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THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO March 3, 2017   (LSN) – Members of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) Board were on hand to address important issues with provincial ministers at the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) conference held this week in Toronto. NOMA met with Minister McGarry (Ministry of Natural Resources), Minister Del Duca (Ministry of Transportation), Minister Bill Mauro (Ministry of Municipal Affairs), Arthur Potts, Parliamentary Assistant (Ministry of Environment and Climate Change), and Joe Dickson, Parliamentary Assistant (Ministry of Northern Development and Mines).

In its presentation, NOMA addressed hunting tag fees and access with Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Hon. Kathryn McGarry. NOMA pointed out that the movement to eat local has increased interest in consumers accessing naturally sourced food including wild game. NOMA encouraged the Minister to look at a reduction in the fee for deer hunting tags siting that the cost of meat from forest to table is higher than commercially purchased meat. NOMA also highlighted the distribution of bear tags in the province with the introduction of the spring bear hunt pilot project.

“Northerners are looking for ways to provide healthy meals in a cost effective manner,” said Mayor David Canfield, NOMA President. “We wanted to highlight that access to naturally sourced food is an important resource to many in our region and encouraged the Minister to consider a reduction in the cost of a deer tag,” added Canfield.

“We also congratulated the Province for reinstating the spring bear hunt through a pilot project. The provinces bear population is thriving which is impacting the moose population and also affecting a number of our member communities with the rise of nuisance bear calls. We are dealing with a safety issue that needs to be addressed. We asked the Minister to consult with Outfitters about the importance of discussing their needs for bear tag distribution” said Canfield.

NOMA also addressed the forest industry and its importance in the fight against climate change. The Boreal Forest is a carbon sink in that it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. As trees age and growth slows, the rate of carbon sequestration and oxygen production is minimized. A tree that is around 25 years old has reached its greatest rate of annual growth where carbon sequestration and oxygen production is maximized other than in a managed forest where it is actually 35 years.
“Harvesting mature trees is a benefit to fighting climate change because the net impact from harvest to mill ensures that 731 kg of carbon is sequestered per each cubic meter of lumber and has not been released back into the atmosphere,” said Canfield.

Canfield also noted that “By leaving trees to age in the forest and succumb to rot or fire, 780 kg of carbon is emitted into the air. The carbon absorbed by growing forests can only be sequestered if forests are harvested when mature. If left to a natural disturbance such as forest fire or bug kill, all the carbon is released back into the atmosphere.”

NOMA addressed the Multi-Modal Inter-community Transportation Plan with Minister Del Duca. The plan created by the Common Voice Northwest – Transportation Task Force and endorsed by NOMA, was presented to both the Minister and the Premier a year ago. NOMA requested an update as to the progress of the recommendations. Minister Del Duca advised the NOMA board that an announcement regarding an inter-community transportation plan in the Northwest is in the final stages of approvals and to anticipate an announcement soon.
NOMA was pleased with the meeting with Provincial Minister’s and noted that they were extremely engaged in the message from the Northwest.

“An opportunity to meet with the decision makers in the province is paramount in moving Ontario forward from all corners. We felt confident that the dialogue we shared provided the government with insight as to the realities of northern issues and provided some ideas on how to address and resolve our concerns,” added Canfield.

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The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) represents the interests of 36 municipalities from Kenora and Rainy River in the west to Hornepayne and White River in the east.  Our mission is “to provide leadership in advocating regional interests to all orders of government and other organizations.”  

 

We appreciate the opportunity to meet with you today.

 

While we do not have energy or infrastructure included in this document today, you can rest assured that these important issues continue to be at the forefront of NOMA priorities. 

 

Hunting Tags

With the movement to eat local we are seeing an increased interest in consumers looking to access naturally sourced food. While communities are reporting more participation at Farmers Markets so too are the numbers of those looking to hunt their own meat – ensuring that they are eating food lacking hormones and antibiotics. 

As the Ministry is well aware, the deer population has been increasing. We are hearing from local hunters that there is definitely interest in hunting this game but a deterrent is the price of a deer tag in relation to the amount of meat extracted from the animal. Northerners are looking for ways to provide healthy meals in a cost effective manner. With this in mind, offering deer tags at a rate that recognizes the cost from forest to table should be considered. 

NOMA is recommending that a resident’s license tag to hunt deer be reduced to $27.84 which is in line with the cost extended to a farmer’s license to hunt deer. 

With the increase in the deer population, so too is a rise in wolves. This cycle is anticipated and expected when there is an excess of deer. However, many of our member communities are alarmed at the increase in wolf sightings within their municipal boundaries, in large part because of the exponential growth in the urban deer population. There is grave concern for domestic pets and families with young children. 

