The Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding's recently elected Liberal Member of Parliament, Marcus Powlowski, was in Fort Frances last Friday to hear from local representatives about issues affecting the town.
He met with Fort Frances mayor June Caul and council to discuss their applications for federal infrastructure funding, the current state of the idle mill, and CN rail safety.
Powlowski also met with municipal leaders from the west end of the district who spoke about the economic challenges faced at the Emo abattoir and what the federal government can do to improve its situation.
He told the Times one of his top priorities as MP is bringing skilled jobs to Fort Frances.
“The major issue with a place like Fort Frances is you have kids who grow up here, and you want them to stay in Fort Frances and not break up the family where the kids have to go somewhere else to work,” he explained.
“Albeit that's inevitable—the same thing happens in Thunder Bay—a lot of people grow up, you finish high school and go to university, but I think a lot of people don't want that to happen; they want opportunity within their community.”
Powlowski said the New Gold Mine is a great source of employment for the district but it's not a long-term employer and its new future lifespan, which is being altered, will be announced at the end of the month.
Barring the potential re-opening of the Fort Frances mill or a redevelopment on the property that creates jobs, there's a bit of a void in the community for skilled employment which needs to be filled, he noted.
“Part of that is free enterprise," Powlowski noted. "If there are opportunities and people want to start businesses and there is an opportunity to access some federal money for startups, that's the kind of thing the federal government can potentially help with.”
He also said he's willing to assist in any way the federal government can to help reopen the Fort Frances mill if it can be restarted.
“I think certainly, at the moment, for a lot of communities in northwestern Ontario there's a lot of angst and concern about the long term . . . and not seeing the demise of their local community,” Powlowski explained.
"I think we're in the process of a changing kind of economy. We use to be very dependent on forestry, mines, and things like that.
“In the next number of years, we have to change. We have to diversify and we have to put resources into diversifying and changing for the future in more than one way,” he added.
Due to world's ever-changing nature, Powlwoski said Fort Frances has to remain competitive by investing in industries apart from forestry and mining.
“Our biggest resources are our environment—the forest, the mines and things like that—and they will probably continue to be important. But we also have to realize that the world's changing and diversify in order to remain prosperous,” he noted.
As Powlowski transitions into office, he said another area of focus is listening to the public about pressing issues and what they expect from their federal government.
“One of the first things I want to do with respect to Fort Frances is to hear from people locally about what the federal government can do to assist them,” he remarked.
Powlowski can be reached through his constituency office by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 807-623-6474.
He is currently looking at locations for a constituency office in Fort Frances that people can visit in person.
Powlowksi also noted he will be in Fort Frances at least once a month and welcomes any comments from the public while he's in town.
“If people see me their welcome to come up and talk to me,” he said.
“Your average Joe is pretty smart and a lot of people are educated on a lot of things," Powlowski added. "I think too many politicians kind of underestimate the public's intelligence.”
Throughout Powlowski's tenure, he said his focus will be on taking action to make a positive impact on his constituents and bettering their communities.
“I think one of the things is you have to be judged by actually what you accomplish, not what you say . . . I think with a lot of politicians, it's a lot of talk—and talk is cheap,” he remarked.