THUNDER BAY – POLITICS – This past week I held a press conference in Thunder Bay to present new figures from the Library of Parliament which show how the Conservatives have absolutely gutted the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor) by cutting its annual budget by 48% since they came to power.
My office and I have the responsibility of monitoring FedNor and finding out what it is doing well and what it could do better. What we have found is that FedNor is unlike other regional development agencies, such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) or the Western Economic Diversification Agency (WED), in that it is not a standalone agency, but is instead an initiative delivered by Industry Canada. As such, FedNor has no single budget which can be monitored. Instead, it receives funding from a variety of temporary and permanent federal programs, and even then there are six or seven different sets of numbers that the government has used as the official “budget” number for FedNor at various times.
Given the transparency issues outlined above my staff and I reached out to the Library of Parliament for some assistance. We knew that whatever number we came up with, that the Conservatives could dispute our findings and simply create another set of numbers that were more favourable to them. Since the researchers at the Library of Parliament are non-partisan and professional number crunchers we asked them to give us the bottom line on funding at FedNor for each year since it was created. They obliged and put it all into one very detailed briefing note.
So here are some facts that can be found in that briefing note. In 2005-06, the year the Conservatives came to power, the budget for FedNor was $76.8 million. In 2013-14, the most recent year where figures are available, the annual budget for FedNor was just $45.5 million. This means that the annual budget at FedNor has been cut by 48% since the Conservatives came to power. The amount budgeted for FedNor is one thing, but the actual money spent is another. The briefing note also shows that of the $76.8 million that was budgeted for FedNor in 2005-06, all but $200 (two-hundred dollars) of that money was spent. However, for 2013-14 the figures show that of the $45.5 million that was budgeted for FedNor, just $36.9 million of that money was spent. These numbers represent only program funding (ie: not red tape) and were compiled by independent researchers. You can view them online at: Conservatives cuts to fednor
So, we now know that the budget for FedNor has been cut by 48% since the Conservatives came to power in 2005-06 and of that remaining money, a further 18.75% is now going unspent. Why is this, and where did all this money go? Well, since the money was cut from FedNor we know that this money was NOT being spent on economic development in Northern Ontario. According to generally accepted accounting principles, any unspent money is returned to the treasury and general revenue for the government of Canada. This is how the Conservatives have balanced the budget ahead of their own estimates; not by reducing their budget, but by not spending the money they claim to be spending.
In short, what we have is a shell game. The Conservatives get the great headlines for making $45.5 million in investments in Northern Ontario, and then keep $8.5 million of that in their pocket to use for those partisan ads or for tax cuts for the highest income earners. It really is a disgrace. As the Conservatives have cut the budget for economic development in Northern Ontario over the past 10 years we have lost 30,000 plus jobs lost in Ontario forestry sector, the Ring of Fire development has stalled to the point where a company was willing to leave $250 million on the table just so they could walk away, and small towns across our region struggle to find money for their infrastructure needs.
This independent research from the Library of Parliament proves beyond a doubt that the Conservatives have abandoned Northern Ontario. Our region deserves better and my New Democrat colleagues and I are ready to deliver the change we need and the honest government deserve, and to help get the Northern Ontario economy back on its feet