiative starting in 2024-25 that would see 20 Northern Ontario students accepted into the program in an effort to bolster rural northern communities veterinary services.

The Progressive Conservative MPP was followed to the microphone by Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski and Thunder Bay-Superior North NDP MPP Lise Vaugeois with the latter voicing her party’s line against the budget.

Municipality of Shuniah Mayor and Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association president Wendy Landry updated the 83 municipal leaders on NOMA’s inner workings recently.

“If you ever find yourself thinking, ‘What does NOMA do for us?’, give me a call, give any one of us a call because I’ll tell you at the (Memorandum of Understanding) committee, even though we have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, l’ll tell you that we get to see legislation before it becomes legislation,” Landry said. “And I can — more times than one — tell you when I’ve seen the changes when that legislation has come through . . . NOMA does have a voice at the table.

“. . . I’ll give you a really good example. Lately, on the watercraft proposed legislation from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, there was one little line in the language that indicated potentially camping on Crown land could be reduced from 21 days to seven. I didn’t catch it. (Shuniah Coun. Donna Blunt) brought it to my attention.

“I brought it to NOMA. I texted Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Graydon Smith. He phoned me and he goes ’What are you talking about?’ So I pointed it out to him and he said ‘I don’t know what that means either.’ So we brought it to everyone’s attention and, guess what, it’s gone. It’s not in there anymore.

“. . . Can you imagine if they reduced 21 days camping to seven? Guess what, all your hunters and all your fishermen that are coming to your communities in the summer and fall - they’re not coming for seven days.”

Besides Landry, NOMA executive vice-president Fred Mota (Red Lake) and vice-presidents Rick Dumas (Marathon), Kevin Kahoot (Red Lake), Kristen Oliver (Thunder Bay) and Doug Hartnell (Dawson) make up the executive board with new board members Vezina, Mark Figliomeni (Red Rock), Eric Pietsch (Geraldton), City of Thunder Bay manager Norm Gale and City of Thunder Bay Mayor Ken Boshcoff voted in Thursday.

Presentations were also given Friday by Gary Ferguson (Salvation Army Journey to Life Centre), Shane Muir (Superior North Emergency Medical Services), Bill Bradica (District of Thunder Bay Social Services), Dr. Janet DeMille (Thunder Bay District Health Unit), Bill Groenheide (Ontario Federation of Agriculture), Wendy Landry (Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association), Paul Capon (Matawa First Nation) and Gary Christian (North Superior Workforce Planning Board).

John Nagy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal