Ontario Progressive Conservative Leadership candidate Christine Elliott, MPP, Whitby-Oshawa, was compelled into the political arena after serving as a volunteer working with people with special needs. She was the Chair of her local community mental health organization for nine years and then later became involved with children who experience physical and intellectual disabilities. Elliot’s son also has an intellectual disability and her late husband –former federal cabinet minister Jim Flaherty, also championed the fight for inclusion and equal rights among Canadians with disabilities.
Two years ago Elliot brought forward a private members resolution to create a select committee to focus on the broad spectrum of support for people with various needs. On March 20th, 2014 the Committee released an interim report outlining a series of recommendations that would impact and include: wait times for service; inclusive education and employment opportunities; ODSP and health care; housing; and community participation.
Elliot remarked of the need for improving services for Ontarians with disabilities, “I believe that it is a right of every person to receive the services that they need. And there are a full variety of needs existing out there- the right to housing the right to be included in the workforce, the right to be educated. People with intellectual disabilities are treated like second class citizens and that should never be the case. We can do better.”
On Monday, Elliot began a four day tour of Northern Ontario to meet with community members and to hear about the issues in the North as well as possible solutions. She engaged in an intimate discussion with about twenty residents from the Algoma District in Sault Ste. Marie on Tuesday morning.
“I think a part of what we need to look at is how we ‘do’ government. It’s a very old and out dated model where everything is in individual silos so you get that very disjointed approach to things. We need to have more inter-ministerial committee’s where you work on specific issues. There were twelve Ministries that were a part of the Select Committee on Developmental Issues. There is no reason why we can’t do that for economic issues for Northern development, for the Ring of Fire development and a whole host of other things. The government needs to be a lot more flexible. It needs to work for people, not the other way around.”
This August Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Michael Gravelle, MPP Thunder Bay –Superior North, announced the formation of a Ring of Fire Developmental Corporation interim board comprised of four Ontario public servants.
Commenting on the recent announcement Elliot stated, “To be successful with a body like that you have to have a Minister that is responsible for it and is driving it because too many things can be left between the cracks So you need one Minister spearheading the effort involving other Ministers and other Ministries to develop the proposals and First Nations participation is critical.”
Not unlike many Northerners, Elliot questions the stalled progress on Ring of Fire projects. Six years ago commercial scale deposits of chromite were discovered in the Far North but breakdowns in communication between the government, First Nations and stakeholders, as well as the lack of necessary infrastructure to support development, have disrupted forward momentum.
The Ring of Fire promises billions to the economy of Northern Ontario and the entire province. Reports to Parliament indicate that the Ring of Fire could contribute $5.1 to $10 billion to Ontario’s GDP in the first 10 years and $14.4 to $27 billion in the first 32 years. The remainder of Canada would benefit as well and the GDP outside of Ontario would range from $5.8 billion to $16.8 billion in the first 32 years.
Elliot remarked of halted progress in the Ring of Fire, “I am shocked by the inactivity of the Liberal government on the Ring of Fire given its huge potential economically for the North and also for the rest of the province. I think there needs to be a much more concerted effort put into it and a coordination of all the Ministries involved so that there won’t be such a fragmented approach. There needs to an organized and purposeful effort that will lead to the development of the Ring of Fire in the shortest possible time with all of the necessary parties moving in the same direction.”
Among the concerns of constituents who attended yesterday’s engagement was the issue of industrial wind turbine projects in Northern Ontario and their impact on the economy particularly in regards to tourism. Northern Ontariois the largest tourism region in geography and the second largest in expenditure. Northern Ontario accounts for 10% of the Provinces tourism receipts. Opponents of wind projects are concerned that the aesthetics of wind farms will have a negative impact on tourism in the region.
Regarding her position on the wind projects in Northern Ontario Elliot stated, “The whole Green energy Act was set up really considering the impact on a lot of different areas, including taking away the power of municipalities to establish regulations.”
Indicating that not enough is known about the benefits or consequences of wind turbines Elliot added, “We should be putting a moratorium on wind projects before we go forward with any further development. That’s my opinion.”
In January 2014 the Canadian National Railway Company announced that they were axing passenger service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst. The decision came from Transport Canada who made the decision that the Algoma Central Rail no longer met the criteria for the Remote Passenger Rail Program.
On April 14th, 2014, Federal Transport Minister, Lisa Raitt, PC MP, Halton riding, announced that the ACR had been granted a one-year period of grace before passenger service between the Sault and Hearst would be discontinued.
Elliot acknowledged that the loss of train service threatens the economy of Northern Ontario. “I think there is a big disconnect between the decisions that are being made at Queen’s Park and what’s important here. We’ve seen that with respect to the Liberal government’s decision on passenger rail and other issues such as the Far North Act. There’s a lot of legislation there that doesn’t really take into account the actual conditions here in the North. We need to make sure that when we make decisions about passenger rail or anything else here in the North that it takes into account the actual living conditions here and the affect that it’s going to have on people living in the area. What I’ve seen from the McGuinty and now the Wynne government is that they keep short sighted decisions to save a few dollars without considering the long term ramifications both economically and on lives of people concerned. I think you need to listen to people before you make these decisions and before you have to back track to try to make things right. And in the meantime the damage is already done.”
In addition to her stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Elliot has met with constituents in Timmins and Elliot Lake. She is rounding out her tour with stops in Sudbury, North Bay and Windsor. Elliot stated that she will be returning to the Sault for further talks. “It’s a quick trip this time but I wanted to get an overview of the issues and meet with some of the people. I’ll come back for more substantive discussions later on.”
The final results of the Ontario PC Party Leadership will be announced on May 9th, 2015.