Adena Ali and Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
Timmins, Ont. — The Ontario Progressive Conservatives pledge improvements to road and rail transportation in northern Ontario by injecting $75 million to restore Northlander rail service between Toronto and Timmins.
“This vital transportation link will help rebuild Northern Ontario’s economy. It will connect northern industries and workers with the rest of the county,” Doug Ford said at an election summit in Timmins on Sunday.
According to the leader of the Progressive Conservative, the once-closed rail service would bring economic and personal benefits to the area’s residents.
He also pledged to extend the Northlander to Cochrane and add a connection point for Polar Bear Express service to Moosonee if the Tories are re-elected on June 2.
“I’ve heard countless stories of people who don’t have access to life-saving treatment, who can’t see the specialists they need because their communities are cut off from the rest of the province,” he said. Well, that’s going to change.”
Northlander’s train service was discontinued in 2012 by the then-Liberal government, who said it was too expensive to subsidize. Opposition parties pointed out at the time that transit systems in the Toronto area also depend on government subsidies, arguing that essential transportation in the north should be no different.
The Tories announced a few weeks ago that $75 million had been earmarked for the restoration of the Northlander, aiming to resume by the middle of this decade.
Ontario New Democrats have also pledged to bring Northlander back if elected to form a government.
After hosting a Mother’s Day event with candidates in the Waterloo region on Sunday, NDP leader Andrea Horwath noted that her party had opposed the closure of the train service. She pointed out that Mr. Ford had broken his 2018 election promise to reinstate it. “It’s not new. It was a broken promise,” she says.
Ms Horwath says Northern Ontario has waited a long time for infrastructure improvements not delivered by previous governments.
Provincial Liberals have also criticized the Ford administration for failing to deliver on its previous promise to the Northlander, saying in an emailed statement that the Tory leader “must not congratulate himself for repeating old pledges that have not been kept.” “.
The party said Tuesday it would reveal more details about its strategy for Northern Ontario, including rebuilding Highway 101 in Timmins and widening Highway 17 from Kenora to the border with Manitoba.
The Liberals also said they would restore service on the Northlander from Toronto to North Bay within two years and plan passenger train journeys north, including extending the Polar Bear Express south to Timmins.
The Ontario Green Party has also pledged to fund the restoration and improvement of the Northlander.
Highway 101 was also featured in Ford’s announcement on Sunday. The conservative leader has pledged to invest $74 million to rebuild the highway through the city, describing it as a major thoroughfare for the region’s mining and forestry sectors.
Mr. Ford was asked if this highway investment promise would still hold up if he was re-elected Premier of Ontario, but the local Conservative candidate failed to win in Timmins. The Progressive Conservative leader did not answer the question directly, but did emphasize his party’s determination to elect the candidate George Pirie, the current mayor of Timmins.
He is the first party leader to head north after the campaign’s launch this month, but all major party leaders are expected to travel to the region this week for a debate on northern provincial issues.
Ms Horwath set out on a northern campaign tour on Sunday, with stops planned in Sudbury and North Bay. She said community access to health services would be high on the NDP’s platform priorities for the region.
Mr Ford was the only major party leader to have an official campaign shutdown for Sunday
Ms Horwath made no new pledges during her stop in the Cambridge constituency, one of many where the NDP came close to winning the 2018 election and which the party hopes to win this time around.
Belinda Karahalios won the Cambridge constituency in the latest Progressive Conservatives election but was kicked out of the caucus after voting against COVID-19 public health measures.
Liberal leader Steven Del Duca was set to take a break on Sunday.