Last Thursday’s throne speech is “very good news” for Northern Ontario, the minister of Northern Development and Mines told the Times last week.
With a proposed 20 percent reduction in income tax and a further 20 percent cut to the provincial portion of residential taxes, Tim Hudak added northerners will keep more money in their pockets instead of it going to the government coffers in Toronto.
“And if they spend the money in Fort Frances [and surrounding district], it sparks the economy and creates new jobs,” he noted.
Another economy boost is the government’s continued commitment to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, which Hudak said invested about $600 million into the north--creating about 7,000 jobs.
“The throne speech recognizes the north is losing its young people to southern Ontario,” he remarked. “The throne speech wants to continue to create economic growth and job creation and help reverse that out-migration problem with the youth.”
Hudak also said he wanted to see the north get its “fair share” of the so-called SuperBuild Growth Fund--a $20 billion fund which the government has set aside to be partnered with money from the private sector for infrastructure projects such as hospitals, highways, technology links, and educational facilities.
“Infrastructure plays a major role with the northern economy,” he stressed. “Bring information highways into the north, it will have an impact on job creation.
“I think it’s the investment in infrastructure--whether that’s the Heritage Fund, which is a special program for the north, or opportunities from the SuperBuild Growth Fund--will help the north be competitive in the 21st century,” he argued.
Lower gas prices and protecting the right to hunt and fish are other issues Hudak said last week’s throne speech addressed, not to mention a greater emphasis on tourism.
Greater than these, however, is the need to bring adequate health care to under-serviced areas, he stressed.
Hudak noted the government already has promised a $22.7-billion increase in health care funding by 2004, plus it is reinstating the practice of covering tuition for students who agree to practice in Northern Ontario for a set period of time.
Hudak added the Ministry of Health already has commissioned someone to do a fact-finding assignment as to what can be done to address immediate health care concerns.
“He’ll be making recommendations on new initiatives we can use in concert with the announcements from the throne speech,” he said. “As well, with me as chair of the Northern Ontario Heritage Funding Corp., I can help bring health care as an issue we address.”
Hudak said he’ll be making some announcements soon with regards to health care. And he believed the throne speech lined the north up for several more good announcements down the road.
“It’s very good news for Northern Ontario,” he enthused. “It’s a very ambitious agenda that sets out a bold vision for the province and the north.”