Ontario MNDMF Minister Hon. Michael Gravelle’s Keynote Speech to Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities Conference – (Timmins, Ontario – May 13, 2011)

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Thank you for your kind introduction; it is certainly a pleasure to be here! I would like to begin by thanking the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) for inviting me here today.

I commend the FONOM organizing committee for putting together a full and interesting slate of seminars on a wide range of topics for delegates.

FONOM provides us all – municipal leaders and representatives, provincial politicians and civil servants – with an invaluable opportunity to meet and share in a constructive dialogue about promoting northern community economic development.

Your conference theme – “Golden Past, A Brighter Future” – is a very appropriate point of departure for my remarks today.  I think it aptly defines our government’s hope and expectations in the comprehensive approach we are taking in advancing prosperity in Northern Ontario.

Today, I’d like to speak about many initiatives that are advancing Growth Plan directions.

I’d like to preface those comments by assuring FONOM delegates that Northern Ontario has been – and continues to be — a priority for our government.

The members of our Northern Ontario caucus are relentless and effective in voicing your concerns.

Their advocacy has made Northern Ontario an absolute priority for the provincial government – something that wasn’t evident prior to 2003.

After 2003, our northern caucus changed the tenor of the provincial government’s relationship with northern municipalities.

They have refined the relationship from an adversarial one to something more collegial defined by a meaningful dialogue.  Evidence of that lies in how we have improved the financial strength of municipalities.

For example, our track record of uploading costs from the municipal sector is unparalleled – 50 per cent of land ambulance costs – 75 per cent of public health costs – 100 per cent of the Ontario Drug Benefit – 100 per cent of Ontario Disability Support Program costs – all saving municipalities hundreds of millions of dollars.

In our most recent budget, through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, the provincial government is providing funding of $453 million to rural communities and $243 million to northern communities in 2011.

Our dialogue is based on a common premise – our undying love for this beautiful region called Northern Ontario.

It is our commitment to the North that led us to develop the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario.

You know that the Growth Plan was born out of a comprehensive and dynamic dialogue between the provincial government and Northern communities.  Many of you participated in those dialogues.

We brought together leaders from industry, local government, Aboriginal peoples, the North’s Francophone community and other key northern sectors.

More than 2500 northerners contributed their insights to develop a Proposed Plan released in October 2009 and then 1,400 northerners came together in meetings and workshops to discuss, comment upon and provide advice on this proposed plan. We also received more than 300 submissions online and by mail.

This Plan truly reflects northern strengths and opportunities.

It is a plan by northerners and for northerners.

Many of you are aware that the Quebec government released its Plan Nord on May 9. I’d like to congratulate Quebec on this milestone. The release of these two plans clearly demonstrates that this is an idea whose time has come.

It’s striking how many similarities there are between the two plans — Plan Nord reinforces many of the ideas brought forward in the Growth Plan – the strengthening of our resource industries, greater participation in the economy of Aboriginal peoples, transportation planning, to name just a few. 

There are also many differences. Our Growth Plan for Northern Ontario places greater focus on the role of communities as well as opportunities in emerging sectors in the digital economy, aviation and advanced manufacturing – opportunities for the greater participation of northerners in the jobs of tomorrow.

As well, our government has been making investments for the past number of years that align with our Growth Plan. These investment’s include:

•  $45 million over three years for skills training for Aboriginal peoples and Northern Ontarians;
•  A $10 million increase to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund;
•  $32 million for the expansion of broadband infrastructure to 26 remote First Nations;
•  A three-year Northern Industrial Electricity Rate Program of about $150 million a year, for qualifying large industrial facilities; 
•  The Northern Ontario Energy Credit to help families and individuals who face high energy costs;
•  And record level northern highway investments, to name just a few.

I’d like to expound on several of these policy directions beginning with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC).

The NOHFC is one of our most important and effective economic development tools.  It supports vital community infrastructure and economic development projects that create jobs and enhance quality of life in the North.

Since 2003, NOHFC has invested almost $650 million in more than 3,890 projects leveraging more than $2 billion. More than 13,300 new jobs have been created and another 2,700 jobs sustained.

Over the years, the McGuinty government has expanded both the programs and funding for the NOHFC so that it works with northern entrepreneurs and businesses to foster private sector job creation.

Moreover, it works with communities to support critical infrastructure and community development projects that build a foundation for future economic growth and enhanced quality of life.

Today, I have the pleasure of announcing two NOHFC funding projects that illustrate this.

I am excited to announce that our government  will be providing $590,000 to assist the Moose Cree First Nation establish a 170 kilometre winter access road from Moose Factory to Otter Rapids. This funding is so important as it will help reduce the cost of travel to-and-from the James Bay coastline.