The hunting of wolf is a popular activity amongst non-resident hunters but the cost of a tag at $272.41 is somewhat prohibitive. NOMA’s opinion is that a decrease in the cost will essentially increase revenue as a result of selling more tags and provide a better balance of the species in the region. 

NOMA is recommending that a non-resident license tag to hunt wolf/coyotes be reduced to $100.00 in an effort to decrease the population. 

And last but not least, the importance of hunting bear in the northwest. While we applaud the Provincial Government for reinstating the spring bear hunt, we are concerned with the restrictions and access to tags.

With the announcement that the Province would be extending the Spring Bear Hunt pilot by an additional five years through to 2020, northern communities were excited to see that all 88 wildlife management units that had a fall bear hunt would be included as well as non-resident hunters.  The economic benefits not only to the Outfitters themselves but also the communities that provide supplies and services is massive. A non-resident hunter spends on average three times more money than a resident hunter and, for the most part, that money is injected into northern communities. You can see why there was a level of optimism with this announcement. However, once further details were released, many Tourist Outfitters across the region expressed concern for the future of their business and the continued sustainability of the hunt in terms of economic development due to the regulations. 

In April 2016, just days before the opening of the hunting season, the Ministry advised

Outfitters that many had been cut back to 50 percent or more in receiving validation forms (Form 33) for non-resident hunters. This resulted in many Tourist Outfitters having to cancel bookings on account of not having enough bear licenses. Not only does this have an impact on the reputation of the business, but communities that provide supplies were also negatively impacted with the loss of clientele. 

The bear population is thriving in this province. The incidents of nuisance bears continues to grow yearly so much so that communities like the Town of Atikokan have had to keep students from going outside during recess as well as adding extra supervision at the end of the day to ensure that students leave the school property safely. It is also important to note that in most cases, local police detachments are dealing with nuisance bear calls – paid for by the property taxpayers. Why don’t we do the responsible thing and provide opportunities for hunters to adequately and humanly manage the bear population. 

NOMA recommends that the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry begin a series of discussions with all stakeholders to determine annual bear quotas in each hunting region and base the allotment of Form 33’s on this data.  The quotas should be established at least one year in advance to ensure that outfitters can properly market their opportunities.

In terms of the regulations that were instituted with the Spring Bear Hunt, the location of the bear bait sites in another cause of concern. The new regulation requires that the site be located 200 metres from a right-of-way for public vehicular traffic or a maintained recreational trail. This regulation reduces safety and accessibility and forces hunters to travel greater distances to hunt. The cost to relocate current bait sites is a costly venture. 

 

NOMA recommends that Outfitters be granted the ability to access current bait sites and that the regulation that sites be located 200 metres from right-of-way roads and recreation trails be removed.  In addition, in recognition of the safety concerns for those using right of way roads and recreation trails, the users of grandfathered bait sites should be prohibited from discharging their weapons in the direction of the travelled routes. 

Forestry

Endangered Species Act

On February 9, NOMA along with FONOM participated in the CFSA-ESA Indigenous and Stakeholder meeting. As you know, we have been requesting an opportunity to have meaningful discussions with all stakeholders about the importance of the forest industry and its role in the Northwest.  The day provided for some great discussions but we believe it was evident to all those in attendance that more opportunities to plan for the future is needed. 

NOMA continues to be concerned with the proposed revisions to the Forest Management

Planning Manual (FMPM) as well as the lack of consultation on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) component. Given that the MNRF is not bound to the content within the revisions, only that they be adopted, NOMA requests that there be a complete removal of the ESA language from the revisions. Currently the ESA is located within the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA) and has served the forest sector and the environment well. We are further concerned that the CFSA will take a lower priority to the ESA under the new proposal.

Ontario’s forest industry is already overregulated with duplication and red tape. The forest industry is required to develop a plan for all species – while no other industry is required to implement the same practices. Using the Blanding’s Turtle as an example, studies indicate that the majority of Blanding’s Turtles are killed on Ontario highways as well as by predators such as racoons and skunks. The population of the species is not so dire as originally believed and in fact, they tend to survive well in areas with logging roads. 

NOMA continues to request that a stakeholder working group be created to conduct constructive discussions around the ESA. Given that the timeline is short, NOMA is requesting that the government remove the ESA language from the FMPM.

