Ontario’s economy is struggling and politicians dance


Ontario Progress ReportTHUNDER BAY – EDITORIAL – Ontario’s economy is struggling, and the real impacts of those struggles are not yet being felt. Our Ontario has seen years of government living beyond its means, along with years of outright denial that this is a problem. It is, and it is one that is going to take a generation to get over at the least. Ontario is likely to lag behind more prosperous provinces, and likely will continue to do so for some time. Ontario’s deficit is the real elephant in the room. Should interest rates climb from their current levels, our government will have to spend massive amounts of money just to pay for what we already, as a province, have spent. Standard and Poor’s has fired a salvo across our province’s economic bow saying how potentially vulnerable Ontario really is.

Solving the problems is going to take some real effort and some really hard work. It won’t be easy. Right now, sadly, at the provincial level, there really isn’t anyone stepping up with real plans to make a real difference.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has a ham-fisted death grip on maintaining the status quo. Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak is opposing rather than leading. Andrea Horwath just demonstrated that her party will sit on their hands rather than vote. The loser in all of this, and you can be positive each politician will deny it, will be future generations of Ontario’s population. Right now it is way too easy for governments to run massive deficits, and put the future in debt.

It is way too hard apparently for a political leader to stand up and tell people “We just can’t afford that right now”.

Ontario honestly has a vacumn of leadership. What Ontario has, a wealth of minerals, a proud history of making the products Canada needs, and the skilled and talented workforce to do that today is all missing that one critical catalyst, solid positive leadership.

Sure Premier McGuinty will share how we are leading the world in ‘green energy’, but the fact is if the government subsidies were removed that growth would drop like a stone. If it stayed and Ontarians were to see the subsidized price of electricity on their power bills, our economy would tank faster than water falls over Kakabeka Falls in the spring.

You only have to examine what is happening in other countries that have followed the massive subsidy route to encourage wind energy and solar energy. It is possible that in the near future the technology will be developed to make solar energy very affordable and viable. There is some interesting research into graphene going on right now that could well pan out. However that work is not happening in Ontario.

For Northwestern Ontario, we have had the Rosehart Report, the Northern Ontario Growth Plan, and a multitude of plans. While some progress is being made, all one has to do is look at the recent NOMA conference, and the list of resolutions passed to witness that what we mostly have is a plan to have a plan to have a plan.

Politically, it is easier to study, and plan, than it is to lead. For voters, it is often easier to fall into the trap of partisan support for parties and for politicians. In Northwestern Ontario there is almost it seems, a reluctance or even a slight fear of upsetting a politician for fear that there will be funding impacts as a result.

When you look at Budget 2012, and read that the Ontario Government, rather than really making hay with the prospects for mining in our region is actually looking to raise taxes on the mining sector, one can start to realize that the depth of the problem is massive. Yet not one of the bodies in our region has taken a stand on that issue.

Unbridled partisan support of politicians has enabled the current situation in the north. Premier Dalton McGuinty has, when you think of it, capitalizes on that. It is why last week, instead of making the trip north to Kenora to attend the NOMA meeting, he stayed away. The same thing happened last fall when the Premier skipped on attending the Northern Leader’s Debate.

After the Premier enacted the Far North Act over the objections of every group in the North, he attended a meeting here in Thunder Bay and was given two standing ovations. The message was sent, and the die was cast. Leaders shared with the Premier that no matter what he does, we will applaud him. One could imagine the comments between the Premier’s aides and assistants after that meeting.

The leadership vacumn in the North is serious. It is going to damage the fragile economy across the region. It could even have mining companies start moving elsewhere.

The current government does not appear to be taking on the responsibilities it must in bringing First Nations and mining companies to the table, and the scope of the problem can be seen to have huge long-term impact on our region. At a gathering in Greenstone First Nations leaders expressed their views on how things should move forward. Chief Elijah Moonias of Marten Falls First Nation, on whose traditional lands the Ring of Fire chromite deposits are located, addressed the gathering held in Greenstone.

Chief Moonias stated, “The companies want to come in and exploit the resources and leave nothing behind for local long-standing benefits such as electric grid connection and roads access – both a boost to the local economy. By proposing to use diesel generators at the mine, Cliffs/Noront signal they are not interested in helping with infrastructure development nor will they support the smelter in a new location – to avoid environmental accounting they want to consider any new location.”

At a certain level, perhaps the message is that unless there are significant advantages and opportunities the mineral wealth and potential of the Ring of Fire can simply sit in the ground. That is the price that Ontario could pay should the Ontario Government not step up to the plate and start putting forth the effort needed to make sure things happen.

At the recent NOMA Conference, during the Bearpit session, the usual approach that there is lots going on, but it is all behind the scenes was the message from the government side. There remains little substantive action that can be held up as a success. This idea from elected provincial representatives that things should be kept from municipal representatives is strange.

One knows if there was good news, it would be front and centre. Yet critics of the Harper government complain about the secrecy in the federal government under the Conservatives?

Real effort is needed, and right now it does not look like there is the determined political will in Queen’s Park to make that happen.

Until there is Northwestern Ontario will remain a place with huge potential, and all of Ontario will continue to witness the shift of economic and political power going west.

James Murray
Chief Content Officer

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