We had the opportunity to meet with the leader of the opposition, Patrick Brown to discuss the disaster we had on the 401 ahead of our meeting with the Ministry on September 18th.
RECORDER & TIMES – August 28th, 2017 – Ronald Zajac
Ahead of a meeting with Ontario’s transport minister about last March’s deadly Highway 401 crash and chemical spill, local mayors brought their concerns to the man who is hoping to be the next premier.
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown spoke to local politicians and first responders during a swing through west Leeds that also included a breakfast speech to the 1000 Islands Gananoque Chamber of Commerce.
With an eye to the provincial election next June, Brown outlined an optimistic vision of an Ontario that can regain the status of a “have” province and tackle soaring electricity costs.
Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark said the local chamber polled its members on the most pressing issues. As a result, the business group asked the Opposition leader to address the issues of soaring electricity rates, the government’s failure to fund critical infrastructure projects and fears over labour reforms in Bill 148.
“I’m actually optimistic about Ontario. These are all things we can fix. I can’t wait to lead an Ontario government where we can go anywhere in the world and say: ‘You want to be in Ontario,’” Brown told the breakfast crowd at Donnelly’s On the River in Ivy Lea.
“We’re not going to settle for an Ontario that is a have-not province.”
The Tory leader promised to “do everything possible” to get hydro bills down through solutions that put the best interests of Ontarians first.
Pressed about specifics, Clark said later one of the biggest ways to achieve this will be to address what his party considers bad contracts for green energy.
“You have to be able to look at the contracts,” said Clark.
“We’ve been unable to get a look at them.”
Bill 148, meanwhile, is expected back at Queen’s Park for debate on second reading in September. Among its provisions, the minimum wage, which is currently indexed to inflation and had been set to rise from $11.40 an hour to $11.60 in October, will rise to $14 an hour on January 1, 2018 and to $15 the following year.
“They haven’t moved on the speed at which the increase in the minimum wage would take place,” said Clark.
Nor do critics of the labour bill have any idea about the specifics of the reforms the Liberal government has promised to help businesses deal with its impact, added the MPP.
On the matter of infrastructure, Brown spoke with local officials at the fire hall by the Leeds and the Thousand Islands municipal office about their concerns in the wake of the crash and chemical spill on Highway 401 that killed one and sent 28 others to hospital March 14.
Local mayors are scheduled to meet with Transport Minister Steven Del Duca in Kingston on September 18.
The municipal leaders are expected to press for tougher laws on transporting hazardous goods to reduce the likelihood of chemical spills.
After the March chemical spill, several municipal leaders called for bans on the trucking of hazardous goods during storms.
Others advocated special speed limits for the dangerous trucks during storms.
“They had a chance to brief Patrick and we’ll see what happens in September,” said Clark.
Like Clark, Leeds and the Thousand Islands mayor Joe Baptista said it has taken locals a long time to secure that meeting with the minister.
“We hope that we’re going to make some progress,” Baptista said Monday.
The mayor is also encouraged to see the Opposition leader briefed on the matter, noting that, as a result of the chemical spill, his township had to spend some $250,000 to replace firefighters’ gear, an invoice the local municipality has sent to the transport ministry.
“I think they need to understand it isn’t just business as usual,” said Baptista.
In the longer term, he added, the province may have to look at adding a third lane in both directions to the 401, between Kingston and the Quebec border.
“The highways are getting busier,” said Baptista.
“The need really is starting to showcase itself that we need new infrastructure.”
Prescott mayor Brett Todd said he is also looking forward to the meeting with Del Duca, but he worries it will be too late to address the problem immediately.
“It’s too bad this meeting with the minister didn’t take place quite some time ago,” said Todd. “The severe winter weather is just around the corner.”
Todd said the meeting, which included most Leeds and Grenville mayors, steered clear of electoral politics.
“It’s nice to get the issue out there and keep it in the public eye,” he said.