 

 

 

 

Softwood Lumber Agreement

As you know, Canada is in the midst of drafting a new Softwood Lumber agreement. It is absolutely critical that both the Federal Government and the Province of Ontario negotiate an agreement that protects the interests of lumber producers in Ontario. Ontario must maintain its historic share of the USA market at 3.34 per cent. While the reduction in exports to USA from Ontario from 2006-2011 occurred primarily due to the recession, recent investments for example in Thunder Bay, Atikokan, Ignace, Kenora, Ear Falls and White River have led to the subsequent restoration of capacity in Ontario.  The good faith investments in restored capacity must be acknowledged and protected. This must be taken into account with ongoing negotiations with USA representatives. Without a quota as part of the Softwood Lumber agreement with the USA, the mills in Atikokan, Ignace, Thunder Bay, Kenora and all of Ontario have no future.  Without a quota existing idled mills in other communities will never resume operation.

NOMA thanks the Minister for reaching out to the federal government requesting that a move to implement a loan guarantee program be created to support Ontario softwood lumber producers. We all agree that during this time of uncertainty in Canada-U.S. trade, taking a proactive approach is our best option. Please provide details on how NOMA can assist the government on this endeavour. 

 

 

Forestry and Climate Change 

 

Forestry is defined as “The science, art and practice of managing and using trees, forests and their associated resources for human benefit.” In Ontario, the Crown Forest Sustainability Act requires that crown forests be managed providing for the long-term health of the forest while supplying social, economic and environmental needs for present and future generations. The forest accounts for 66.2% of the land class breakdown in Ontario and is defined by three regions, lowlands, Boreal Forest and Great Lakes – St. Lawrence. For the purpose of this discussion, NOMA will speak of the largest provincial forest, the Boreal.

The tree species in the Boreal Forest consist of spruce, jack pine, fir, birch, poplar and larch. Depending on the species, stands are harvested once every 60 to 100 years which emulates natural disturbance patterns. Like all living creatures, forests change over time. Natural and man-made disturbance in general is not visually appealing to most but it does come back.

Ontario has been recognized for its balanced approach in sustainable forest management. 

The Boreal is a carbon sink in that it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. As trees age and growth slows, the rate of carbon sequestration and oxygen production is minimized. A tree that is around 25 years old has reached its greatest rate of annual growth where carbon sequestration and oxygen production is maximized other than in a managed forest where it is actually 35 years. 

Current Forest Management Policies and Practices and the creation of the Provincial Park system were developed without consideration of the positive impact of the forest on climate change.

Yet, harvesting mature trees is a benefit to fighting climate change! Why? Because the net impact from harvest to mill ensures that 731 kg of carbon has not been released back into the atmosphere. By leaving trees to age in the forest and succumb to rot or fire, 780 kg of carbon is emitted into the air. The carbon absorbed by growing forests and stored in wood products offsets energy required to harvest, process, and transport and maintain those products. This is why wood products have a net emission below zero.

A clear example of how a particular management style of our forests impacts climate change is through an examination of the three largest provincial parks in Northwestern Ontario.  The impact of forest fires from 2000 to 2015 alone indicates the staggering emission of carbon into the atmosphere:

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Park Area:

470,625 ha

Land Only:

374,879 ha

Fire Disturbance:

112, 353 ha

Percentage of Disturbance

 

Wabakimi Provincial Park

30%

Park Area:

892,471 ha

Land Only:

768,677 ha

Fire Disturbance:

32,750 ha

Percentage of Disturbance

 

Quetico Provincial Park

4%

Park Area:

471,938 ha

Land Only:

370,216 ha

Fire Disturbance:

5,695 ha

Percentage of Disturbance 2%

 

 

 

 

 

Impact to the environment:

Total Area Burnt - over 150,000 ha

Approximately 12 million m3 or 75 m3/ha of wood fibre destroyed 

Over 9 billion kg which equals over 9 million metric tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere

Equivalent to over 3 million cars or approximately 200,000 cars/year

 

In addition to the impact of fire, the lack of forest management results in over mature trees being allowed to deteriorate and release significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Currently harvesting in the above provincial parks is prohibited. By implementing forest management practices in these parks similar to the way in which Algonquin Provincial Park has been managed for the past 200 years can significantly help with climate change while stimulating economic opportunities. In addition, in some parks, the master plan requires that fires be left to burn themselves out with no fire suppression initiated. This adds to the amount of carbon being released.  The same situation applies to the more northerly or remote forest fires that are not contained as a matter of public policy.

 

Our understanding of the impacts of global warming and the role that the boreal forest can play in reducing greenhouse gasses forces us to re-look at the policies regarding forest management in Ontario.  The solutions are not simple nor necessarily popular.