As well today I am very pleased to announce that our government is investing $945,000 to support NetCentral, in partnership with Bell Mobility, in building two cell towers along Highway 17 — one at Echo Bay and the other at Desbarats. These new towers will provide access to broadband services and cell coverage that residents, visitors and emergency services can utilize.

These important projects will both have an important, positive impact on local community development.

As we move forward with the Growth Plan, the $10 million additional NOHFC funding and its refocused and strengthened programs will be essential elements in driving the Growth Plan for the North.

On another front, our government has worked very hard to overcome the infrastructure deficit we inherited.

We have made record investments in infrastructure, particularly when it comes to transportation, because we understand the vital role transportation infrastructure plays in economic growth. 

To date our government has funded almost $2.4 billion in highway improvements in Northeastern Ontario.

This year, through the 2011 Provincial Budget, MNDMF has received another substantial allocation of $618 million for its Northern Highways Program. 

The funding will be invested in the rehabilitation of numerous highways throughout the north, additional safety initiative contracts and the continuing expansion of the Highway 11 and Highway 69 corridors.

The Growth Plan views transportation infrastructure as critical in supporting the diversification of northern industries and community social and economic development.

With an eye to promoting future growth, we have announced some new policy initiatives.

They include: the creation of a Northern Policy Institute; a Northern Ontario Multi-Modal Transportation Strategy; and a Regional Economic Development Planning Summit to engage northerners in shaping regional economic development planning areas in Northern Ontario.

As you know, the establishment of a Northern Policy Institute is in direct response to input from northerners who want to have a greater say in the policy directions affecting Northern Ontario.

A $5 million NOHFC investment will support the Institute’s establishment and we look forward to the guidance we will receive from special advisors Lakehead University President Dr. Brian Stevenson and Laurentian University President Dominic Giroux on the formation of the Institute.

With respect to the development of a Northern Ontario Multi-Modal Transportation Strategy, we will work with northern partners to identify long-term directions for transportation infrastructure and services.

A key focus will be on identifying transportation improvements required to support industry and community competitiveness and to better connect Northern Ontario to domestic and international markets.

With this in mind and with a $2.2 million investment from the NOHFC, we are launching a two-year initial study that will undertake technical research and pull together input from northern partners and technical data to shape a transportation strategy to support the future prosperity of northerners.

Thirdly, with a view to building on the success of our 2009 Think North Summit, we will bring national and international experts together with northern community and business leaders at Think North II in Thunder Bay and Sudbury on June 13 – 16 – just a few weeks away.

The Think North II sessions will explore how other provinces and countries are using regional economic planning to bring a strategic focus and competitive advantage to their economic development efforts.

Participants will learn about the experiences of other communities like our own – urban, rural and Aboriginal communities – collaborating to plan economic development on a regional basis.

During the Growth Plan presentations yesterday and earlier today, we shared information with you about the development of two regional economic development area pilots. We are working with northern and Aboriginal leaders to shape these two pilots. 
ThinkNorth II is an opportunity for you to also get involved… to work alongside with colleagues from communities across the North to develop an approach for regional economic planning by northerners for northerners. I look forward to seeing you there.

The Growth Plan sets out priorities to: diversify the traditional resource-based industries; stimulate new investment and entrepreneurship and, nurture new and emerging sectors with high growth potential.

When you think of a “Golden Past,” we in Northern Ontario think of forestry and mining –the twin pillars of the northern economy that have supported so much economic growth over the last century.

The Growth Plan for Northern Ontario supports the growth of these industries and their diversification into knowledge-based activities and value-added opportunities.

Northerners have been involved in forestry and mining for generations. We do them both well. In many cases, we have developed and defined the profitable pursuit of these activities for the rest of the world. Quite frankly, we “do” forestry and mining better than anyone else.

The Growth Plan acknowledges that the continued evolution of these sectors will be part of its strategic 25-year outlook.

With respect to forestry, our government believes that the industry will rebound from the recession and thrive. And that is why our commitment to promoting the well-being of the forestry sector has not wavered.

We continue working to provide a positive climate for investment that will strengthen the Ontario forest industry’s future.

Our priority as a government is to make sure that the forest industry remains competitive and innovative.

It is with an eye to the long-term development and success that our government has undertaken the initiatives in Forest Tenure and Wood Supply.

Our goals for tenure modernization have been known from the beginning; we have had years of extensive dialogue across Northern Ontario; and there’s consensus that we need change.

Based on this consultation in the north, we have made substantial modifications to our original proposal and we worked hard to accommodate the needs of stakeholders, like the forest industry. Now is the time to act.
By modernizing the system by which forest resources are priced and made available to the industry, we are helping to renew Ontario’s forest economy.

