From the Sault Star:
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the province needs a strong steel industry – especially one that can help build infrastructure for all Ontarians.
“We are building so much in Ontario right now – $160 billion over 12 years – and there is a lot of steel in that build,” she said in an exclusive interview with The Sault Star.
She was in Sault Ste. Marie Monday as part of an 18-stop, week-long tour of Northern Ontario communities. Monday’s formal announcement dedicated an additional $120 million to modernize Northern Ontario schools, bringing a total commitment to $300 million.
In the interview, Wynne said she believes it’s important that the steel economy in Ontario remain healthy and robust and that’s why the province has been working with Essar Steel for some time.
“It is important to the province that we have access to that high quality Ontario steel at a price that builders can afford,” she said. “We’re committed to the steel industry.”
Wynne acknowledges that the steel industry’s trials and tribulations are an international concern and not just one for Ontario.
The provincial government – pre-insolvency proceedings – provided a $30-million grant to Essar Steel Algoma to use to modernize its steel mill and make it more competitive for the global market.
Wynne recently visited Washington and heard similar concerns about the North American and international steel industry.
She said the federal government needs to also help support and strengthen the steel industry.
“The Prime Minister is very aware of this issue. I’ve met with the American ambassador when I was in Washington and we talked about the importance of a federal-provincial collaboration on steel so we’re very much involved in that discussion,” Wynne said.
She wants both levels of government to examine the trade rules and really determine what isn’t working now that once did and ensure that the best rules are in place for Canada and the steel industry.
The premier recently met with the Ruia family – owners of Essar Steel.
“We’ve been working with Essar for some time and we are supportive of the company as we are of the steel industry and we will continue to work with them,” she said.
She wouldn’t comment on what, if any, assistance the province will provide to help the Sault steel mill, noting that a process is underway before the courts and one that must play its course.
Essar Steel Algoma is set to be back in court Aug. 18 where it’s expected that more information will be provided about potential purchasers of the steel mill.
Wynne is aware that the huge outstanding issue – with any purchaser of the mill – is the pension issue but isn’t prepared to comment on that now.
“Let me be clear that I want a strong steel industry in Ontario and want the companies that are here to be able to continue,” she said.
Sault MPP David Orazietti said he’s met with MP Terry Sheehan, and other ministers at both levels of government, who are fully engaged in the issue.
He said some changes are administrative in nature and can be more easily changed with some resources and would go a long way to helping the industry itself.
Orazietti said the industry’s importance in Ontario can be highlighted by examining the rail car standards required to carry petroleum in Ontario.
“Those steel standards are being developed by Ontario and advance manufacturing steel technology in Ontario,” he said.
Offshore countries dumping steel into Canada are not providing the solutions required in Ontario for our auto sector or other manufacturing sectors, Orazietti said.
Wynne is hopeful that building on the steel industry through ‘value added manufacturing’ will help Ontario compete in the global economy.
The Port of Algoma might be one of those opportunities that receive a nod from the province – providing a business case shows what opportunities will be available for the North and for the province as a whole.
“We’re interested in looking at initiatives that will stabilize the economy, grow the economy in communities across the North,” she said. “If there are ways we can partner with the municipality or the private sector to create ways and opportunities, we’re open to the discussion.”
Wynne said that’s why it’s important she travels to different parts of the province – to ensure she understands regional differences and regional needs.
Those needs and perspectives often change and the government must adapt to them, she said.
“I have to continue to talk to people and hear from them,” she said.
Ontario is one of the leading jurisdictions for economic growth in the country and outstripping the US in terms of our economic growth, Wynne said.
“We are really moving ahead in a positive way and my objective is to keep it that way.”
Wynne’s next stops on her Northern Ontario tour are Wawa, Rainy River and Thunder Bay.