THUNDER BAY -- The Ontario Liberals are pledging to remove the strings attached to their $1 billion commitment to the Ring of Fire if re-elected, even if it means no matching contribution from the federal government.
The announcement, made by Leader Kathleen Wynne in Thunder Bay on Sunday during the unveiling of her party’s election campaign platform, was one of the cornerstones of the party’s plans to make progress on the lucrative mining project.
“Since we introduced the budget over three weeks ago there has been no indication from the federal government they are interested in stepping up and taking what I think is the responsibility to work with us and make a commitment to the Ring of Fire,” Wynne said.
“We have determined this is such an important investment we need to go ahead with or without the federal government.”
The funding, which was first introduced In the 2014 budget that was tabled on May 1 before being rejected by the New Democrats the next day, was contingent upon Ottawa forking up for infrastructure.
Wynne was greeted by a standing ovation when she announced the campaign promise to her crowd of supporters at the Valhalla Inn.
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The $1 billion, which is said to be accessible immediately, is targeted towards the construction of a main road corridor to the mineral deposit sites.
In addition to the funding, the freshly unveiled platform promises to establish a development corporation to spearhead the Ring of Fire within 60 days of re-election.
The development corporation, an entity that was first proposed last fall, would be composed of the provincial government, federal government, local communities, First Nations groups and private sector partners.
Thunder Bay-Superior North candidate Michael Gravelle insists the timing of the establishment of the corporation is as a result of progress made between various stakeholders rather than the calling of an election.
The former Minister of Mines and Northern Development cited the Regional Framework Agreement reached with the nine Matawa First Nations as an example of that progress.
“We’ve done some very significant work with the development corporation,” Gravelle said. “The fact is good work has been done with many, many meetings between the potential partners, industry, the province and First Nations and I feel we’re finally in a position to move forward.”
Wynne told her supporters she was “baffled” by the lack of any significant Ring of Fire related commitments from either Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak or New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath.
Horwath deflected questions pertaining to the Ring of Fire during her visit to the city early in the campaign.
For the most part, the platform devised by Wynne, who is in her first campaign as party leader, directly mirrors the proposed budget that triggered the election.
Describing that budget as the “fiscal framework” of the platform, the campaign blueprint intends to reintroduce the budget. It will contain no new spending or revenue than the one originally tabled in Queen’s Park.
Instead, the platform was described as providing specific directions of where previously announced funding would go.
It includes initiatives that were announced during the budget such as an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, the $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund and $29 billion for transportation infrastructure.
Within the plan is a pledge to four-lane Highway 11/17 between Thunder Bay and Nipigon, but when that would be completed remains up in the air.
“I’m not going to jump into exactly what the time frame would be but what I can tell you is that we know it’s one of the projects that is a priority and we will work to make it happen,” Wynne said.
Under the Liberal plan, total expenses for 2014 will be $130.4 billion, adding more than $11 billion to the province’s deficit.
The platform also reaffirms the party’s stated goal of balancing the provincial budget in 2017-2018.