MARATHON – Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath is in Marathon this afternoon. She is addressing the meeting.
Here is the text of Horwath’s remarks:
Thank you for inviting me to be with you here in Marathon.
It’s great to be back in a place “built on paper and laced with gold.”
I’ve had the good fortune to have spent the week in the North.
When you spend most of your days breathing the hot air coming out of the Ontario legislature, it’s quite literally a breath of fresh air to spend a week in Northern Ontario.
I’m grateful for the warm welcome and generous hospitality I receive whenever I visit communities in the North, and I want to thank you sincerely for that.
It’s a privilege to be here.
I’m proud to be here as leader of a party that has long been a champion of Ontario’s Northern communities and I want to talk to you directly about how we can ensure a strong, prosperous future for this region.
Northerners have a well-earned reputation for resilience, for ingenuity and for strength.
Northerners are tough because they need to be.
It’s literally a tough climate.
But there’s also tough issues facing a region that is so often ignored.
Northern Ontario takes up a lot of space on Ontario’s map but somehow falls off the government’s radar.
The folks I’ve been speaking with this week in Timmins, New Liskeard, Englehart, Thunder Bay and here in Marathon are proud, strong, hardworking people who truly believe in their communities.
And they have good reason to.
Plant closures and job losses are not just “a sign of the times.”
Job losses are not inevitable.
We can build a strong, prosperous future for the North…
But it won’t happen by crossing our fingers and hoping for the best and it won’t happen by sticking with a status quo that isn’t working.
The North has the resources, the smarts and the people it needs to prosper.
Now it needs to have the autonomy, the support and the freedom to drive investment and create and protect good jobs.
To put it another way, no one is better equipped to know what’s good for the North than the people who actually live here.
Resources and support can and should come from the Ontario legislature. Absolutely.
But Northerners need the power to shape their own future.
We haven’t seen that from the McGuinty government.
Sometimes it’s the typical indifference of a government with different priorities.
When Greyhound was threatening to withdraw service, Manitoba responded instantly while Northerners waited.
There’s $30 million in provincial funds for the GO bus service in the south, but nothing for the North.
This is a region that has been devastated by job losses, yet last fall the McGuinty government shut down job action centres across the North.
But there’s a more fundamental problem.
The North doesn’t just need more attention.
If that was the case I could give you all a big hug and head home.
Northerners need power to use the resources and the skills they have to create wealth and prosperity for Northerners and keep that prosperity in the North.
It starts with electricity.
Let’s take a look around us.
We’re meeting today in a region that is absolutely awash in affordable, reliable power.
You generate some of the cleanest, greenest electricity in the entire world.
Not only that, it’s some of the cheapest, most affordable energy on the planet.
And yet companies are pulling up their stakes and leaving because they can’t afford the power.
It’s time for the government to cut the shackles on the North so that hydro rates are geared toward attracting investment not sending companies over the border or pulling the plug on their local operations.
And I’m pleased to say you’ll be hearing a lot more about this from New Democrats in the months to come, because an honest discussion about hydro in the North is long, long overdue.
Imagine, for example, what we’d hear in southern Ontario if the government said it was going to hike the price on bridge tolls to U.S. firms and on Ontario companies that export over the border.
People would be outraged.
They’d say, “You’re making us uncompetitive. You’re killing jobs and making our communities into places where people don’t want to invest.”
And they’d be right. But that’s essentially what’s happening in the North when we have electricity rates that are triple those of neighboring jurisdictions.
In the recent provincial budget we heard the government say it would move on an industrial hydro rate but only for three years and only under certain conditions.
Dalton McGuinty says this will create jobs. Unfortunately, the very same week another paper mill – in Sault Ste. Marie – said they were shutting down. And AbitibiBowater is selling its value-added Fort William division paper mill in Thunder Bay for scrap metal.
It’s hard not to be cynical about a government that’s announcing a short-term solution to a permanent problem.
Especially when that solution is coming a year before an election.
And especially when we look at the track record. In 2005, the government announced a forestry assistance fund with a lot of fanfare.
