A positive first step: Mayor AmarosoSaturday, December 07, 2013 by: Darren Taylor
Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Debbie Amaroso has returned from the Northern Leaders Forum in Timmins with confidence the Sault's voice, and that of the rest of Northern Ontario, is being heard by the provincial government.
Amaroso attended the Forum Friday with the Mayors of other large Northern cities and major Ontario government leaders, including Premier Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle, Sault MPP and Minister of Natural Resources David Orazietti and several other cabinet figures.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa was not in attendance, which prevented the Mayor from further communicating the Sault's desire to maintain Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) staffing levels in the community, as OLG undergoes its modernization process.
Nevertheless, "the Forum was a very positive first step," Amaroso told SooToday.com.
The Forum was the result of a call for such a conference to be held by the Mayors of Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Timmins and North Bay earlier this year.
Amaroso is pleased Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle has committed to meeting with Northern Mayors and key leaders of First Nations communities on a regular, quarterly basis regarding economic development in Northern Ontario.
"We talked about establishing really tight terms of reference and an agenda," Amaroso said.
"We'll be noting our successes, where we’ve made progress, and also where there are barriers to implementation of various projects that will help with the economic development of all of Northern Ontario."
Certainly, recent private sector issues pose a challenge to development of the Ring of Fire, something which Premier Wynne herself has taken up with the federal government.
Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Glen Murray was on hand for the Forum, and Amaroso said there were some positives to report regarding the Sault's infrastructure needs.
Amaroso told us: "He (Murray) talked about our multimodal strategy and where it’s at."
"They have finished their consultation process…they haven’t given a date as to when the actual strategy will be put into place, but I certainly will be following up with him on it."
"It’s moving along, and we should see something in 2015," Amaroso said.
Of great importance to Sault Ste. Marie’s infrastructure is the question of provincial funding for Connecting Links (24 kilometres of vital commercial roads that lead into, through, and out of the city).
The original funding formula for Sault Ste. Marie’s Connecting Links was abruptly discontinued by the province early this year, and replaced by a $100 million funding envelope known as the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative (MIII).
MIII however, is geared mainly toward smaller communities, but Amaroso said Murray promised more road funding for mid-sized communities like Sault Ste. Marie (50,000 to 125,000 people) will come.
"We don’t know the details yet, but we know the government has heard us," Amaraso said.
Amaroso added she had the opportunity to speak with Gravelle regarding various Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) applications the Sault has submitted to the province.
In particular, she reminded Gravelle of an application currently in to develop digital gaming in Sault Ste. Marie as OLG modernizes.
"It is clear to me and our table they are committed to the North, the cabinet and the Premier have visited the North…Northern Ontario will be recognized for what we have to offer the rest of the province."