BRACEBRIDGE - Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith is worried Muskoka won’t be included in a new provincial fund designed for job creation and investment attraction.
Smith shared his concerns during a council meeting on April 4, after returning from a meeting at Queen’s Park where he represented Muskoka’s interests on how the region would be affected by the Southwest Ontario Development Fund along with fellow district councillors Alice Murphy and Scott Aitchison. From what he can see, Smith says Muskoka might be situated just outside the boundaries of where the new provincial fund would apply.
“That’s a situation that, in talking with my counterparts throughout Muskoka and with the district chair, we believe cannot be allowed to happen,” he said. “It would have the effect of leaving Muskoka not only out of the southwest, but out of the eastern development fund, and as we know, in 2004 we were removed from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.”
The Southwest Ontario Development Fund was first announced in late November by the provincial government to mirror a similar fund set up for eastern Ontario a decade ago. Simcoe County is included within its boundary, while the Eastern Ontario Development Fund boundary includes Haliburton County, and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation includes Parry Sound.
Only Ottawa, the Greater Toronto area and Muskoka are excluded from provincial economic development zones.
Since the beginning of the new year, Smith and town staff have sent a series of letters to Queen’s Park outlining concerns that the provincial government had ignored Muskoka’s needs when setting up the fund’s structure.
In one letter to Economic Development and Innovation Minister Brad Duguid, Smith highlighted how Muskoka’s location left its status ambiguous when it comes to qualifying for such funds.
“While we are part of the provincial electoral riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, Parry Sound is considered part of northern Ontario for development funding purposes while Muskoka is not,” he wrote. “On the other hand, the federal government retained the entire Parry Sound-Muskoka riding in the service area for its FedNor development agency.”
Likewise, Bracebridge economic development director Cheryl Kelley drove home some hard-hitting numbers in a March letter to the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation.
Among them, she listed over 1,000 jobs in Bracebridge alone that have been lost over the past decade as five major employers in town — Alcan Wire and Cable, Forrec, Fenner Dunlop, Dura Automotive and Algonquin Automotive — either shut their doors or axed their staffing levels.
Kelley pointed to a 90 per cent increase in social assistance in Muskoka over the past four years and how 40 per cent of households in Muskoka earn less than $30,000 each year.
In 2011, the Muskoka-Kawartha region was also recorded as having the second-highest unemployment rate in the province, just behind Windsor-Sarnia.
“We have many, many challenges in Muskoka with job losses and with people struggling to make ends meet,” said Smith. “We need to be on equal footing on an economic development basis with all the communities in Ontario.”
- With files from Alison Brownlee