Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford has been appointed Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, but Gravelle is concerned the department will accommodate competing priorities.
The return of former Finance Minister Rod Phillips may have made headlines in a provincial cabinet reshuffle announced on Friday, but the creation of a new ministry bringing together natural resources, forestry and mining with the development of the North could prove to have more important implications.
Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford is now the new Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, in addition to his role as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.
This merges the former Department of Natural Resources and Forestry with its previous oversight portfolio of the Department of Energy, Northern Development and Mines (Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith takes on a new Ministry of Autonomous Energy).
The government and its critics agree that the creation of the new consolidated ministry could have major impacts.
Rickford said there are synergies between all of his current responsibilities and argued the province could better advance resource development by bringing mining and forestry under one roof with northern development.
“I think this is a great consolidation of what I would otherwise call the Ministry of Natural Resources, something akin to what I was when I was federal minister,” he said on Tuesday. , referring to his tenure as Minister of Natural Resources in the Harper government.
Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle, who oversaw both the northern development and mining file and the natural resources file under the leadership of Kathleen Wynne, said he had serious concerns as to the possibility of bridging the two.
âThe Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is one of the largest in the province and certainly deserves to have its own independent ministry,â he said.
Although he said Rickford could be a suitable minister, Gravelle said the new structure places a large number of potentially competing priorities under one ministry.
Specifically, he expressed concern that the new ministry might see the economic development mandate accentuated over what he said was the more traditional regulatory role of the MRNF.
Rickford, for his part, said it could be a good thing.
âThe reason we haven’t made significant progress across our resources in Northern Ontario is that in 15 years we have put in place a regulatory machine that most accounts say forestry and mining in particular said it was not a place to do business. . “
âEverywhere you go, we’ve worked in northern development and mining to cut red tape – twice a year it’s part of our legislation.
Although Aboriginal Affairs remains a stand-alone ministry also under Rickford’s tutelage, Gravelle argued that it should be a “strongly independent” ministry with a dedicated minister.
It was first established as a provincial ministry in 2007, in response to the recommendations of the Ipperwash Inquiry.
Just having two portfolios under one minister doesn’t mean they’re less important, said Rickford, adding that he spent as much or more time on the Indigenous Affairs portfolio than anything else.