The new town council is lauding the rapport it has had with local MPP Greg Rickford so far—and looks forward to a continued dialogue with him on a regular basis.
At Monday night's council meeting, Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft reported that he, Coun. Michael Behan, Fort Frances CAO Doug Brown, and economic development consultant Tannis Drysdale met with Rickford for about an hour at his constituency office here last Thursday to discuss a variety of items, including “Connecting Link” funding to repair local roads and the future of the local mill.
“Mr. Rickford, I've got to say, was very well-informed and on top of the situations, as well as the other situations in our brief,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft said of Rickford, who not only represents the riding but oversees three portfolios as the minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Indigenous Affairs.
“He was very receptive to meeting with us on a regular basis at his office here in Fort Frances,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft added.
“How great is it we have a minister right now that's willing to come here and meet with us an hour at a time, rather than us spending thousands of dollars to send a delegation to Toronto to meet with him and maybe one or two other ministers for maybe 10 minutes?” he asked rhetorically.
“It's great to have a minister that's in our corner and on top of everything that we have concerns about.”
Coun. Behan said he found last Thursday's meeting to be “very productive and frank, and invaluable in bringing several key issues to his attention directly, starting with the future of the mill here in Fort Frances.”
“I can ensure the public that Mr. Rickford is fully versed on this issue,” he pledged.
Coun. Behan also noted the railway taxation issue also is at the top of Rickford's pile.
“I came away with the distinct impression he's on our side regarding this matter,” he remarked.
Coun. Behan said he cannot understate how important this level of access is.
“For the first time in almost 25 years, when Howard Hampton was a member of the Bob Rae government from 1990-95, our local MPP not only sits on the government benches but has a seat at the cabinet table [and] with not one, not two but three portfolios,” he remarked.
Coun. Behan pointed out it was Rickford who let administration and the new council know he wants to meet with them on a regular basis at his constituency office right here in Fort Frances.
“He also made it clear the town could 'pick up the phone' and call him at any time," Coun. Behan added. ”That's what I call having a direct channel to cabinet and the decision-makers of the provincial government.
“Frankly, you could not put a price tag on this type of invaluable access. It literally is priceless," he reiterated. "And equally important, it simply involved getting to his office here on Scott Street.”
Coun. Behan also stressed this is just one avenue council and administration is pursuing.
“For instance, some of the Fort Frances delegation attending the RRDMA's annual general meeting Jan. 19 in Stratton met with Minister Rickford on the side regarding the possible purchase and restart of the mill here,” he noted.
“As well, a subcommittee of council, which includes Mayor Caul and Couns. [Andrew] Hallikas, [Douglas] Judson, and [John] McTaggart, has been in daily communication with one another, with administrative staff, and various external parties and officials on this file to work on ways to facilitate a sale and transition to operating status for the Fort Frances mill.”
Coun. Behan said this has included creating a website—OurForestOurFuture.com—as well as writing letters to various ministers at both the federal and provincial level, including Rickford.
Beyond that, Mayor Caul and Mr. Brown travelled to Dryden on Jan. 21 to make a submission to the pre-budget consultation held there.
As well, Couns. Wendy Brunetta and Hallikas were in Thunder Bay last week to make a similar submission directly to Finance minister Vic Fedeli.
“While I cannot promise any or all of our efforts ultimately will prove successful at the end of the day, I do want to reassure residents that your council and administration has been extremely diligent and proactive over these past several weeks in ensuring our community's needs and concerns are delivered to—and heard at—the highest level of the provincial government,” Coun. Behan concluded.