Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith is making another attempt to convince Queen’s Park to change its mind about excluding Muskoka from a new provincial fund for economic development.
Speaking at a council meeting on Wednesday, May 16, Smith announced that he will be meeting with Economic Development and Innovation Minister Brad Duguid at the end of the month to shed more light on the economic circumstances plaguing the region.
“I’m very happy, with the clerk’s assistance, to have a meeting scheduled with Minister Duguid at Queen’s Park on May 31 … to discuss our ongoing concerns around the Southwest Ontario Development Fund, and economic development funds within Ontario, (from) which Muskoka is excluded from currently and not contemplated to be part of a renewal,” he said. “We hope to change the minister’s mind and spend 10 or 15 minutes with him to make our political masters understand the circumstances in Muskoka.”
The Southwest Ontario Development Fund was first announced in late November by the provincial government. It is similar to another fund set up for eastern Ontario a decade ago. Muskoka currently lies just outside of the new fund’s boundaries, and is also outside of the Eastern Ontario Development fund’s borders.
By contrast, Parry Sound is included in the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, which Muskoka was removed from in 2004.
Coun. Steve Clement outlined some distressing numbers over the past year. He said the number of Ontario Works caseloads in the district increased by 111 from 925 in March 2011 to 1,036 in March this year. Trends were similar last month, when caseloads jumped by 114 – rising from 923 in April 2011 to 1,037 in April this year.
“Hopefully the trend will show a decrease right up until next November,” he said.
Bracebridge first learned that Muskoka was missing out on the job creation fund about a month ago when Smith returned from a previous meeting at Queen’s Park with fellow district councillors Alice Murphy and Scott Aitchison. Since that meeting, Smith and town staff have written a number of letters to Duguid’s office outlining the region’s economic plight.
In one letter, Bracebridge economic development officer Cheryl Kelley noted that over 1,000 jobs have been lost in Bracebridge over the past decade as five major employers slashed staffing levels or shut down completely.
Over the past four years, there has been a 90 per cent increase in social assistance in Muskoka, and 40 per cent of households in Muskoka currently have an annual income of less than $30,000.
Smith is hoping the provincial government will help reverse those trends.
“It’s not necessarily getting better here on its own, and we do require a level playing field for economic development, and that message will be taken to the minster,” he said.