Our goal is to protect and create jobs, attract new investment and make Ontario more competitive while ensuring Ontario’s forests continue to be managed sustainably.

The goals of forest tenure and pricing modernization, include making the allocation of Ontario’s wood, and prices, more responsive to market demands, creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs and making it easier for Aboriginal peoples and communities to be involved in and benefit from this sector.

Overall, a modernized system would improve access to wood supply and put more wood to work for Ontario.

And existing companies will continue to have access to wood they are using and unused wood supply would be made available to new entrants and others who wish to compete for it. We also want to create opportunities for meaningful involvement of local and Aboriginal communities.

I make no apology for ensuring the government continues to have the tools to manage public resources in the public interest. A modernized system is an essential foundation for a strong future forest industry and I am looking forward to working toward the passage of Bill 151 this spring that would provide these tools. 

It’s not surprising that some fear change, seek more delay and are aggressive in arguing for their interests. We’ve listened.

We’ve worked with them and we’ve tried to accommodate all interests. Together, it’s time to move forward and put Ontario’s wood to work. It’s time for ACTION!

On another front, as a precursor to forest tenure reform, we launched the Stage II: Provincial Wood Supply Competitive Process with the goal of attracting new investment in the forest sector, supporting new and innovative ventures to stimulate Ontario’s economy and building an industry of top performers – both existing and new.

The forest sector and the many people who rely on it understand the need to transform Ontario’s forest sector, and expect government to act decisively. A significant part of Ontario’s wood supply was not being used by existing industry.

This competition was a bold initiative aimed to preserve and create jobs, and generate wealth for Ontarians. We were extremely pleased to have received a total of 115 submissions.

We are now announcing the successful submissions – submissions that are putting Ontario’s wood to work in ways that add value and promote sustainability.

To date we’ve made 25 wood supply announcements, allocated 2.25 million cubic metres of wood, and have created or retained more than 1,500 jobs across the North!

In the coming weeks and months my Northern colleagues and look forward to making more announcements.

I won’t deny that the wood supply competition has been a long process, but it has had some very good results.

We’ve seen new and existing companies; small, medium and large companies; Aboriginal based companies; all receive wood supply for innovative business ideas, which are creating jobs and putting wood to work!

Now just imagine the benefit to Ontarians if we could make the wood available more consistently and far quicker than we could under a wood supply competition. That is why we are moving forward with tenure modernization.

The bottom line with respect to forestry is that the status quo was simply not working.  The system had to be reformed or forestry’s demise would continue.

Our government is not prepared to let forestry slip into irrelevance so we, in consultation with stakeholders, made the bold and may I say courageous decisions that we believe will support the industry’s future growth.

More than that, we believe that Ontario’s primary forestry sector will not only endure and thrive. We want to build on that success by promoting the sector’s ability to support exciting industries in the context of the new bio-economy.

We believe the future of forestry lies in extracting every bit of value from this renewable resource.  With every bit of value we add to our products, there is a rise in economic activity and employment opportunities as well as the likelihood of sustainability of the sector in the future. 

We have within our grasp the opportunity to move products derived from the forest up the product value chain.  We have the ability to use our forest fibre to produce higher value, novel products while reducing manufacturing costs of more traditional forest products.

The forestry sector is not just about pulp and paper and lumber mills any more. New industries are emerging.

The Growth Plan supports the diversification of these industries into knowledge-based activities, maximizing the value from our timber resources and encouraging and promoting opportunities for the use of wood.

Now I’d like to look at mining.

The Growth Plan envisions a vibrant, diversified, sustainable mining industry that benefits all.

To that end, our government has worked diligently and effectively to make Ontario a leading jurisdiction for mineral development investment in the world.

Today Ontario is Canada’s largest producer of non-fuel minerals and one of the world’s major players.  And we acknowledge the important role played by the Timmins mining camp, and indeed, all of Northeastern Ontario.

Ontario accounted for about 19 per cent of Canada’s mineral production in 2010 with a value of about $7.7 billion.

Ontario ranks among the top 10 global producers of platinum, nickel, and cobalt and among the top 20 global producers of silver, copper, zinc and gold.

And, we are proud to have recently joined the select group of jurisdictions that produce diamonds and also processes and markets them. 

With that in mind, we have with industry support, adopted a tax regime that does not stifle mineral development but promotes it.

We can boast competitive after-tax cost in flow-through shares in the nation, reduced capital taxes, tax holidays and other tax breaks for new or expanding and remote mines, as well as other incentives.

Finding and developing ore bodies is a high stakes game.  And, while Ontario has a natural advantage in our rich geological endowment that, in itself, is not enough.

So, Ontario has established a tradition of excellence in researching and providing pertinent information efficiently to mineral developers looking for the next world class deposit.

