THUNDER BAY – Politics – This week was a very busy one in Ottawa during which the Harper government presented another 400-plus page monster budget bill that does nothing to create jobs or make life affordable in Northwestern Ontario, and that saw me take the issue of propane price gouging to the floor of the House of Commons.
Like past budgets, the 2014-15 federal budget offers little in the way of hope to families, workers, and seniors who are struggling in Northwestern Ontario. In particular, the budget failed to address the struggling forestry sector, did not even mention the Ring of Fire mineral deposit and mining project, and failed to reverse unpopular and misguided mistakes from budgets past such as the closing of the Veterans Affairs office in Thunder Bay.
The struggles of the forestry sector, particularly in Ontario, are well documented but of zero concern to this Conservative government. Did you know that since the Harper Conservatives came to power in 2005 there has not been a single year of job growth in the forestry sector? In fact, primary jobs in the forestry sector have declined more than 33% across Canada and 44% in Ontario alone since this government came to power. Since 2005 there have been 30,249 forestry sector job losses in Ontario alone with almost all of them coming from the 8 ridings of Northern Ontario. All of this information, and more, is available on the Natural Resources Canada website.
Now, if the government knows the forestry sector is struggling and punishing some regions more than others they must have a plan to help this industry and the affected regions recover right? Hardly. The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) wrote to the Finance Minister last fall and asked for $500 million over 6 years for the renewal of the Investments in Forestry Industry Transformation program (IFIT) to help the industry become “more economically competitive and environmentally sustainable.” After all the job losses and mill closures over the past decade the Finance Minister offered just $90 million over four years – $410 million less than what the industry says it needs. The numbers, both the massive jobs losses and miniscule budget expenditures, speak for themselves. This government has abandoned Canada’s forestry sector – completely.
The forestry sector wasn’t the only group that should feel let down by this budget – all of Northern Ontario should. On first read, it did not appear that there was much for us in the budget, so I asked my staff to search the electronic version of the document for some key words. To my shock and disappointment some of the words and phrases that cannot be found anywhere in the 400-plus pages include ‘Northern Ontario,’ the ‘Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario,’ ‘FedNor,’ and ‘Ring of Fire.’ We are nowhere to be found on this government’s agenda.
The other big issue that I worked on this work was the propane price gouging we’ve been experiencing in Northern Ontario. Over the past month I’ve heard from dozens of constituents who have seen their propane prices spike more than 80% in the past year. I heard from Kathy near Thunder Bay who sent in her bills; $895 to have her tank filled in May 2013, and $1513 to have the same tank filled in January 2014. Kathy is not the only one who deserves answers as to why her family income was effectively reduced by more than $700 this winter.
For their part, the Canadian Propane Association has publicly stated that there isn’t a fuel shortage, so why have prices spiked 80% over the past 10 months? The only thing that could explain this is industry wide predatory price gouging during a very cold winter. After all, if someone has bought a propane furnace to heat their home in a rural area what choice do they have? It’s pay up or freeze right? I used my Member Statement this past week to raise awareness to this issue in Ottawa, and I can assure you that New Democrats will continue to press the government to directly address this situation – and fast.
So that is my recap of the busy week it was in Ottawa; the tabling of a budget that does zero to make life more affordable and create jobs in Northern Ontario, and the start of a battle to end propane price gouging. Let’s hope next week is better.
John Rafferty MP