Gravelle pledges to help town
While no details are being discussed openly at this juncture, the Town of Fort Frances has presented Northern Development and Mines minister Michael Gravelle with a priorized list of “shelf-ready” projects to help out the municipality in this time of need.
Gravelle met with mayor and council, as well as administration and economic development staff, here last Thursday afternoon to discuss how the province might be able to provide funding to the town.
“When something as dramatic happens as a major employer making the kind of announcement that Resolute did, although we are certainly hopeful of a re-positioning of the mill and certainly we want to work with Resolute in whatever fashion we can to help that happen, we’re also conscious that the impact this has on a community is profound,” he added.
Gravelle said his ministry has some ability to provide some assistance to the community, and he’s pleased to see the town has strategic plans in place for various projects.
“There are specific applications that are going forward,” he noted.
“We’re not yet in a position to make the announcements,” Gravelle conceded. “I will look forward to doing that very soon.
“We’re going to be working very closely with your administration on a couple of programs that we think will be helpful, and some other projects that will require me, as the minister of northern development, to go back and work with my colleagues to seek their support, as well,” he remarked.
Gravelle said he was in town with the strong support of Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is “very, very keen” to be sure Mayor Roy Avis understands the Liberal government is behind Fort Frances as this difficult time.
“It’s important for us to find a way to support you,” he stressed.
“Our ministry is actually uniquely positioned, perhaps, to do that, and we’re looking forward to being here for you.
“Our ministry staff [is] there for you. You and I are just a phone call away,” Gravelle told Mayor Avis.
“There’s some significant follow-up that’s going to happen as a result of today’s meeting, and I appreciate the insights I got today,” he added.
“They will be very helpful in terms of providing some of that help in the future.”
Gravelle said Fort Frances always has been one of his favourite communities.
“It’s so beautiful,” he remarked. “But you’re a strong community, too. You’re a resilient community.
“There have been challenges before and you’re fighting your way through it.
“Your chins are up, and certainly I’ll be with you all the way,” he pledged.
“We’d really like to thank the Wynne government for the support that they’ve given us through the troubled times we’ve had as a community,” said Mayor Avis.
He noted that immediately after the most recent mill announcement back in January, he was contacted by Natural Resources minister David Orazietti and Gravelle.
Mayor Avis said Gravelle spent an hour with council last Thursday to talk about what has happened, what is happening and what will happen in the future, as well as how the province could help the town out.
The town gave Gravelle a priorized list of “shelf-ready” programs, and is hoping it can secure funding for them and proceed, said Mayor Avis.
“To do them on our own, right now, would be impossible financially,” he noted.
“But if we have some assistance from . . . the minister of Northern Development Mines, I think some of them could become a reality.
“We know we have to do some changes as we move forward,” Mayor Avis later added.
“This closure of the mill has affected every family in the community, and I have to thank Minister Gravelle for the support he’s given us there.
“But moving forward, I think we’re going to have to re-identify ourselves and actually, right now, we’ve been working on a brand,” Mayor Avis noted.
“It’s almost ready to be brought forward to the public.
“We want to re-identify ourselves, go forward, and try to re-position ourselves in the world economy,” he explained.
While Gravelle could not be specific about what he, council, economic developers, and administration spoke about during last Thursday’s meeting, he did say he was sure the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. has the ability to be “flexible for communities under economic challenges.”
When asked about the now-vacant Ontario Travel Information Centre here, Gravelle replied he and council spoke about tourism, including some information he wasn’t aware of, that will help him do follow-up in terms of discussions regarding the OTIC and other tourism-related matters.
While Gravelle noted the “Ring of Fire” mining development has gotten a good deal of the spotlight, he said his ministry is working on other projects, including the New Gold one here in Rainy River District.
“We share the excitement for the economic development activities this brings,” he remarked.