Tories move to shore up northern flank ahead of June 2 election

With the Ontario election fewer than eight weeks away, the governing Progressive Conservatives are moving to shore up their northern flank.

Premier Doug Ford was in Sault Ste. Marie on Friday to announce enhanced electricity subsidies for northern industrial power users that will rise from $120 million annually to $176 million by 2025-26.

“In four short years, our province has come so far together,” Ford said during a government announcement at Algoma Steel, where he used the occasion to tout Tory campaign slogans for the June 2 election.

“Let’s keep building and let’s say yes to investing in the north. Let’s say yes to unleashing Northern Ontario’s economic potential. Friends, let’s get it done,” he said.

Even though the Tories’ revamped subsidy program just builds on a plan first implemented by former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, Ford struck a partisan note.

“When we took office four years ago, energy costs were skyrocketing and totally unpredictable. The only thing businesses could be sure of was that these costs would continue to go up, and as a result, they looked elsewhere to invest,” he insisted.

“The previous government’s policies chased businesses and good jobs right out of this province, leaving entire communities reeling as families saw their economic opportunities disappear.”

As with the Liberal subsidies, northern mining, forestry, and manufacturing businesses are eligible.

About 450 kilometres away from the Sault, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney was in North Bay to announce Queen’s Park would spend $109 million refurbishing 56 double-decker GO Transit rail coaches.

“We’re supporting good-paying manufacturing jobs in Northern Ontario while improving service across the GO rail network,” said Mulroney.

The work, beginning next month, will create 100 jobs at the Ontario Northland Remanufacturing and Repair Centre in North Bay, home riding of Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli.

As part of the refurbishment, the rail cars so familiar to commuters in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area will get new seats and washrooms, updated electrical outlets with USB ports, improved heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, and better doors.

Four months ago, Mulroney announced $171 million to revamp 94 double-decker GO Transit rail cars at the Alstom plant in Thunder Bay, which will support 200 jobs there.

The Tories don’t hold either Thunder Bay riding: one is represented by the New Democrats, the other by the Liberals.

On Saturday, Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Greg Rickford will be in Shuniah, which is in the riding of Thunder Bay-Superior North, to continue the Tories’ northern push.

Rickford and federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu will make a joint federal-provincial funding announcement apparently related to transportation infrastructure.

“We have a couple more announcements in the coming weeks and I don’t want to upstage those,” the northern development minister hinted Friday.

“But I can guarantee you … everything is on the table, from twinning of the highway, to two-plus-one lanes, to railroad corridors,” he said.

“We’re moving forward on plans to ensure that the products that we produce here in Northern Ontario can be shipped out to the world.”

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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