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Local elected leaders hopeful Sault will reopen soon

Complex tax issues will remain for city after COVID-19, mayor says
20200508-Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano-DT
Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano, Sault MPP Ross Romano and Sault MP Terry Sheehan took part in another Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce virtual town hall Friday, the three leaders agreeing there’s a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, at least in an economic sense, for the community. 

“The conversation really has to shift from ‘when will we reopen’ to ‘how will we reopen,’” Provenzano said.

“We can (in Algoma) but we need to do it safely,” Provenzano said, stating people must continue to be mindful of things such as social distancing and wearing non-surgical masks in tighter spaces such as grocery store aisles.

Ontario leaders have spoken of the possibility of reopening the province from COVID-19 shutdown, economically and otherwise, on a region by region basis.

MPP Ross Romano said “we’re looking at it in a very community-based way...I think we have a very good argument for (reopening) Sault Ste. Marie. I think our community’s been working exceptionally hard to keep the numbers down, to flatten the curve.”

“I hope we’ll have some really good news in the near future,” Romano said, pleased the province opened up lodges, cabins and B and Bs as of 12:01 a.m. Friday. 

Romano said he hopes the province will soon have an announcement to make regarding reopening of private campgrounds.

Romano also said the province is working to reinstate 90 days worth of prescription medications to pharmacies and patients who need them, as well as working to maintain health and safety in long term care homes.

A 30-day limit on prescriptions was imposed by the Ontario government in the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days in an effort to prevent drug shortages.

MP Terry Sheehan reminded Chamber members of the various forms of financial assistance Saultites have received from the federal government throughout the COVID crisis, including Thursday’s announcement of one-time payments of up to $500 in early July for seniors to help with groceries, transportation and prescription costs.  

That one-time payment will help over 6 million older Canadians.

Of the overall COVID situation and hopes of a post-COVID economic recovery, Sheehan said “I think it’s going to be better soon. I can't tell you when, but let’s get ready for it.”

Speaking to SooToday after Friday morning’s virtual town hall, Sheehan enthused over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of a $14-billion 'safe restart agreement' for the economy which will be placed before premiers for consideration. 

The federal proposal includes funding for personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and businesses, in addition, to support for child care, seniors, cities and municipalities.

Sheehan said he is eager to work with the tourism sector to promote the Sault as a tourist destination for people from other northern Ontario communities who would normally spend their tourism dollars in the northern U.S., not currently possible due to the Canada-U.S. border still shut to non-essential travel.

Looking toward a post-COVID era, and answering questions posed by Chamber members, Provenzano said the city is dealing with the complex issue of providing services (some of them, such as Police and Fire Services, quite costly) without a growing tax base.

“We want to see assessment growth. I’m hoping we will. I don’t think it’ll pay off in this council term, but I think it’ll pay off in the next council term. I’m really hopeful we can move forward with the project we’ve got with the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Authority down on the Gateway site. That would represent a significant increase in assessment, and there are a couple of other projects that are being developed and being looked at that would represent an increase in assessment,” Provenzano said.