Muskoka still has a chance when it comes to getting provincial job creation funding, Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith says.
With the province having decided to leave Muskoka out of the Southwest Ontario Development fund last month, Smith said the region is looking at the possibility of getting into two other similar funds in eastern and northwestern Ontario.
“Although the Southwest Ontario fund has what’s been held out most as the easiest fund to get into, there’s three funds (in total), and by virtue of their existence, there’s always an opportunity to try to get into one,” he said.
Smith said Muskoka is looking at being grouped into either the Eastern Ontario Development Fund or the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, which Parry Sound is a part of.
Muskoka was removed from that fund in 2004 by the provincial government led by Dalton McGuinty.
Over the past few months, Smith had personally met with Economic Development and Innovation Minister Brad Duguid on a number of occasions to voice Muskoka’s need for economic funding.
“We thought the easiest route was to get into the new Southwest Ontario fund because the borders were drawn up into Simcoe Country,” he said. “But that being said, in my meetings with the minister I’ve made it clear that “I think you can make a case for us being in any one of the three, and we would be happy to be in any one of the three.’”
Smith said Duguid has indicated he is willing to continue with future discussions over economic funding. But so far, there hasn’t been any formal indication whether the province will decide to include Muskoka in another fund.
“The longer it goes on, it’s probably a message that the government has an unlimited appetite to help us out,” he said. “We’re going to continue to bang that drum and work in the best interest of all of Muskoka.”
Reliance on social assistance has increased steadily over the past few years, with the Muskoka-Kawartha region posting the second highest unemployment rate in the province last year, just trailing Windsor-Sarnia. In the past decade, over 1,000 jobs in Bracebridge alone vanished as a number of major employers scaled back operations or went out of business.