Stops by Manitoulin Country Fest
LITTLE CURRENT—Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne stopped by Manitoulin Country Fest on Sunday, August 7 for an afternoon visit as part of an extensive tour of Northern communities she has embarked upon this summer. Starting her tour in Sudbury, where she landed at the airport, the premier travelled to Espanola, where she made a funding announcement at that community’s hospital and Whitefish River First Nation, where she toured that community’s Rainbow Lodge and met with Whitefish River First Nation Chief Shining Turtle at the foot of Dreamer’s Rock before heading onto the Island.
“I come to the North often,” said Premier Wynne, “but there are some places I haven’t been and we had planned for months to do a weeklong tour and that’s what I am doing now. I wanted to make sure that I got to some of the places I haven’t been before, Manitoulin is one of them. I am happy to have the opportunity to be here.”
Premier Wynne noted that while she was Minister of Transportation she had an opportunity to connect with “a number of the folks here where we talked about tourism. That was at a time when we were paving the shoulders of Highway 6 and it is interesting that issue came up today (Premier Wynne was greeted by members of the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates and was presented with a cycling jersey by the group).” Ms. Wynne said that she recognized the importance of tourism to communities like Manitoulin. “This tour is about connecting with people on what is going on in their communities,” she said, “what are the economic drivers that we need to be aware of at Queen’s Park and the things that we are doing that either support or undermine.”
“I am very aware of the transportation issues in Northern Ontario, I met this morning with the mayor of Espanola and we talked about the connecting link program, for example. We now have put in place a permanent connecting link fund and it has been increased to $30 million a year,” she said. “I knew about the need for that when I was transportation minister.” Premier Wynne said she recognized that small local communities do not have the funds to deal with the issue of connecting links and how important those links were to local economies.
“What I am trying to do is put in place those supports that really help the economy,” she said. “Making sure roads and bridges are maintained and where we need to widen them, making sure that we have a sensible and intermodal system. I think that in the North we have some challenges, particularly around intercity transportation. The regulations of coach lines is a part of that, so the minister of transportation is looking into that. I want to see an integrated plan for all of the North, not just the northeast or the northwest.”
On how First Nations relations are viewed around the cabinet table in making policy decisions, the premier said that consideration of the First Nation perspective “is an all-of-government priority. Every ministry has a responsibility to make sure that as their proposals go forward they are taking into consideration the impact on First Nations, Metis and, in some cases, Inuit where we establish a relationship with indigenous peoples in this province that is respectful and its impact on reconciliation because our history has not been a good one. It is our responsibility to do everything we can to work in collaboration with indigenous people and that’s what we are doing.”
The premier pointed out that the province has already put money into the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is working with the federal government and other provinces across the country on the issues behind murdered and missing indigenous women and putting money into communities for anti-violence programs and to support families.
“But beyond that, we are changing our school curriculum to reflect the true history of Ontario,” she said, “writing in our indigenous people. We haven’t educated ourselves that we are all treaty people. I think what it means is that there is trust building, that isn’t to say that it is done by any means, but there is more trust than there was a number of years ago.”
On the energy front and the pounding that her government, and her own personal popularity is taking, the premier said “what we recognize is that the changes that we made, the investments that we have made to the electricity system, to rebuild transmission lines and to ensure that we have a clean grid, you know we have a 90 percent carbon free grid in Ontario, there is a cost associated with that. We recognize that cost is a challenge for businesses and individuals, so we have put in place programs like the Ontario Energy Support Program, like the Northern Investment for Energy to help industry, Rural and Remote Energy Program for Northern communities and the Northern Ontario Energy Tax Credit, so we are trying to alleviate the challenges that some people face by putting those programs in place, and sometimes when the opposition gets going on they tie in climate change and cap and trade and we have been very clear that electricity prices will not go up as a result of cap and trade because we have, as they say, a virtually clean energy grid. So we are trying to make sure that the people who have the most challenges have the support that they need, but, I will say that I think that there is more that we have to do and my minister of energy, who is from Sudbury and who is very aware of those things like the distribution charge in the North, will be looking at those things and how we can find other things that we can do to mitigate the charges.”
“The reality is that we had to make those investments in the energy grid, those are infrastructure investments that had to be made,” she said, recalling the days when Ontario faced frequent brownouts. “The grid was not reliable and it had been neglected. So we made those investments. I will continue to work with my friend to see if there is more we can do (for those facing challenges meeting their energy bills).”
On the Ring of Fire, the premier said that “over the past couple of years the province has been working with the First Nations and the companies that have the claims to find a way to build infrastructure and to build some capacity among the Mattawa First Nations that are closest to the Ring of Fire so that they can share in the development, but, from my perspective, because commodity prices went down, there was a change in the timeline of the investments, but we had a billion dollars for investment for infrastructure for a couple of years now. We are going to be investing that money. I see now, is the economic development opportunity that is based on opening up that part of the province, based on creating linkages, we talked about transportation networks, there isn’t a transportation network for most of those units. What I want to see happen first? I want to see shovels in the ground, in terms of building, preparing, opening up roads that are going to allow for those communities, and that part of the province to be more accessible so that the Ring of Fire can be developed and other opportunities as well. The challenge right now is getting that infrastructure built.”
“I have a plan that I put forward and that we are implementing as a government, one of the important cornerstones of that plan is infrastructure investment. That means roads and bridges, that means infrastructure for the Ring of Fire, but it also means hospitals and schools. I was just in Espanola talking about health hubs and we are putting a couple of million dollars in a power project over the next couple of years, so we’re working on making those long term investments that will allow communities to thrive.”
“This is my first visit, I am so happy to be here, if I had more time I would love to do the cycling routes,” she said.
As to Manitoulin Country Fest, the premier commented on how wonderful it was to see its success after 10 years.
During her visit to the Manitoulin Country Fest grounds, the premier met with M’Chigeeng Chief Linda Debassige where they discussed the issues facing her community and received a welcome and small gift from Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin before heading out onto the grounds to meet and congratulate the volunteers, chat with the vendors and peruse their merchandise and meet with the country music fans enjoying local musicians performing on the last day of the festival.
The premier’s Northern tour official itinerary took her to Sudbury, Espanola, and Little Current (although there were some impromptu visits along the way, such as that at Whitefish River First Nation), Elliot Lake, Blind River, Sault Ste. Marie, Batchawana Bay, Wawa, Fort Frances, Emo, Dryden, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Moosonee, Moose Factory, North Bay, New Liskeard and Kirkland Lake.