Good afternoon, everyone. Bonjour tout le monde.
Let me begin by thanking the Timmins Chamber of Commerce for inviting me. I’m grateful to be here to discuss the Ontario PC plan to create immediate and long-term economic opportunities in Timmins and across Northeastern
Each time I return to the North, I’m reminded of how intimate this incredibly vast region can be. Unlike Toronto, in towns like Timmins you’re likely to run into a friendly face.
Like my good friend and Kapuskasing’s mayor – Alan Spacek, who is with us today. I’ve known Al for over a decade, back when I served as Minister of Northern Development and Mines. Al was always there to provide me with valuable and insightful advice. He was just a phone call away. And I took his calls. I listened. I learned. I acted.
I later called on Al to run as our Ontario PC candidate here in Timmins-James Bay. And like me, Al answered that call. Never shy about standing up for his constituents and taking a stand against Southern Ontario special
interests. Al took on a twenty-two year incumbent in a very tough race.
He vaulted the Ontario PCs to second place and increased our Party’s vote total by an amazing 28 per cent from the last election. An inroad we have never before achieved in this riding.
Although the result didn’t turn out the way both we both hoped, Queen’s Park loss is Kapuskasing’s gain. Al’s getting on with the job of leading Northern Ontario’s model town.
CHALLENGES: We didn’t get Al. But we did get another prominent Northern Ontario mayor – North Bay’s Vic Fedeli. The new Member of Provincial Parliament for Nipissing. Vic brings a wealth of experience as an entrepreneur
and small business owner to our caucus.
That’s why I appointed him as Energy Critic in our Shadow Cabinet.
Big mills and small businesses are plagued by alarming energy costs. Some have even closed their doors permanently. Instead of earnings being reinvested in research and development, businesses are forced to allocate these
same funds towards paying off skyrocketing energy bills.
It’s especially hard on our resource sector. I don’t need to remind anyone about Xstrata closed its plants at the Met site. The wounds are still fresh. The devastation is still felt.
In 2010 the company announced it was closing up shop and in 2011 it closed its doors in Northeastern Ontario and transferred operations 215 kilometers east to Quebec.
Central to Xstrata’s decision were Ontario’s outrageous industrial energy rates – the highest in Canada. When it shut its doors, Xstrata shut out over 700 employees who lost their well paying jobs, compounding the losses the community had already suffered by the closing of Grant’s Wafer Board site and Tembec’s sawmill.
Added to the North’s ongoing energy problems are the lack of power transmission lines.
Former Energy Minister George Smitherman promised new infrastructure. But he bailed on his promise and on the people. Smitherman had Toronto on his mind. Not Timmins.
That’s because when you’re running for mayor of Toronto there are no votes in Kirkland Lake, Iroquois Falls or Cochrane. So instead, he pandered to special interests in Toronto and pushed through a failed and costly green-energy scheme.
$7-billion dollars of your money was handed over to Korean-based Samsung. That’s money that could have been invested here at home to tackle energy issues.
Xstrata confirmed what we all know. Northern Ontario has a jobs crisis. This region’s unemployment rate is nearly twelve per cent. Well above the provincial average at nearly eight per cent.
Many of us have family, friends and co-workers who have lost their jobs. As business leaders, I’m sure you’ve done everything you can to prevent layoffs among your own employees.
These unsettling figures are compounded by another: our $16-billion dollar deficit.
Again, money spent on servicing the deficit could instead be invested right here in the North. But it isn’t.
Since March, Dalton McGuinty has been hiding behind Don Drummond – the economist he’s put in charge to do his own job and find savings.
Dalton McGuinty needs to follow the lead of business owners. Show leadership. Make tough choices.
Government needs to share in the sacrifice the private sector is making every day. But he won’t.
In fact, he and his government have a record of doing little to help the North. They’ve actively passed laws that prevent the North from both immediate and long-term economic prosperity.
The Southern Ontario special interests – with their fantasy view of what Northern living really is – have far too much say over the decisions that affect Northern business owners.
This government won’t listen. Because ministers think they know what’s best for you. Dalton McGuinty just doesn’t understand that the North’s success can’t be driven from the special interests’ office in Toronto.
For too long the needs of the North have been ignored by this government. This has to stop.
THE PLAN – I have always said that if Ontario is the engine of Confederation, then Northern Ontario is the fuel – the lumber, the minerals and the minds that power us forward.
My plan builds on the region’s competitive advantages. And it starts with job-creating tax relief.
TAX RELIEF: The Ontario PCs are the only party in the Legislature unwavering in its commitment to business tax relief. It wasn’t that long ago that Dalton McGuinty believed the same thing. This commitment is on page 24 of his
election platform. It was there again in the Throne Speech.
