Are we putting all our eggs in one basket again?

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All our eggs in one basket?THUNDER BAY – From China comes word that the Chinese have launched a hydrogen powered locomotive. Chinese Business News reports, “China’s first new energy fuel cell light rail locomotive adopts hydrogen as the energy for the fuel cells as well as the world advanced permanent-magnet synchronous motor and frequency converter independently developed by the China North Vehicle Yongji Electric Motor Corporation as its main source of power.” 

“Experts believe the successful application of the permanent-magnet synchronous motor in China’s first new energy fuel cell light rail locomotive has provided a solution for the electrification of China’s urban public transportation and the traffic congestion panic. It is also conducive to the promotion of China’s new energy industry in a larger scope” 

The move into hydrogen powered rail, or hydrail, continues in California, Turkey, and China. The growth of this new technology is moving off the drawing board and into production. 

On September 14, 2007, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty stood in Thunder Bay and stated, “The hydrogen commuter train is exactly the type of initiative envisioned when the Ontario Liberal government created the new $650 million Next Generation Jobs Fund. Ontario Liberals want to expand the Fund by a further $500 million after the October 10th election. Ontario Liberals think Ontarians can – and should – lead the development of hydrogen alternatives for the world.” 

Why should that matter for Thunder Bay? “Thunder Bay probably has no idea how keenly it’s looked to in the world by the many organizations anticipating a transition of railway propulsion from petroleum to hydrogen. By 2030, diesel rail will be as colourful, distant and nostalgic as steam rail is today. And—if Ontario opts to lead—Thunder Bay may be to hydrail’s birth as the Detroit-Windsor area was to the advent of the automobile”, according to Stan Thompson. 

While there are many who are deeply excited and enthused by the “Ring of Fire”, perhaps the contrast is that if Northwestern Ontario were to become the hydrail manufacturing capital of North America, we could have generations of jobs. 

As exciting as the chromite mining opportunities are, realistically, with Ontario’s high power rates, it is unlikely that any secondary processing will be affordable in our region or province. That eliminates the possibility of manufacturing stainless steel here in Northern Ontario. 

So either there will have to be a complete change of policy on energy from the McGuinty Government, or all the “Ring of Fire” will be is another time that Northwestern Ontario is the source of raw materials for transport to another region of Canada or the United States for processing.

Manufacturing jobs here in Thunder Bay would put our economy on a more stable economic footing. 

Mining jobs in the “Ring of Fire” will offer our region a boom, followed by another bust. As positive as the mining prospects are once the minerals have been extracted, what is left that will foster future economic growth? 

Manufacturing jobs, making transportation vehicles or engines would be supplying a product to the world. Having those products both environmentally friendly, and likely to be in demand for the foreseeable future means the research, the jobs and the economy will all prosper. 

The third anniversary of Dalton McGuinty’s promise that “Ontario can lead the world”, was a quiet one. Neither the Premier, nor our two Thunder Bay Liberal MPPs wanted to celebrate, or comment. It is almost as if, instead of looking to the future by honouring a solid vision offered by Dalton McGuinty, the goal in 2010 seems to be to hope everyone forgets by October 2011. 

We should not be putting down the opportunities that the “Ring of Fire” offers. However should Northwestern Ontario be putting all our eggs in a chromite basket? Our region has had economic booms and busts ever since the fur trade days. 

Everyone knows the dangers of putting all your eggs in one basket. It is why under the leadership of Mayor Lynn Peterson and Joe Comuzzi to name but a few, that Thunder Bay has moved toward the knowledge-based economy. The goal is widening our communities economic stance.

The decisions being made right now in Thunder Bay, and in Queen’s Park could put our economy on a different and more solid footing. With the right push, and the political and economic leadership working together, the mineral wealth of the North could be ensuring jobs for many generations to come. 

That is a goal we should all be supporting.

James Murray

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