The Minister of Northern Development is defending the decision to sell Ontera in the wake of news Bell Aliant will eliminate about half of the jobs at the company when it takes over.

Ontera provides internet and telephone services for many northern communities and has a workforce of about 120 people.

Michael Gravelle wasn't available for an interview with CBC News, but during question period at Queen's Park, the minister had this to say about the Ontera deal:

“It's always extremely difficult when any discussions take place that result in any job losses, but this will ensure the longterm sustainability of the telecommunications side of the business.

“The fact is the decision on Ontera was a tough one. The fact is I think the private sector is far better to handle the future sustainability of the operation”

Gravelle also said the sale of Ontera will allow the government to focus on transportation needs the ONTC can fill.

The province announced this spring that it was moving ahead with the sale of Ontera, a division of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

It's chosen to keep the rest of the ONTC public. The Ontera sale to Bell Aliant is set to become final next month.

'We don't give up'

But some are vowing to fight the sale of Ontera.

At the home of Ontera’s head office, North Bay Mayor Al McDonald said the job losses are much higher than expected.

McDonald said he was told by government officials earlier this year that the Ontera sale would likely result in the loss of 20 to 30 jobs.

He's now calling for the sale to be reviewed by federal agencies.

“We don't give up. This fight has been going on for almost three years now,” he said.

“There [are] two options — it could be the competition bureau that we are looking at and also the CRTC.”

Bell Aliant has declined requests for an interview with CBC News and is not confirming the total number jobs that will be lost.

The union representing some Ontera workers says 42 of its members will lose their jobs.

An unspecified number of management positions will also be eliminated.