Province winds down Ontario Northland Transportation Commission

The provincial government's effort to balance its budget is having a major impact on northern and northeastern Ontario.

Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci said commission was not on a sustainable 'financial path'

Sudbury MPP and Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci speaks during a press conference, as Ted Hargreaves, Ontario Northland Transportation Commission chair, looks on. (Martha Dillman/CBC)

The provincial government's effort to balance its budget is having a major impact on northern and northeastern Ontario.

It's winding down the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission. That means cancelling the Northlander train service between Toronto and Cochrane and replacing it with enhanced bus service that will be contracted out to other operators to service exisiting routes.

Ontario Northland Rail (CBC)

The Polar Bear express rail service will continue to receive government funding to keep operating.

The province also has plans to consolidate the ferry service between Moosenee and Moose Factory with other provincial services. Ferry service between Moosonee and Moose Factory will be contracted to a company based out of Owen Sound.

Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci said the changes have come as a result of a poor business model.

"No government in recent memory has worked harder than ours to make the ONTC viable," Bartolucci said. "We've made significant investments in the ONTC since 2003, but the organization is not on a sustainable financial path."

Barolucci pointed out that, over the years, government subsidies — to the tune of $439 million —  have been steadily increasing, but ridership has been stagnant.

Bartolucci noted there will be no immediate changes for ONTC service or its employees. While he said he's confident a buyer can be found, he said he’s not sure how many jobs could be impacted.

Members of the opposition have slammed the province’s decision to sell the ONTC.

France Gelinas, MPP for Nickel Belt, said the profitable parts of the company will likely be sold first.

"But once you have sold away the one that makes money, what are you left with … A whole bunch of little communities that won't have service any more," Gelinas said. "Do they all want us to move to Toronto so we can all hop on the subway? Say it now — because this is what it looks like to me. It looks like we're turning our back on the north."

Gelinas said the ONTC is a strategic asset that needs to be supported by government. She added that she understands the province needs to balance the budget, but said it shouldn't be done on the backs of the people of northern Ontario.

There are currently about 966 employees who work with ONTC.

Buildings to be sold

The government is also going to sell off buildings it now owns in Sudbury, North Bay and Thunder Bay among other centres.

In Sudbury, it's 159 Cedar Street — best known as the headquarters for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.

The provincial building at 200 First Avenue West in North Bay, formerly the head office for the Ministry of Corrections, is also being sold.

The sale is expected to generate about $500 million for the province.  The province will lease back the space which should save another $300 million over the next 25 to 30 years.