Five years later half of the fund is still sitting in a bank in Toronto. You don’t have to be too smart to do the math on that one.
I have no doubt there will be many, many more promises from Mr. McGuinty in the next 18 months before election day. But I would say, let’s remind ourselves that past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour.
That’s why more attention from Queen’s Park isn’t the only solution… More responsibility is.
Your response to the government’s proposed Growth Plan said something that was pretty simple but fairly profound.
Quote. “The Plan cannot succeed if it is administered from and by Queens Park and the Government of Ontario.”
Your proposal calls for development of a panel of Northern Residents, nominated by key organizations based in the North to be consulted on issues of Northern planning and Northern development.
I hope to hear more from you about how that would work and who should and can speak for the North.
Clearly municipalities are an important voice. And New Democrats have argued for some time that municipalities need unique tools to deal with the unique challenges facing the North.
More of the revenue generated in the North through mining, electricity generation and forestry should stay in the North as a revenue stream for municipalities and for First Nations.
Local Health Integration Networks make key decisions about our hospitals, our long-term care, our home care and the health of our communities but they’re not accountable.
And that’s especially important in the Northwest.
In health care, in economic planning, Northerners need to have more control of the issues that affect the North. And once we’ve done that, Northerners will be able to help themselves.
Across the North, people want the government to offer practical ways to make their lives more affordable.
Too often, we’re moving the other way.
Ontarians are about to start paying a whole lot more on everyday purchases once Dalton McGuinty’s HST comes into effect this summer and a $200 energy tax credit doesn’t look so good for a family with a couple kids to feed and a mortgage to pay.
In fact, the energy credit announced for the North won’t come close to offsetting the higher costs families here are going to be paying for a long list of daily necessities.
Every time you gas up the car you’re going to be paying more with the HST. Every time you get a hair cut. Your utility bills.
It’s beyond me how putting a bit of money into one pocket but taking out even more from the other is going to help people.
Maybe that’s Liberal logic, but it doesn’t pass the test for me.
I’m proud to be the leader of a party that has called for a reworking of pensions in Ontario.
Public plans – with public administration and public oversight – that don’t leave workers high and dry when a company closes its doors. Protection for workers when an employer pulls up stakes.
Portability for your pension if you change jobs.
Why don’t we have these kinds of tools? The kinds of tools that allow people to earn a decent, dignified living and retire with stability and security?
If you work an honest day you should be able to live comfortably, securely, and provide for your family.
That’s what New Democrats believe.
And we’re proposing the kinds of policies that will deliver the kind of dignity that Northerners – and all Ontarians – deserve.
We’ve seen the same movie playing out in the North too many times now.
Xstrata. Vale Inco. Abitibi. Grant Forest Products.
It’s time to finally change the channel.
So let’s move forward with a real Northern growth plan.
Let’s start with targeted government investments to really build our value-added industries.
Let’s keep Ontario’s rich natural resources right here in the province for processing.
Let’s keep those good jobs here at home instead of sending raw materials over our borders so that someone else can fill their pocket.
Let’s get the ball rolling on Buy-Ontario local procurement policies that would keep our tax dollars right here in the province, so that we can create good jobs closer to home.
Let’s let the people of the North have a say about how much we should charge Northern companies to use Northern electricity.
And let’s get some protections in place so that hardworking people aren’t left high and dry when a company decides it’s time to leave town.
This is pretty practical, pragmatic stuff, if you ask me.
But it does require a government that tunes itself into what’s really happening here in the North and stops pretending to listen and instead takes real action.
I know that the best days of Northern Ontario are still to come but we need to give the North the tools and resources to get ahead.
I want to thank you for a fantastic week in the North.
It’s my privilege to hear your stories and hear directly from people in Northern communities about the challenges you face today and what we need to be doing differently to build for a stronger tomorrow.
Thank you for your hospitality. Thank you for listening, and thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.
I look forward to coming back soon and until then I’ll be standing up for Northern issues every chance I can in the legislature.