We are extremely proud of the giant leaps we have made in digitizing information and increasing and improving access to that data over the last several years.

The mineral development community appreciates that claim staking activity, permitting and approvals information and access to countless government geological reports, maps and assessment reports have been digitized and made available electronically.

It is a significant part of our ongoing commitment to support sustainable mineral development throughout Ontario.

Our government has been consistent in introducing policies and programs that are advancing our province’s standing as a preferred jurisdiction for mineral development.

Over the last few years we have launched the province’s first Mineral Development Strategy.

We are investing $20 million over four years towards enhancing our OGS geological program to identify new areas of economic opportunity.

And, we are modernizing the Mining Act to help build a strong and stable future for the mining industry in the face of a new world economy.

Our commitment to mineral development, our natural mineral endowment and a rebounding economy have led to accelerating mineral exploration activity throughout the province.

The numbers confirm this fact.

For the first time, more than 600 active mining exploration projects have been recorded across the province.

Exploration spending is expected to hit $940 million in 2011– another new record!
More exploration money is invested in Ontario than in any other Canadian jurisdiction.

About 30 per cent of all exploration and mineral deposit appraisal dollars invested in Canada will be spent in this province.

Those exploration expenditures represent a 50 per cent increase from 2009.

The last six out of seven years, we have set records for the number of claims in good standing, a reflection of the escalating mineral development activity.

Exploration activity has led to some exciting mineral discoveries – testimonials to our considerable geological endowment, the skills and persistence of our mineral developers and our government’s commitment to mineral exploration and development.

Here in Northeastern Ontario, gold has been the key driver behind much of the mine development and exploration expenditures across Northeastern Ontario in 2010.

This year, we saw the Lakeshore Gold expansion which could employ up to an additional 150 workers.

As well, Detour Gold Corporation is anticipating production of 650,000 ounces per year from its project northeast of Cochrane and is expected to employ 500 people.

And, Northgate Minerals Corporation held a ground-breaking ceremony last September to mark the start of the mine construction phase of its project in Matachewan, and is expected to employ 275 people.

In addition to these impressive development projects, a number of junior exploration companies in the region continue to advance their high profile exploration projects. Among them are Queenston Mining in Kirkland Lake, and Trelawney Mining near Gogama — two very active and prospective gold exploration initiatives.

Of course, the most exciting project in Ontario, if not all of Canada, and which is garnering attention across the Globe, is the Ring of Fire.

The Ring of Fire represents a major economic development opportunity for the entire region. We need to work together to seize its benefits for today and tomorrow.
In order to support the development of Ring of Fire, we’ve created a Ring of Fire Secretariat that is working with Aboriginal people, northerners and industry to encourage responsible and sustainable economic development through the region.

The Ring of Fire and other exciting developments throughout Northern Ontario bode well for the industry’s future.

The Growth Plan for Northern Ontario intends to build on this success. 

We know Ontario stands out globally for its strengths in all areas of mining — exploration, mine development and rehabilitation, environmental technology, engineering, consulting and project management services, as well as health and safety.

Ontario has great experience and expertise in all these areas. In fact, our mineral industry cluster is a large collection of resident expertise in every facet of the mining sequence from exploration through development and mine construction to decommissioning and land reclamation.

Its strengths include a robust supply and service sector, which is committed to innovation, productivity and efficiency.

In fact, the mining supply and service sector in Northern Ontario comprises about 500 companies and organizations, employing a workforce of 23,000 that produces a total output value projected at $5.6 billion.

The sector anchors a vibrant cluster of mining excellence here in Northeastern Ontario.

The Growth Plan envisions the mineral development sector and the mining supply and services sector as two important building blocks for advancing our cluster of mineral excellence.

Ontario’s mining legacy is a rich one. We are building on the industry’s golden past for a brighter future in the sector.

In conclusion, our government has been consistent in keeping Northern Ontario’s interests front and centre and in stepping up ongoing action to create jobs and economic opportunities for northerners.

The Growth Plan articulates a vision of a prosperous Northern Ontario in the future. It provides a guide for the provincial government’s investment priorities to continue to see growth and to take advantage of diverse economic development opportunities.

It is an action-oriented blueprint for developing a more innovative economy, strengthening northern communities and First Nations, and providing northerners and our youth with an exciting, vibrant place to live, work and raise families.

This plan is all about harnessing our natural strengths to create a better future.

Our greatest strength lies within the people of Northern Ontario.

The Growth Plan ensures that Northerners will guide its direction. It enables Northerners to work together to achieve the vision of a prosperous North.

As the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario is put into action, I encourage you all to participate.

Now, I look forward to answering your questions.

Thank you.

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