Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas says the government is blocking access to a report reviewing a plan to move the OPP search and rescue helicopter based in Sudbury to Orillia.
In the Ontario Legislature this week, Gélinas demanded the report be released to the public, and went as far as to express doubts an actual review ever took place.
“I have filed a Freedom-of-Information request for that report and gotten nothing,” she said. “I repeatedly requested a copy directly from the minister and got nothing. I have approached the OPP headquarters, aviation base and media department, and gotten nothing. I have requested a briefing from the ministry on this report and gotten nothing.
“I have requested who has worked on this report and we can’t identify a single person. At this point, I believe that the review of this decision to move the Sudbury helicopter to Orillia never took place.”
Announced in late April, the move to centralize the helicopter in Orillia, where the OPP's other helicopter is located, is expected save the force about $254,000 a year and will allow the OPP to expand operating hours to 6 a.m.-midnight each day. Currently the normal hours are 7 a.m.-5 p.m.
Critics, however, have pointed out Orillia is in a snowbelt and in the past, have had to call the Sudbury chopper into service when conditions worsen in the area.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne backed the review when she was in town in May, saying she was unaware of the move until it was made public.
Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Abbas Naqvi agreed to the review, but no date has been announced when it will be complete. Naqvi's ministry oversees the OPP.
There are three people in Sudbury affected by the move, although the OPP said no one is losing their jobs due to the relocation. The helicopter left the city last summer during the PanAm Games, and the OPP haven't said whether it has returned.
Sudbury MPP Glen Thibeault said in October he expected the review to be completed soon. But this week in the Legislature, Gélinas said Northerners want the helicopter back now.
“Mr. Speaker, soon northerners will be skiing, snowmobiling, trapping, snowshoeing and travelling through the bush or over the frozen lakes,” she said. “We want to know that there is infrastructure in place if an accident was to happen and that lives will be protected.”
Gélinas said she's frustrated by the lack of answers regarding the helicopter's fate and the ministry has refused to answer questions.
“The minister never answered my questions but stated they are currently reviewing the report developed by the OPP on search and rescue in northern Ontario,” she said.
“You’ll remember that after the community outcry that this helicopter would better protect the people of the North by being in Sudbury rather than Orillia ... Let me be clear: Northerners want their helicopter back.”