Now all signs point to the McGuinty Liberals abandoning a statutory commitment to cut business tax rates to 10 per cent by 2013. But cancelling a tax cut is a tax increase. And you all know that the best thing government can do is create an environment for businesses to thrive – like lowering taxes – and get out of the way.
That way job creators like you keep more of your money, remain more competitive, hire more people, stay open and have funds to cover the costs of those energy bills.
Tax relief encourages Northerner’s to stay and others to re-locate to communities like Timmins. This further helps small towns with shrinking tax bases.
REGULATIONS: Our plan also calls for a reduction of job hindering regulations and red tape that stretches as far back as Toronto – right where it came from.
I have long been committed to repealing laws that hinder economic opportunities.
This includes the Far North Act, which has turned much of the North into a virtual museum by banning development and killing potential jobs.
We also need to turn the promise of the Ring of Fire into a job-creating reality.
This is a gigantic opportunity. Worth tens of billions of dollars of jobs and prosperity. That’s bigger than the Sudbury Basin. This is s a once-in-a-century opportunity for the North, for Ontario, and for Canada.
I believe that it’s the role of the Premier to convince the rest of the province about the Ring of Fire’s economic potential – and why all Ontarians need to rally around developing it.
Yet the McGuinty’s Liberals have dragged their feet, refusing to jump on the high-value jobs and investments that are waiting.
We cannot let this historic opportunity pass us by. We must push forward.
People in Southern Ontario must realize that the Ring of Fire matters to them. And wherever government policy is a barrier we have to be open to all options to remove those barriers.
With competitive tax rates.
The elimination of red tape.
And new economic opportunities…comes a demand for skilled trade jobs.
The PC plan is to create more than 200,000 new apprenticeship spaces over four years by fixing Ontario’s apprenticeship system.
This means more electricians, ironworkers, carpenters, construction millwrights and sheet metal workers.
The list goes on. So do the opportunities.
The current system doesn’t help those aspiring to become skilled trades professionals, or the job creators who need these talents.
Too many motivated workers from Northern Ontario are leaving for better opportunities in other provinces.
We will reduce the number of journeymen to apprentices, making it 1 to 1. This puts more skilled workers on the job. And makes it easier for ambitious apprentices to get hired by willing employers.
We will strengthen the hand of committed educators and community colleges – like Northern College – to deliver more apprenticeship opportunities.
Our plan works to ensure businesses have an abundance of human capital to draw from right here in the Northeast.
MININIG / FORESTRY Mining and forestry are obvious destinations for skilled trades professionals. These industries are the pride of the North. As a cabinet minister I saw this first hand.
I was part of a government that took Ontario to the very top ranking of the world’s best mining jurisdictions. In 2001, we were first overall.
But today, we have plunged to nineteenth and we’re lagging behind other provinces, stuck in seventh place in Canada.
For over a century, mines have created billions of dollars in wealth for our economy and tens of thousands of well-paying, long-term jobs. Southern Ontario needs to remember that this industry helped the Toronto Stock Exchange become the leading global mining exchange.
Our forestry industry has also fallen behind.
Ontario once had the number one forestry sector in Canada. That’s no longer the case. The current provincial government has created a number of confusing policies that have negatively impacted forestry.
One day the American housing market will rebound.
When it does, there will be an ambitious demand for wood.
But because of uncompetitive taxes, too many regulations, anti-development policies and depleting human capital, companies won’t be able to buy from Ontario. By the time the housing sector is on the rise, our resource industries will be on the way out.
This is unacceptable. We can’t afford to miss these opportunities. And it doesn’t have to be this way. Ontario has always been number one. We should be number one.
And with lower taxes, fewer regulations and red tape, coupled with a large, diversified and talented, skilled workforce – we will be number one again.
Northern Ontario businesses face unique challenges and pressures, but this region has extraordinary and exciting potential.
The plan I outlined today is designed to get Northern Ontario working again.
These are responsible ideas that will create new jobs now and long-term employment in the future. They make full use of the North’s skills and natural resources and will retain more wealth in this region. We know this because we met with and listened to people like you.
Ontario has its first minority parliament since 1977. The McGuinty Liberals no longer rule you with an iron fist.
Help hold the Southern Ontario special interests accountable.
Our ideas can get passed. They can become a reality.
Write, call, email and visit your MPP.
Tell them they need to listen. Tell them to take part in our plan that unlocks the potential that you see right here at home.
And if they won’t do it, we will.
It’s time for Queens Park to take a different approach. I believe that before we pass any legislation that affects the North we need to consider three questions:
Does it originate in the North?
Does it protect the Northern way of life?
Does it keep wealth in the North?
Only if the answer is yes to all three should we pass any legislation for Norther Ontario.
Because enough is enough. It’s time to get the North working again.
Leader, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario