MPP Mantha gives failing grade to government’s Northern Ontario transportation plan

MANITOULIN – Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha gives the provincial government a failing grade on its transportation plan for Northern Ontario.

“It’s frustrating. In the entire report there are five sentences on programs in it, and of this only two sentences relate to road maintenance, notably winter road maintenance. This government is not addressing the condition of roads in Northern Ontario. They get a very big F for this report,” stated Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha. 

“What a disappointment,” stated MPP Mantha. “When you see the government’s lack of concern for Northern Ontario. Yes, we welcome infrastructure funding; however, except for three new rest stations, they failed to recognize or prioritize access to services like driver testing, fail to recognize winter maintenance and the impact of bad roads on Northern Ontario, and failed to provide needed funds toward winter road equipment, and roads being sanded and plowed properly.”

An NDP release last week noted that Premier Doug Ford’s Northern transportation re-announcement last Thursday failed to address northern transportation concerns.

Jennifer French, NDP transportation and highways critic, and Northern NDP MPPs Michael Mantha (Algoma-Manitoulin), Judith Monteith-Farrell (Thunder Bay-Atikokan), Sol Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong), Guy Bourgouin (Mushkegowuk-James Bay), France Gelinas (Nickel Belt), John Vanthof (Timiskaming-Cochrane), Gilles Bisson (Timmins) and Jamie West (Sudbury) jointly released a statement.

“Doug Ford has shown today that he is choosing not to connect Northern communities or to address critical winter road maintenance. That means this winter, the lives of Northerners and their families are at risk when they take to the highways and roads that the Ford government has failed to make sure. Small Northern towns still do not have bus service and residents who have to travel to medical appointments still have to pay out of pocket to stay overnight in other communities.”

“Under Doug Ford, trucking insurance costs are putting northern businesses and jobs at risk, drive test services have been chopped down across Northern Ontario, and the vast portion of Highways 11, 17 and 69 will remain two-lane in spite of the increasing traffic volumes in the region,” the statement notes. “The Ford government provided nothing new for fly-in communities that depend on northern airports which are lifelines in the Far North,” the statement continues. “The Ford government’s re-announcements have no targets, service standards, timelines or any way to measure progress. There has been no progress towards restoring the Northlander rail service, and there is no clear plan to address remaining gaps in intercity service in the Northwest.”

“What was announced by the government is very disappointing,” MPP Mantha told the Recorder. “What they announced is not even worthy of being called a plan. For instance, we know the recommendation and study for the Little Current Swing Bridge will be completed, but what they haven’t announced is the funds to replace the bridge, nor anything for passenger rail, or bus routes in Northern Ontario. 

“I read the report and except for a couple of new port-a-potties on the side of highways, there is nothing new in it,” said MPP Mantha. 

A government release notes the draft transportation plan for Northern Ontario delivers on its commitment to build a better transportation network for the region. The plan outlines more than 60 actions to expand highways and transit services, create Northern economic opportunities, keep people safe and provide reliable travel options for remote and First Nation communities.

“Northern Ontario has unique transportation needs and this draft plan will make real improvements to transportation in the region,” said Caroline Mulroney, minister of Transportation. “Our plan will help create a well-connected transportation network for the North to make it easier for people to get to critical services like health care, while supporting more well-paid jobs through investments in infrastructure.”

The plan includes improvements to rest areas, expanding bus service and moving forward with highway widening projects on key corridors in the region, such as Highway 11/17. It also includes actions to make further progress on our plans for passenger rail service in the North, said Ms. Mulroney. 

“Our government is proud to deliver a tailored transportation plan that recognizes the unique needs of our vast region to support Northern families, Indigenous communities and businesses,” said Greg Rickford, minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines. “This is part of our government’s plan to promote economic recovery across the North and build a modern, connected transportation network that brings opportunities to the hardworking people of Northern Ontario.”

The provincial release notes the draft transportation plan is a living document that will continue to evolve. The province will work closely with the federal government, municipalities, Indigenous communities and organizations, transportation agencies and local businesses to gather input and feedback on the plan.

The plan highlight includes for Northeastern Ontario, continuing to advance design work and construction for the widening of Highway 69 from two to four lanes; continue to move forward on plans for passenger rail services; completing the planning, preliminary design and environmental assessment for the Little Current Swing Bridge on Highway 6 by fall 2021; building three new rest areas in addition to the two rest areas that will undergo repairs or expansion in Northeastern Ontario; support local public transportation services in the north and increase overall ridership through Ontario’s Gas Tax program.