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Ministers answer questions from municipal leaders

At the 2023 Northern Ontario Municipal Association Conference, provincial ministers answer hard-hitting questions on OSAP, mining, and electric vehicle infrastructure.  
2023 NOMA ministers forum Clint Fleury,

THUNDER BAY – The Northern Ontario Municipal Association conference ended Friday with a ministers' forum.

The minister forum is an opportunity for municipal leaders to share their concerns and ask questions to the provincial minister.


Sioux Lookout Coun. Reese Van Breda asked College and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop what the government would be cutting out of its budget to pay for Ontario Student Assistance Program.

“The OSAP program has been switched to a needs-based program. We are actually seeing a decrease in usage of OSAP over the last couple of years. We are looking, across the systems that we’ve done, to ensure education has been brought closer to home. Allowing colleges to offer three-year degrees and the learn-and-stay program that we starting this fall where students are getting free tuition in exchange for serving in an underserved area," said Dunlop.

Dunlop also acknowledged that costs are too high for students and the provincial government wants to ensure there are supports in place.

“Part of that is the introduction of the new blue-ribbon panel that we have moving forward and waiting for recommendations from that panel this fall to ensure that our post-secondary institutions are sustainable for foreigners to come,” said Dunlop.

Mining and Infrastructure

With the province taking an active interest in mining critical minerals, Marathon Mayor Rick Dumas said junior mining companies are struggling to get the capital necessary to get up and running.

“Is there any appetite within your government to assist with a loan guarantee or a loan to get this to the finish line so they can start construction after the permits are issued?” Dumas asked.

Mines Minister George Pirie said the government is "always open to ideas.”

In Dumas’s case, Generation Mine needs to finalize a few permits before construction can begin. However, in a recent feasibility study, the company said it will need $1.1 billion to get them started.

"This is a government that is all about development and growing," Pirie said. "We'll listen to, that's where we're here, we're at this forum so we can listen to what you have to say.”


Manitouwadge Mayor Jim Moffat pointed out a common problem with electric vehicles and their capability to hold a charge during the winter.

“I want to tell you that in the middle of winter, in northern Ontario, when your battery power, I don't care what kind of car you have, drops a boat, like drops 40 per cent of its capacity," Moffat said. “There is no way that with the infrastructure that's there right now that you can travel safely in the winter with an EV car in Northwestern Ontario.”

Associate Transportation Minister Stan Cho said that's a big concern for the ministry.

“That's the other side of it is we have to make the process make sense in terms of charging your vehicle and to recognize when you're driving, particularly during the winter months,” said Cho.

“There has been an electrification council that has been put in place for the better part of two years at this point. It's looking at best practices around the rest of the world. It is not just with the charging which is a valid concern. You can't have a charging station with three outlets when the entire road will be electric vehicles. At some point, you have to look to a more long-term solution and that's what the table has been tasked to do.”

Northern Development Minister Greg Rickford added there are specific challenges in Northwestern Ontario.

“Obviously, the exposure to, to significantly colder temperatures is something that, that the E V technology has to address,” said Rickford. “And the other one that, that in the far corner of Northwestern Ontario that has kept me awake at night, is the difference between charging technology, so only available to Tesla or other electric vehicles and some kind of market-driven, hopefully, reconciliation of that has to be on the table just in fairness.

Clint Fleury

About the Author: Clint Fleury

Clint Fleury is a web reporter covering Northwestern Ontario and the Superior North regions.
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