This speech was given at the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) on April 26, 2013 in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
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I want to start with a simple statement: Northern Ontario can do better. I’ve done about 100 town halls now, including several in the North.
And as I travel the province, people tell me things are tough. They ask: “Is this really the best Ontario can do?” I say to them, we can do better.
Ontario has everything we need to succeed. We have a hard-working and skilled workforce. Dedicated and driven entrepreneurs. Vast and valuable resources and fertile farmland the envy of the world over. We border the great North American markets – natural trading partners with millions of consumers.
We have all it takes to make our province the best place to find a good job, raise a family, start a business and see it grow. But to get started on the path to a revitalized Northern Ontario, we need to be honest about the depths of the problems we face across the entire province.
More than half a million people woke up this morning with no job to go to.We’ve lost 300,000 good manufacturing jobs – while at the same time adding 300,000 government workers to the bloated public sector payroll in Ontario.
Our debt has doubled under this government. And it’s on course to triple.
People understand that our jobs and debt crisis needs to be fixed. It’s not going to fix itself. So we need two things: A bold, comprehensive plan to put us on the right track, and the leadership to put it into action.
This mission has taken my Caucus colleagues and me to every corner of our province. Looking for untapped job-creating potential, and targeting government-made barriers to job growth, competitiveness and prosperity for removal the first chance we get.
Doing so has brought us to an inescapable conclusion: While this potential, and these barriers, can be found all across Ontario, nowhere are they more in evidence than right here.
In the North.
Northern Ontario is our next frontier – the expanding edge of Ontario’s economy. An area whose rich forests, mineral treasure-houses and emerging high-tech hubs can fuel a reviving North American economy.
And yet, we all know that Northern Ontario is falling far short of its potential. Our once thriving forest industry has shrunk, and mills have closed. The entrepreneurial spirit that built the North has been crushed under the weight of government regulations and environmental rules that seem designed to stop growth, and keep industry away.
And all because of a government that wants to impose a fantasy view of northern life. Politicians, special interests and bureaucrats from the south have tried to turn this dynamic, natural area into a museum.
It’s a patronizing, big-city view, like a Tom Thompson painting. Can’t have people and businesses and productivity spoiling the scenery now, can we?
So to reach its potential, and achieve its promise, the North needs a government that will take up your cause and speak for you in the rest of the province, across the country, and around the world.
Look at what Premier Charest wanted to do in Quebec: embrace and celebrate their resource rich northern regions. Build partnerships between northern communities, local businesses and professionals in other parts of the province. His Plan Nord was a blueprint for bringing investment to the north to benefit all of Quebec.
It’s time we did the same.
We can start with a reality check for the folks in who don’t actually live here, but seem to control your lives: The North has become a high-tech hub in places like Thunder Bay and North Bay.
Together they’re home to over 200 aerospace companies. Northern colleges and universities are a model of how local technology training supports local industries.
This is a strength to build on. One of so many – in our North.
But then there are those other areas of potential that lie dormant, untapped. Here I think of the Ring of Fire. I have thought of it ever since I went there to see for myself last June.
The Ring of Fire represents the largest single resource opportunity in Ontario. Billions of dollars worth of chromite, copper, nickel and zinc. It could provide jobs for a hundred years or more.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: What the oil sands are to Alberta, and potash is to Saskatchewan, is what the Ring of Fire could be to Ontario.
Yet it remains nothing but talk.
The Ring of Fire needs a plan and strong leadership to light it up. So we’ll work with businesses and aboriginal communities to get going on an all-season access road. And we will designate one minister to be in charge of clearing aside any obstacles standing in the way of unleashing this dynamo for job creation.
Someone’s got to take the bull by the horns to get this done. My team will.
The Ring of Fire offers unprecedented opportunities for the future of Ontario’s resource industries. But mining is very much a part of our present. Prospecting, exploration and mining operations, and the industries they support, create jobs and wealth in every corner of our province. But if we’re going to make the most of our resource heritage, Ontario’s government needs to take immediate steps toward regaining our position as the world’s Number One centre for mining.
