Local MP Don Rusnak has high hopes for 2017 being a positive year in Rainy River District.
“There’s no doom and gloom,” he stressed on the heels of announcing an $8.7-million investment from the federal government for a new, state-of-the-art facility for the Seven Generations Education Institute here last month.
And Rusnak expects the Liberal government to dole out more funds in 2017, so he’s hoping to see strong projects coming out of the region in order for the area to get a piece of the handout.
“Previously we have been spending, at the beginning of the year, money that had already been allocated by the previous government and we didn’t want to claw back that money when it had been promised and announced,” Rusnak explained.
“So we’re going to see . . . more infrastructure targeted towards priorities that Canadians want us to spend the money on.”
For instance, Rusnak said local projects should look at ways to utilize the assets in the region to get the best benefit.
“The elephant in the room in this area is the Resolute mill,” he noted, referring to the local paper mill that was closed permanently in May, 2014.
“I’ve been talking with individuals involved—of course, it’s a private business—but there are things government can support and do to get that asset back up and producing for the region again,” he remarked.
“Hopefully, we will see something in the new year or beyond in respect to that,” Rusnak added, acknowledging the continued push to resurrect the mill keeps residents’ hopes up.
“I think we need to build hope,” he stressed. “This region is amazingly strong and we have amazing educational institutes here.
“We have amazing, talented people and it’s just beautiful here,” he added.
“I’m happy to call this region home and we shouldn’t sell ourselves short.
“I think we have amazing assets here, and it just takes the right investment and being innovative,” Rusnak reasoned.
“And we do have innovative people here, so I want to make sure those innovative people get the support of the government.”
Rusnak said another positive for the district in the coming year is New Gold’s Rainy River Project north of Barwick, which he said has “kind of balanced the demise of the Resolute operation.”
“[They have] been active in all the communities right across the region,” he noted.
“That is an extreme positive.
“And with them inching towards production, that’s going to be an exciting milestone for them and really exciting for the region,” he enthused.
Rusnak added some smaller operations within the region also are seeing success.
“And we often don’t champion the small businesses,” he admitted, noting he learned of some area projects at the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre during a recent visit.
“There are small companies of one or two people that create jobs every year,” Rusnak said.
“When you add up all those companies over the region, I believe it was something like 98 jobs, high-tech jobs in small, some of them in basements and garages, that are making money and providing jobs.
“Us, as government, and other institutions need to promote those and let people know across the region that you can do anything here,” he stressed.
“Just because you are from Fort Frances or Atikokan doesn’t mean you can’t do high technology.”
And with Tbaytel’s recent announcement of a new fibre optic network to be built in Fort Frances in 2017, it will be much easier to do just that.
“Fibre, that backbone, which our government is looking at as a new railroad, making sure every community, household, and institution is connected because that’s so important for modern business,” Rusnak said.
“I think it’s going to place Fort Frances in a very positive spot.
“A lot of positives are happening and a lot more will be happening with the right investments; doing strategic investments in the right places with the right people,” he added.
“So I think we got it here in Northwestern Ontario.”
And after being in office for more than a year now, Rusnak said he feels he’s got a solid handle on things.
“[It’s been] extremely busy but extremely rewarding,” he remarked, noting he’s been building connections with community representatives within the riding.
And although not a member of Trudeau’s cabinet, Rusnak noted he’s making his voice heard.
“I’m not sitting at the table making those high-level decision, but I can influence government through groups like the rural caucus, which I’m very active in, [and] the indigenous caucus, which is big for this region because of the high number of First Nation individuals and communities,” he explained.
And he feels this region has been getting recognition in Ottawa.
“We have the Northern Ontario caucus and we’re very effective,” Rusnak said, noting they meet every week when the House of Commons is in session.
“The Ontario caucus is huge, with 80 members, and we’re a small part of that, but we have a huge voice,” he reasoned.
“They sit up and listen when we speak at caucus so that’s very rewarding.”