 

In order to ensure that Ontario has both a healthy forest economy and ensures that the boreal forest contributes to the Province`s goal of reduced greenhouse gasses significant research and consultation is required. This research would not only look at existing forest management practices but would look at how to salvage burned stands of wood to ensure the remaining carbon can be utilized through conversion (e.g.: to advanced biomass fuel pellets).

 

It is NOMA`s request that a body, similar in makeup to the former Minister`s Council on the Forest Sector Competitiveness, be created to provide advice to the Province on what forest management practices should be retained, what practices should be altered and what policies should be repealed.  The ultimate goal of this Council should be the development of a forest management strategy that will make significant contributions to the economy of the province while at the same time aiding Ontario in meeting its greenhouse gas commitments. The Council should be adequately resourced with a budget that will allow for significant research into all aspects of the role of the boreal forest in dealing with climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cap and Trade

 

On January 1, 2017 the Government of Ontario implemented the Cap and Trade tax.  There is a lack of understanding of the implications (both positive and negative) of the implementation of Ontario’s Cap and Trade system on economic systems in Northern Ontario. 

 

Municipal governments are ready to contribute to this effort – with some assistance.  

NOMA recommends that funding to invest in expensive infrastructure that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions is crucial in implementing the action plan. As well, municipalities require a better understanding as to the implications of the legislation.

Information regarding the carbon tax is still uncertain and varies significantly which is a cause of concern especially as municipalities plan for their 2017 budget.  Additionally, industry and small business are sharing their concerns.  Information regarding the carbon tax is still uncertain and varies significantly which is a cause of concern especially as municipalities plan for their 2017 budget.  Additionally, industry and small business are sharing their concerns.  The City of Thunder Bay has projected based on consumption that an increase in the 2017 operating budget of $375,000 is required to offset the new taxes placed on carbon based fuels.

To change the behaviour of individuals and organizations, the government has decided to apply a cap and trade mechanism. Municipal governments can have a significant influence on residential and industrial/commercial land use patterns but they need the support of the provincial government. Predictable annual funding supports, through the cap and trade revenues or another mechanism to undertake infrastructure resilience is needed.

NOMA recommends that a dedicated funding program to support municipal infrastructure resilience be created from a portion of Cap and Trade revenues.

Municipalities have a vested interest in ensuring that a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions be achieved. We have all bared witness to the change in weather patterns bringing in more fierce storms wreaking havoc on municipally owned infrastructure. Or the intense colder winter weather that has resulted in frozen pipes which have had a detrimental effect on both residents and businesses. Clearly, we all have a role to play and must work together on the implementation of Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan. 

Whether it be enhancing transit and active transportation, creating green building standards, expanding stormwater management systems as well as reducing the energy needs of our buildings, fleets and streetlights, municipalities have been leading climate action for some time.

Recognizing that the province intends to be a leader in climate action, aggressive greenhouse gas targets have been set. Ontario has identified that in order to reach their reduction goals, significant changes in transportation, buildings and industry will be required. 

 

NOMA recommends that funding to invest in expensive infrastructure that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions be provided. As well that the Government work with municipalities to determine the implications of the Climate Action Plan and to develop strategies to respond to the changes required. Further, we request that a dedicated program to support municipal infrastructure resilience be created from a portion of Cap and Trade revenues.

Travel is a necessity in the north. Our fuel prices are already higher than the rest of the province and an increase of 5 cents per litre will further burden our citizens. NOMA requests that further consideration be given to the impact of the Cap and Trade tax on the north and remove it from fuel prices in this region.  One option to consider would be the implementation of a Northern Tax Credit similar to what the Federal Government offered a number of years ago but applied to all of the area north of the French River.

NOMA recommends that the government determine the implications of instituting Ontario’s Cap and Trade system on the economy of Northern Ontario with particular attention to the transportation systems in Northern Ontario.

 

Multimodal Transportation Plan

Inter-Community Bus Service

As we just noted, the cost to travel in the Northwest became more expensive this past January.

Travel is a necessity. NOMA has presented the Ministry and the Premier with a report on Intercommunity Bus Service over a year ago. We have attended the consultations that transpired over the summer and fall regarding this issue and other aspects of the multimodal transportation strategy development – in short, we are seeking an update as to the status of this initiative. 

NOMA continues to support the findings of this report and the recommendations made in an effort to provide bus services that is designed to connect our communities.  

