On Friday, Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith and Chief Administrative Officer John Sisson met with Premier Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Linda Jeffrey, and Minister of Natural Resources David Orazietti regarding Bracebridge’s request for the inclusion of the six municipalities in the District of Muskoka within the boundaries of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
Mayor Smith expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to meet directly with Premier Wynne and two senior Ministers regarding this important economic development and community sustainability issue. The meeting took place in Parry Sound while the Premier was attending the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities Association Annual Conference and General Meeting. The Mayor noted for the Premier that Muskoka had been previously included in the Northern Ontario economic development area. However, in 2004, the Provincial Government removed Muskoka from the region. As a result, Muskoka was excluded from the boundaries of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund (NOHF), which had been established in 1988 with a mandate to promote and stimulate economic development initiatives in Northern Ontario.
In addition to Muskoka’s exclusion from the boundaries of the NOHF, it has not been included within the boundaries of any of the other provincially-created development funds. Mayor Smith reinforced with the Premier and Ministers that “this situation has placed Bracebridge and all of the municipalities in Muskoka at a profound economic disadvantage when compared to other Ontario municipalities.” He emphasized that Muskoka, like other regions of the province, needs Provincial Government support to help build strong and economically sustainable communities. In response to a request from the Premier and the Ministers, Mayor Smith has committed to the preparation, in consultation with our neighbouring municipalities, of an overview of Muskoka’s vision for the future and an outline of the primary economic development drivers that have been identified for the region.
Minister Jeffrey indicated that she would facilitate an opportunity to review the material submitted with Minister of Tourism, Culture & Sport, Michael Chan and Minister of Economic Development, Trade & Employment, Eric Hoskins. Mayor Smith was very pleased with the exchange of information with Premier Wynne and the Ministers. Smith noted that “Premier Wynne was frank in her comments, but open to finding solutions to challenges facing Muskoka. We look forward to further dialogue with the Province as we work together to address this significant issue,” said Smith.