What ever happened to the knowledge-based economy?

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expect change

expect change THUNDER BAY – What ever happened to the knowledge-based economy? It was only a few years ago that the buzz in Thunder Bay was working toward building a knowledge-based economy. The goal, a worthy one, was moving our community past the ‘boom and bust’ cycles of primary industries.

However, once the announcements of potential chromite discoveries in the Ring of Fire started coming out, the lure of mining has overtaken over the development of the knowledge-based economy. Instead of working toward the new knowledge-based econony, once again the focus was back on primary industry.

Back to the boom and bust cycle.

The average life of a mine is seventeen and a half years. It almost appears that short term solutions, the old boom and bust cycle, are seen as better than a longer term strategy that seemed to be moving forward.

Now to be blunt, mining is not the industry it was a few generations ago. Mining is not a man with a pick and shovel, it is far more mechanized. Mining today, like farming is increasingly a part of the knowledge-based world. It relies on data, information all which is used to make solid business decisions.

But mining is not the knowledge-based economy that only a few short years ago saw Thunder Bay Superior North MP Joe Comuzzi take such a strong stand that the Liberal government under Stephane Dion kicked him out of the caucus.

Regardless of how much money can be made in our region with mining, once the minerals are gone, that is it. Once the mine closes the economy will drop. First Nations could well be left with traditional lands that have environmental problems that will impact the future for many generations. Our economy will be stuck waiting for the leadership it needs, having grabbed the easy rather than work for the needed systemic change in the region.

The north has ridden the waves of booms and busts in mining, and forestry before. Many times. We have seen what happens when a complete reliance on a single industry impacts our communities.

One might think we would have learned our lessons from history. With the growing silence on the knowledge-based economy, at least from governments, it is fortunate that the private sector is continuing the process. But it is the overall view, and direction from the politicians where the real problems lie.

We are seeing it atop the pile at City Hall, the Mayor isn’t setting a direction. Provincially, we see it from our MPPs who are seemingly more content to represent Queen’s Park to Thunder Bay at times. Partisanship is impacting Northwestern Ontario’s future. Federally, our two MPs are not in government, so they are very limited in impacting direction from the federal Conservatives.

Not to pour cold water on the dreams of a future rich in mining, but the reality is we need to be staking our claims in the future, not in the promise of a generation, but in the promise of a future for many generations.

Mining companies are not in it for the region, they follow the prospector, and follow the minerals.

Our region needs to make sure that the economic benefits flow to the region. Instead of being the place minerals are mined, and processed elsewhere, Thunder Bay must, with the right incentives, become the place where research, development, and processing are done.

That effort will take co-operation and solid direction from all four different governments in Northwestern Ontario. As well, the support of business groups, labour group, and residents in our region.

It means fully and openly engaging with First Nation’s leaders to make sure they are full partners in the progress, and in planning our future. Critical decisions we are making right now in our region will determine the success we either have, or lack, for the next generations.

What does this mean for the average person? Very simply it means we start directing our politicians to set the right directions for the future of our region. Decisions being made outside our region that can impact the region must be fought at a level not done in the past.

One of the latest instances of that outside thinking that will seriously hamper our region’s future is the decision to cancel the conversion of the OPG Generating Station in Thunder Bay from coal to natural gas. Worse yet was the earlier decision, over the objections of almost every group in the North to the McGuinty Liberal’s Far North Act to pass that legislation.

When decisions are being made and announced and seemingly like the OPG decision on the coal conversion, that should have all the politicians up in unified anger. That it doesn’t bodes poorly for our region as demanding a full seat at the table. The only group offering a real solution is the NOMA.

Taking massive areas of Northern Ontario out of the development opportunity to appease downtown Toronto environmentalists was a mistake then, and it will likely prove a bigger mistake in the future. Protection of our Northern eco-system can be done without the ham-fisted approaches of political interests.

Building for the future means looking past the simple solutions and putting in place a long-term strategy. It seemed we were working toward that only a few years ago. We should all be asking how much progress toward that goal is now being delivered.

Keeping focused on a goal is an important means of building for the future of our entire region.

Period.

James Murray

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