The Transportation Task Force concluded that for each community in the Northwest to have direct access to inter-community bus service the Province of Ontario will need to provide a subsidy to the existing operators in order that the service is viable. The Transportation Task Force has identified the cost of an inter-community bus service that provides daily service to each community in the Northwest. The total annual revenue required would be in the range of $3.24 million based on an operating cost of $2.50 per mile (not including capital).

Additionally, a large portion of the capital cost needed for not only equipment but also operation set-up, can be minimized by having an existing Carrier (s), who is already rooted, licensed, and able to undertake the operation with minimal outlay. 

The upfront capital costs will be $1 million with the ongoing operating revenue requirement of $3.24 million.  It is estimated that based on current ticket prices for the existing carriers, ticket revenue will amount to $1,900,000.  For this service to be viable, it will require an ongoing operating subsidy in the amount of $1,350,000.  In addition, a capital grant of $1 million will be required for start-up, followed by an equipment replacement grant every 5 years.  Alternatively, the annual operating subsidy should be increased by $235,000 in order to repay the cost of the loan for the acquisition of the equipment.

Subsidizing inter-community bus service is not new for the Government of Ontario. There are currently two distinct programs with significant financial contribution from the tax payer – those being Metrolinx and Ontario Northland Transportation Corporation. 

It is the position of NOMA that the Ontario Government should consolidate their transportation subsidies under one program and ensure that sufficient funds are available to provide a twice daily (one inbound, one outbound schedule), seven days a week transportation service that connects all of the communities in the region through the hub of Thunder Bay and to the medical destination of Winnipeg. 

As noted above, the Ontario Government is already paying for transport of Northwestern Ontario residents through a variety of methods and under different Ministry budgets, one option is that each Ministry and Ministry programs issue travel vouchers to their clients, redeemable with the inter-community bus provider who in turn will be compensated at tariffs determined by the Carrier.

It is also important to note that from the perspective of the Northwest further deregulation will not solve our lack of connections. It was deregulation that took away the requirement that bus operators had to use the profits from their high volume routes to cross subsidize their service to the North and other low volume communities.  Competition for few customers does not encourage new entrants.

NOMA believes that the only way the Northwest can have a reliable, dedicated, and ongoing bus service from community to community is to have it subsidized by the Government of Ontario. We are seeking an update as to the progress in implementing a solution for Northwestern Ontario.

 

 

Ministry of Finance

Railway Taxation

NOMA has been named to the working group addressing the railway taxation issue by the Ministry of Finance. To date, we are all in agreement that a new taxation formula is required but at this point, a consensus has not been reached. We recognize that this is a multi-faceted issue requiring consultation with all stakeholders. Ontario desperately needs to overhaul its taxation structure when it comes to railroad right of way lands. Not only would this provide municipalities with an opportunity to increase its tax base, it would also benefit the provincial treasury by increasing revenue to the province for right of way lands traveling through unincorporated territories.  By ensuring that municipalities have a higher degree of property tax revenue, there will be less pressure on the Province to increase grants. For these reasons, NOMA continues to support the taxation based on a per tonne per mile concept. 

Clearly, a one-size fits all approach will not address the concerns expressed across the province. Because of short lines vs long hauls, the recommendations put forward by the municipalities involved in the consultations are looking for a formula that deals with their specific needs.  




NOMA requests that the government implement a dollar per ton per mile taxation structure for which the railway companies pay in right of way taxes and that consideration be given to implementing a hybrid taxation model that reflects the needs of all regions.

 

 

MPAC – Large Commercial Property Assessments

As you know, MPAC has recently decided on assessments involving large commercial properties. These reductions, in addition to reduced industrial assessments, has had a detrimental impact on revenues that communities require to provide service delivery. Shifting the loss of taxation to the residential ratepayer is not sustainable as our residential ratepayers cannot continue to absorb the shift.

NOMA member communities are extremely frustrated. As an example, the Town of Fort

Frances has been hit hard both in the industrial and large commercial assessments. Their

Walmart store assessment was reduced by $2 million which results in a reduction of over $71,000.00 in taxes. Canadian Tire received a reduction of $21,000.00 and were successful in their appeal for a rebate for the last four years.  This is in addition to the $2.2 million reduction in other commercial properties and a net reduction of over $5 million in residential assessment.  The mill assessment was further reduced this year to $6.1 million down from a high of $28 million.

 

NOMA recommends that the Ministry of Finance work with municipalities by giving us the tools to have flexibility in adjusting the mill rates without being tied to the ratios.

Municipalities will ultimately be responsible in ensuring that they do not tax themselves out of business and are capable of making decisions that work best for their communities.  

 

 

 

 



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