EDMONTON — The province of Ontario has gone from criticizing the oil sands to increasing its efforts to capture their economic benefits.Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister for economic development, says he plans to increase his department’s attention to Alberta by adding more staff to deal with trade issues.I think that we want to now move forward with the knowledge that the oil sands are important to Ontario’s economy“I think we have a recognition that our relationship could be stronger. I think that we want to now move forward with the knowledge that the oil sands are important to Ontario’s economy,” Duguid told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.He said he understands the value of the oil sands to Ontario business and estimated that value at $63-billion over the next 25 years.[np-related]“It may be a time for Ontario to increase our presence in the province of Alberta in terms of our business supports here,” he said from Calgary. “We may want to look at having some more presence here in terms of staffing.”The Ontario government doesn’t currently have an office in Alberta. A bureaucrat at the Ontario legislature spends part of his time dealing with Alberta files.“The intent is move that to a full-time contact so that we’ve got more of a personal contact here — a good liaison between the business community in Ontario and Alberta.”A spokeswoman for Duguid’s office later clarified the Ontario government is looking at many ways to boost its profile in Alberta, which may or may not include opening an actual office in the province.Duguid said it’s time to help businesses in his province that are looking for oilpatch opportunities and Alberta companies that are looking for skilled labour.“There’s a recognition that that’s important to Ontario’s economy and it makes sense to look at ways we can work closer together, both in providing opportunities for our respective businesses and at the same to work together as governments,” Duguid said.Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said earlier this year that the booming energy sector was driving up the Canadian dollar and hurting the manufacturing and export sectors in Central Canada.Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has made similar comments. He has said the oil sands are artificially inflating the Canadian dollar and hollowing out the country’s manufacturing sector. He calls it the definition of Dutch disease — a reference to the Netherlands and how a natural gas find in that country led to declines in manufacturing in the 1960s.Duguid said his government wants to move past that debate.“We’re aware that there was a lot said about those comments. We just want to move forward.”Stronger links between Canada’s largest provincial economy and its fastest-growing one would be good for the whole country, said Duguid.
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Local political leaders are supporting a Brant County proposal for a new Highway 403 interchange at Bishopsgate Road.Ava Hill, chief of the Six Nations elected council, Brantford-Brant MPP Will Bouma and Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett all have written letters in support of the proposal to Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek.“As a neighbouring community to the County of Brant, we are all interconnected in the challenges as well as the solutions that we can come up with – and this interchange is certainly one of them,” Hill said in her letter sent on behalf of the elected council.“Adding to the government’s mandate “Ontario is Open for Business,’ this new interchange would better enable residents and businesses not only of the County of Brant but also The Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, better and safer access to Highway 403.”Brant officials have been working for several years to get approval for the interchange project, which is included in its transportation master plan. The estimated cost of the project is about $14 million.The county says the new interchange is needed to handle an increase in traffic from aggregate operations, as well as residential development in the Burford area. It also would help alleviate traffic pressure from Rest Acres Road.“This new interchange will also reduce the space between interchanges along Highway 403 since the closest interchange west of Rest Acres Road is over 11 kilometres away – which is not ideal,” Bouma said in his letter of support.Bouma said the new interchange also would make it easier for first responders to access the 403.He noted that the county has obtained full environmental assessment approvals from the province.Barrett, meanwhile, said he has constituents who travel to and from Highway 403 daily using Highway 24.“However, there are congestion issues on Rest Acres Road at that interchange,” Barrett said. “Diverting traffic to Bishopsgate Road would alleviate this congestion.”The letters of support were accepted as information by county councillors at this week’s county council meeting.Vball@postmedia.com