Saturday, 6 January, 2001

    Task force asks province to stop ONTC privatization

    An emergency task force for the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association (NEOMA) is requesting a stop to the first two phases of privatization of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC).

    The task force drafted a resolution requesting a moratorium to Phases 1 and 2 in order for the municipalities of Northeastern Ontario to examine how the ONTC can be re-invented during the groups first meeting in Cochrane Friday.

    The task force is reinforcing a resolution from the Mayors Action Group in December by asking for an immediate halt to any of the proposed divestitures of the ONTC until such time as the municipalities have had a chance to re-invent the ONTC and look at options in order to save the ONTC, said Reynald Brisson, Cochrane town councillor and chairman of the NEOMA emergency task force.

    Phases 1 and 2 include the divestment of ONTelcom, the Cochrane Station Inn, rail freight services and seeking an alternative delivery agent for the Northlander, Little Bear and Polar Bear Express passenger rail services.

    Phase 1 was to commence in December, when it was announced by Northern Development and Mines Minister Tim Hudak, and Phase 2 is scheduled to commence in the summer of 2001.

    A group of mayors from Hearst, Iroquois Falls, Smooth Rock Falls and Englehart, as well as Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP David Ramsay, and members of Ontario Northlands general chairpersons association joined the task force for its first meeting, during which they asked that the resolution be forwarded to the Mayors Action Group and all northern municipalities.

    Were going to try to send it from Hearst right up to North Bay, Brisson said.

    The resolution will also be forwarded to Hudak, Mike Harris, Premier of Ontario, and provincial and federal members of parliament.

    The municipalities need time to look at alternatives to the demise of ONTC, and hopefully, we will come up with solutions that will be affordable and economical for the whole region, Brisson said about the reasoning behind the resolution drafted during Fridays meeting.

    I worked with the group in helping develop and focus for our thoughts through a resolution, and this resolution will be sent today to Premier Harris in advance of his meeting with the workers (of ONTC) on Monday in North Bay, said Ramsay, who was invited to attend Fridays meeting by the task force.

    At the moment, our goal is to keep the organization whole and not have it broken up in order to give us time to develop a restructuring plan for the ONTC that would better serve the needs of the northeast corridor, Ramsay added.

    We would probably need at least six months, I would think to pull representatives of the Northeastern Ontario municipalities together . . . and we would need to hire some professional help to see how best ownership should be changed in it (ONTC) and how management should be changed, he said.

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