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Ontario creates $2-million fund for Elliot Lake businesses

Two men stand outside the collapsed Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., on June 28, 2012.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's governing Liberals say they've set up a two-year, $2-million fund to help businesses devastated by a deadly mall collapse in Elliot Lake get back on their feet.

The fund will help businesses affected by the disaster to reopen in temporary locations and put mall employees back to work, Northern Development Minister Rick Bartolucci said Wednesday in Elliot Lake.

The money, which will come from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., will also support economic development projects that will help those businesses find permanent homes, he said.

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But the fund, which will be overseen by the northern Ontario city, will not compensate businesses for the loss of revenue or workers for lost wages. Financial institutions, government and service agency offices are also ineligible to receive money.

The fund will help the community as it starts to recover from the tragedy, Mr. Bartolucci said.

"Your community may be small, but it's mighty, and it is known far and wide for its resiliency and creative ability in finding ways to emerge from trying times even stronger," he said.

The collapse of a section of the mall's roof, which resulted in the deaths of two women, dealt a massive blow to the city's economy.

According to the government, 32 tenants were displaced by the collapse of the mall, which represented 60 per cent of all available retail space in the city.

In addition to retail stores, the library, one of two grocery stores, one of two hotels and other offices were destroyed.

New Democrat Mike Mantha, whose constituency office was in the mall, said the fund is a small step towards rebuilding the community.

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"In addition to this contribution, the government needs to provide a long-term infrastructure plan that will be sustainable for the economic future of our community," he said in a statement.

Mr. Bartolucci said another $50,000 will be provided to support mid- to long-term programs to create jobs and strengthen the economy.

The government has set up a temporary office where staff will work with provincial ministries, the municipality and local businesses to put the economy back on track, he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said he doesn't know if it's enough money, but it's a positive step. The mall was a hub of the community, which will suffer if those businesses and services don't find new homes, he said.

"Elliot Lake is a small town, it's a good distance away from the next reasonably large community," he said.

"If families want to get on with their day-to-day lives after going through this tragedy this is an appropriate use of public funds."

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