Telling the Ontario government what we needFriday, December 13, 2013 by: Darren Taylor
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa was scheduled to appear in Sault Ste. Marie Friday morning, but his plane was unable to land at the Sault Airport due to Thursday night’s fierce winter weather conditions.
Not to worry.
Sousa, now conducting Ontario government pre-budget consultation meetings across the province, was able to speak with Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Debbie Amaroso (pictured) and several community stakeholders from Toronto by teleconference at the Delta Sault Ste. Marie Waterfront Hotel Friday morning.
Amaroso was the first of several stakeholders to address Sousa with a reminder of Sault Ste. Marie’s needs at Friday’s event.
Also present were representatives of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (SSMEDC), United Steelworkers Local 2251, City of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services, Algoma Public Health, Children’s Aid Society of Algoma, Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC) and other entities with priorities and concerns, each waiting to see what Sousa will deliver in his spring 2014 budget.
Sousa, in his opening remarks, said Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government is taking a three-pronged approach to the 2014 budget, emphasizing the need for pension security (for Essar Steel Algoma retirees, for example, with pension security an issue he plans to bring to the federal government’s attention), sustainable, predictable infrastructure funding for roads, bridges and transit, as well as creating an environment dedicated to helping businesses grow in terms of hiring people and upgrading technology.
Sousa also promised continued support for healthcare, postsecondary education and training.
Mayor Amaroso, in addressing Sousa, acknowledged that while the issue of retaining (and perhaps adding more) Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) jobs in Sault Ste. Marie as OLG goes through its modernization process is a “non-budget item,” emphasized “the importance of making sure Sault Ste. Marie’s employment base remains strong and I look forward to continued discussions with yourself and OLG Chair Philip Olsson on the OLG jobs issue.”
Sousa replied that Olsson is aware of Sault Ste. Marie’s interest in OLG jobs.
“The OLG head office will remain in Sault Ste. Marie,” Sousa stated.
Amaroso reminded Sousa of the need for new provincial funding for the community’s Connecting Links (24.9 kilometres of vital commercial roads that lead into, across and out of Sault Ste. Marie).
Under the Connecting Link Funding Program, an annual grant covered 75 percent of construction and engineering costs for Sault Ste. Marie’s vital commercial links.
That funding envelope was cut off with little notice early this year, and though a new funding envelope designed to help smaller, rural communities with their roads was introduced, Amaroso urged Sousa to get on with road funding for communities, such as Sault Ste. Marie, in the 50,000 to 125,000 population grouping.
“One of the other things I need to mention is NOHFC (Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation) funding,” Amaroso told Sousa.
“That fund is essential for our economic development,” the Mayor stated.
Amaroso also pointed out to Sousa that Sault Ste. Marie Public Library staff have indicated concern that their operating grants have not increased since 2000, and called for added government investment into new technology for Sault Ste. Marie’s library branches in order to provide modern services for patrons.
Amaroso drew attention to the need for government assistance to address the damage caused to the community by September’s heavy rain and resulting flooding.
“We are looking to the province for assistance for mapping the Root River.”
“There are significant changes because of the flooding we experienced, and it would give residents great peace of mind if we could remap the area, and make sure we’re doing proper diversion so their homes are safe.”
“Some individuals lost their complete homes, not just their basements, it was devastating for those people, and they have seen erosion like they’ve never seen before,” Amaroso told Sousa.
To that, Sault Ste. Marie MPP and Minister of Natural Resources David Orazietti, in attendance Friday, assured Amaroso after the teleconference that necessary orthophotography (aerial photography) of the Root River area will be carried out in 2014, instead of 2017 as originally planned.
The Mayor also told Sousa: “We ask you to entertain the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) issue once again.”
Sault Ste. Marie learned in November OMPF funding will be down by nearly $1 million in 2014, to $17.2 million.
Sousa did not make any commitments to Sault Ste. Marie at this point, but Amaroso clearly outlined the community’s concerns.
The governing Liberals, despite the concerns brought to Sousa by Amaroso and all other Mayors in Ontario during the pre-budget consultation process, will have to ensure the spring 2014 budget meets demands from the opposition parties in the Legislature, as Premier Kathleen Wynne presides over a minority government.
Sousa’s 2013 budget made several spending commitments, largely to appease the NDP, in order to avoid a provincial election.
Speaking to reporters, Amaroso said: “The government is in a really difficult position, there’s no doubt about that, but our job as a municipality is to make sure our needs are represented and that’s what I tried to do today.”
“Hopefully our needs mesh with all of the electorate.”