We held that spot once, as most of you know. A 2000 Fraser Institute report ranked Ontario as the top mining jurisdiction in the world. Now though, under the policies of the current government, we’ve fallen to 17, globally. We even rank sixth among the provinces.
Now, fluctuating commodity prices haven’t helped, it’s true. But neither have higher taxes and a thicket of red tape. They seem like they were created to prevent mines from opening.
We need to help prospectors do what they do best: cover the ground and discover new claims – not spend hours filing unnecessary paperwork. So we’ll streamline the Mining Act to end indecision around prospecting, developing and mining. And we’ll set aggressive targets for new mining operations, starting with the goal of permitting 10 new mines over the next five years.
The communities that build and support them should benefit from their development. So a portion of the mining tax royalty should stay in local communities and First Nations.
And to keep it all on the move, we’ll treat Ontario Northland as economic infrastructure that opens up jobs and creates wealth. We’ll stop the current government’s fire sale, strategically review all assets, and guarantee that freight lines are kept in public hands.
In much the same way as mining, our forestry industry once led the country. But you don’t need me to tell you that since 2003, eight out of 10 pulp mills in Ontario have closed their doors – and jobs have been uprooted.
We think the industry may be primed for recovery, with a rebound in demand in the U.S. and in emerging economies for forest products – especially in the housing sector. Let’s face it – people aren’t going to stop using wood or paper. So, they should buy it from Ontario.
So we’ll also take immediate measures to help our forestry industry back on its feet, to get ready for those improving markets, both at home and abroad.
With a forest tenure system that’s transparent and fair. Steps to guarantee a level of supply equal to a 26 million cubic metre annual harvest.
We’ll also address issues with the Endangered Species Act. In 2003 there were 19 species listed.
Today there are 121. We’ve all heard stories of the Grey Rat Snake preventing business development in Eastern Ontario or of the Wood Turtle obstructing the forestry sector here in the North.
These rules aren’t working for anyone. They aren’t serving to actually protect endangered species, and instead its jobs that become the endangered species.
We will ensure the ESA adheres to the principles of verifiable science – not political science. We want to take these and other steps to unleash the North’s job-creating potential – for sure.
But they’re also necessary to undo 10 years of damage done by a paternalistic government’s
decisions – made far away with scant regard for Northern viewpoints or expertise.
The Far North Act, for example, bans economic development in an area the size of the entire United Kingdom, at a time when the region desperately needs new jobs and investment.
So we’ll repeal it.
As my colleague Norm Miller raised in the Legislature with the Premier yesterday, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, or “MPAC”, threatens to bankrupt several northern communities, with reassessments that come from out of the blue. Burdening the tax base, and threatening services.
So we’ll fix it.
Your communities and people need more input into decisions that affect your way of life. On the placement of wind turbines, as a case in point. Or where gas tax revenues are spent. Or on the development of Crown land: 95 per cent of it is in Northern Ontario. Most of the lakes around Thunder Bay are Crown land. Pickle Lake had made good use of parcelling for cottage lots in recent years.
There are opportunities here, across the Northwest. So we’ll allow local governments to develop more Crown land to create jobs.
It all adds up to decisions made in the North, for the North and by the North.
The steps I have proposed today – with more to come – are all designed to deliver the freedoms Northerners need to build your economy and chart your own path to a prosperous future.
I see a North of great destiny. A Northern Ontario that is going to rise again – and drive renewed prosperity right across Ontario. The future prosperity I see will be built on development and job creation in the North for the North.
I will not run from tough decisions. I will protect the things we care about.
I will pursue bold ideas and an agenda to inspire. I will do what needs to be done.
Until then I say to the business owner here in Thunder Bay who’s struggling to hang on, hang on a little longer.
To those who have packed up and moved away from Northern Ontario, we want you to come back home.
To the families struggling to make ends meet, our plan will bring you relief.
And finally, to the mills, factories and industries looking at other provinces and states, take a good second look at the Ontario we will build – because our comeback is about to begin.
So let’s stop waiting for better and let’s make better happen.