Northern Ontario residents who must travel more than 100 km for medical treatment will get some additional financial help, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced yesterday. Starting immediately, the province is increasing the mileage rate from 34.25 cents to 41 cents per kilometre, less a 100-km deductible. The government also will add an overnight accommodation allowance of up to $100 for each medically-necessary trip, starting Oct. 1. The $100 allowance wasn’t supposed to start until next January, but McGuinty apparently wanted it made available to residents sooner. A source in the premier’s office said McGuinty was unhappy it would take six months to set up the accommodation allowance, so it will begin shortly before the Oct. 10 provincial election. McGuinty announced the improvements to the Northern Health Travel Grant program during a stop in Thunder Bay yesterday, saying everyone should have access to high-quality health care no matter where they live. “It’s only right that we provide fair compensation for the cost of receiving care in a timely manner,” he said. Critics pointed out cancer patients in southern Ontario who had to travel outside their region for treatment previously had all expenses paid, including meals, travel, and hotels, while northern patients got only a mileage allowance. The government said yesterday the medical travel program for southern residents had been cancelled because it no longer was needed after wait times had been reduced. The opposition said the Liberals clearly are trying to appease northern voters in advance of the election. “Every little penny certainly helps these people, but I suspect that this is just another opportunity for a photo op,” said Conservative health critic Elizabeth Witmer. “Obviously this is an attempt to get votes in Northern Ontario.” NDP leader Howard Hampton said northerners shouldn’t be duped by McGuinty’s announcement. “Dalton McGuinty has ignored the health problems facing northerners for four years,” Hampton said in a release. “Suddenly, with a tight election race, he’s making campaign promises.” This is the first time the Northern Health Travel Grant has been increased since the previous Conservative government doubled payouts in 2001 by reimbursing patients for both legs of a medical trip. Northern Ontario residents file more than 155,000 applications for medical travel assistance every year. The program is available to people living in the districts of Algoma, Cochrane, Kenora, Manitoulin, Muskoka, Nipissing, Parry Sound, Rainy River, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Timiskaming.