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Town reps bend ears at AMO

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Whether the issue was library funding, the forest industry, or highway signage, Mayor Roy Avis, Couns. Ken Perry and Rick Wiedenhoeft, and CAO Mark McCaig lobbied on behalf of Fort Frances at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual conference Aug. 24-27 in Ottawa.

Meeting with various ministers and aides over the three days, local delegates were very busy, Mayor Avis said Monday night as he gave a rundown of the conference to the rest of council.

The conference started off on the right foot with news from Premier Dalton McGuinty that municipalities would be getting an injection of dollars for infrastructure. Fort Frances’ share is a grant of $770,000 for infrastructure repair and maintenance, noted Mayor Avis.

This is an ”unattached” grant in that it does not have to go towards a specific infrastructure project.

“That was probably the highlight of the conference; that we received money the first day, the first morning,” he remarked.

Also on Day One, the local delegates met with Laurel Broten, parliamentary assistant to the minister of health and long-term care regarding the doctor shortage here, then met with Northern Development and Mines minister Michael Gravelle to remind him about the town’s application for funding for the new technology centre to be attached to the new Fort Frances Public Library.

They also met with Health Promotion minister Margarett Best regarding grants for trail systems and development.

“The lead on that was Coun. Wiedenhoeft, and he did an excellent job presenting that,” said Mayor Avis.

Local delegates also met with Mike Brown, parliamentary assistant to the minister of transportation, regarding the international bridge here, as well as costs for signage along King’s Highway as one enters town—signage which should be covered by the province, not the town, said Mayor Avis.

They also talked to Jim Brownell, parliamentary assistant to the minister of tourism, regarding the relocation of the Ontario tourist bureau to where it could be better accessed, or a redesign for it so it could be better approached.

Mayor Avis said the town wants to be able to participate in this change, but can’t afford to be a lead agency when it comes to funding it.

He added he would like to see more municipalities in Northwestern Ontario involved in getting the site changed given it is located at the “gateway” to the region and benefits more than just Fort Frances.

On Day Two, delegates met with Natural Resources minister Donna Cansfield regarding the Endangered Species Act.

“It was a very, very informative meeting,” said Mayor Avis. “We were concerned about this new act being in place, and . . . she reassured us it was going to be for betterment of the future.

“We had a very good dialogue with her. She was very receptive to our concerns,” he added, noting Cansfield even gave the town her personal cell phone number to call her if they had any more questions or concerns.

“I was very happy to see Minister Cansfield was very forthright and very engaged on the aspect of the Endangered Species Act in ensuring us that it’s going to work really well,” echoed McCaig. “The mills should have nothing to fear as far as getting frivolous challenges [to their forestry operations].”

Coun. Perry said he passed a message on to Gary Rogozinski at the AbitibiBowater mill here that local delegates had talked to Cansfield, and perhaps mills don’t have as much to fear from the new act as previously thought.

“She said that her department has not got time to redo 47 forest management plans in the next 18 months,” Coun. Perry added. “It’s going to be pretty well business as usual [for mills], but maybe they’ll have to be a little more particular how they do their business.”

McCaig also said he was pleased to hear the province is committed to funding a municipal service review.

“The implications of that are all the things that are downloaded onto municipalities would be looked at,” he remarked. “Those are things that can affect our operational budget in the long-term.

“The grants and everything are great, but they’re one-time shots. We need to have things that are more long-term,” McCaig stressed.

Al in all, Mayor Avis said he felt the AMO conference was “very productive.”

“It’s a way to get our message to the government,” he said.

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