Statement from Rick Bartolucci Minister of Northern Development and Mines
Ontario Northland Transportation Commission Announcement
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Thank you Ron [teleconference moderator Ron St. Louis, MNDM Communications Services Branch Senior Manager]. Good morning everyone.
My goal for today is to reach out to as many of you as possible whose communities have direct interest in this announcement, and give everyone an equal opportunity to hear first-hand the news I bring to you today.
I am extremely pleased that Ontario Northland Transportation Commission - the ONTC -- Board Chair Ted Hargreaves has joined us today. Ted will be saying a few words as well.
I have incredible respect for Ted. His leadership, vision and understanding of northeastern Ontario, positive attitude and insight are invaluable to me, and I know that moving forward, his unique expertise will bode well for the future of transportation services in our region.
I also want to acknowledge the work and leadership of Ontario Northland CEO Paul Goulet. I want to thank him and all employees of the organization for the level of service they have strived to deliver to northerners and to other clients.
Before I begin I would like to let you know that staff will be distributing copies of this statement to you.
In what has been a very carefully thought out, and for me, an extremely difficult decision, I am informing you today that the government will move forward with the divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.
Given the magnitude of this announcement I felt it important to clearly share the facts with you regarding the basis of this decision.
After trying diligently without success, since 2003, to help the ONTC become sustainable, financial realities have forced us to make this decision.
No government has tried harder than ours to support the ONTC. Since 2003 we have provided a total of $439 million.
The fact is, while the business is good, the business model is not.
Stagnant ridership, along with the ONTC's unsustainable financial path, are key factors in today's announcement.
- Revenues have declined since 2003 while subsidies have increased sharply as government funding to the ONTC has increased by 274 per cent.
- The ONTC has not lived within its allocation in any year since 2003-04. The average government subsidy has been 61 per cent higher than budgeted.
- In addition, since 2005, ONTC's sales revenues have declined from $140 million to just over $100 million.
The McGuinty government is taking this action to ensure that northeastern Ontario benefits from a sustainable, effective transportation system by finding new providers for services currently operated by the ONTC.
Having said that, we are deeply sensitive to the uncertainty this decision will create in the short term for affected workers. I would like to assure them - as well as the residents of communities served by the ONTC - that the government is committed to completing this process in a fair manner, and that it will be business as usual while this divestment takes places.
As we begin the process, the current ONTC board has been dissolved, and a new board, of which Ted kindly agreed to stay on as Chair, has been appointed with a mandate to execute the divestment process.
I want to emphasize that this decision is in no way a judgment on the leadership and dedicated public service which the current board members have provided.
Rather, the appointing of a new board reflects the need for directors with the specialized expertise to oversee the transition and divestment process, as well as the ongoing interim operations of the agency.
I want to thank the board members for their years of public service.
Mr. Hargreaves will be joined on the interim board by the new members, who are listed in the backgrounder which has been provided to you.
In addition, I am pleased that Paul Goulet will stay on in his role as Ontario Northland president and CEO.
This team of seasoned public sector executives will focus on a mandate to develop a new model to provide support for essential transportation services.
Let me emphasize again that there will be no immediate change to any ONTC services while redeployment options are explored.
We understand that workers and residents in communities along the ONTC transportation services corridor will have concerns and questions.
The first thing on many peoples' minds will be jobs.
Clearly, it's too early in the process for us to provide details about how many jobs will be lost or gained or in what ways.
There are 966 jobs that will be impacted and this will be mitigated to a certain extent by the number of workers eligible for early retirement. It's also reasonable to expect that many jobs can be maintained under new operators, and the possibility of new jobs being created is not out of the question.
I want to assure ONTC employees that the government is committed to working closely with them, and to providing them with comprehensive and transparent information as this process proceeds. We will provide full details as they become available.
In addition, the government will do what it takes over the long-term to ensure that vital passenger and freight transportation services are maintained, especially for isolated communities where no alternatives exist.
For example, Polar Bear Express train service between Cochrane and Moosonee will continue to operate, with the necessary government subsidies. In addition, the Niska I ferry assets will be transferred to the Owen Sound Transportation Company, which currently operates the Moosonee ferry service under a management contract. No change will occur there.
As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the toughest decisions we have had to make as a government.
We've had to balance our awareness of the impact of this decision on northerners in the short term while exploring viable, alternatives that ensure better service where it is needed, and good, sustainable jobs. I know we will build a stronger future with exciting opportunities as new private sector businesses make use of the very valuable assets and the very valuable employees currently working at ONTC.
And now, before we turn things back over to our moderator, I would like to invite Ted to say a few words.