Let Muskoka back into northern fund: Bracebridge mayor
December 19, 2012
With Queen’s Park in turmoil, Bracebridge’s mayor said he is hoping the province will now renege on its decision to cut Muskoka from a northern economic development fund eight years ago.
In a resolution passed on Wednesday, Dec. 12, Bracebridge councillors agreed to formally ask the province to reintroduce Muskoka into the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund. The region was excluded from the fund in 2004 when Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government stripped Muskoka of its northern status.
But with McGuinty stepping down, Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith wonders if that the decision can be reversed going forward.
“Certainly with provincial parliament prorogued right now, there’s going to be no immediate decision, but we know that there will be a new premier, a new government, and potentially an election in the relatively short term,” said Smith. “I’d like to see us have the tools in place to effectively lobby for what I think is a right for Muskoka and for Bracebridge.”
Aside from the Greater Toronto Area and the Ottawa regions, Muskoka is the only other region in the province that is not included in an economic development fund. By contrast, neighbouring Haliburton County in the east is included in the Eastern Ontario Development Fund, while Parry Sound in the west remains a member of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
“I would really like to see this passed, not only to forward it onto other municipalities and to the district, but to allow a little more of a tool for conversations with the Liberal party leadership contenders and with other parties,” Smith said of council’s resolution.
A report by Bracebridge CAO John Sisson says the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund provides northern businesses and municipalities with a valuable source of conditional contributions, forgivable performance loans, incentive-term loans and loan guarantees.
Previous reports compiled by town staff show that Muskoka’s economy has been left in tatters since the onset of the economic downturn. In Bracebridge alone, over 1,000 jobs have vanished over the past decade as a number of large employers closed their doors, and social assistance dependence has risen by 90 per cent in the same time frame.
Last year, Muskoka’s unemployment rate was ranked second in the province only to Windsor-Sarnia.
In response, Smith joined with fellow district councillors Scott Aitchison and Alice Murphy last spring to ask Economic Development and Innovation Minister Brad Duguid for Muskoka’s inclusion in the newly established Southwest Ontario Development Fund.
Though Smith and town staff continued to put pressure on the province over the following few months, the province ultimately turned them down in late August. Sisson’s report suggest that Muskoka’s needs have “fallen on deaf ears.”
“If this area is not to be included in the Southwest Ontario Development Fund, we must be included within the boundaries of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund,” Sisson said in his report. “Fairness, regional equity and common sense demand nothing less. The residents of this area deserve nothing less.”
Deputy Mayor Rick Maloney commended Smith for his relentless efforts in lobbying for the region’s economic future.
“Certainly over the last year he’s worked on behalf of not just Bracebridge, but all the municipalities in the District of Muskoka through his meetings and consultations and correspondence that he’s had with various levels of government,” he said.
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