THUNDER BAY -- Michael Gravelle does not want to see the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines rolled into the Ministry of Natural Resources.
But that’s precisely what will happen if the Progressive Conservatives under Tim Hudak are elected to office on June 12, the Liberal candidate in Thunder Bay-Superior North warned.
Gravelle, who held the Northern Development and Mines portfolio before the writ was dropped, said it shows the PCs don’t understand the importance of a standalone ministry for Northern Ontario.
It also shows a failure to understand the complexities of the MNR, he added.
“For the Conservatives to talk about putting those two ministries together, that is not about making a stronger representation of Northern Ontario,” Gravelle said. “It’s about reducing the effectiveness of our cabinet presence.”
The MNR has province-wide responsibilities and the North cannot afford to have its voice reduced or diluted, he went on to say.
“We are absolutely committed, as the premier has said, Northern Development and Mines and Natural Resources will remain ministries within our government if we are elected. I am, quite frankly, appalled that the Conservatives would even suggest that this is a way to make northern ministries stronger.”
Thunder Bay-Atikokan PC candidate Harold Wilson said the trouble with a standalone ministry is ultimately it becomes the final decision-maker.
“You want to have people working there that understand the regulations and understand what has to be done to make sure things are sustainable. But if they’re the final decision-makers, you’re never going to get anything to happen,” Wilson said.
He pointed to lengthy delays in the approval process on a number of projects as an example of the bureaucratic red tape created by a bloated cabinet.
“We really need to have them as one ministry where people are directed to put in place the proper protocols so we’re doing things right and efficiently. But they can’t end up being a hindrance and just saying no all the time.”
NDP candidate Andrew Foulds, hoping to unseat Gravelle, said his party thinks too much of Northern Ontario to ever let the two ministries consolidate.
“The New Democrats are committed to all northerners. Their voices will be heard at the cabinet table. I think given all the opportunities, having a Ministry of Northern Development and Mines is critical and we are committed to that,” Foulds said.
The NDP would go one step further, he added, saying they’ll establish a standing committee for the North and give all regional MPPs a voice in the decision-making process.
“We respect the North. These kinds of things that are coming out I think would be very damaging to the North,” he said.
John Northey, the Green Party candidate in Thunder Bay-Atikokan, said he’s concerned to hear the two ministries might become one.
“Right now we have the Ring of Fire occurring and it doesn’t seem like the right time to merge those two together, if it ever is a good idea to do so. With the amount of work that will be coming through there, mixing it into a different department doesn’t seem like the wisest move.”
His south-side Green Party colleague, Joseph LeBlanc, said he'd rather say a major shift in policy, with more say in the North, by the North.
"I'd prefer to discss switching to a regional government model," he said.
Thunder Bay-Superior North Libertarian candidate Tamara Johnson was asked for her input, but chose not to comment.