Lapsed FedNor spending hurts region

A few weeks back, my staff and I uncovered a huge amount of what is known as “lapsed” spending—money approved in the federal budget but never spent—at Veterans’ Affairs Canada.
Sadly, this past week we also found the same thing is happening at FedNor—and at the worst possible time.
Aside from serving as your MP in Ottawa, I also serve as the NDP’s critic for FedNor, the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario.
FedNor’s mandate is to assist economic development, diversification, and job creation in our region, which includes 11 federal ridings and just over 940,000 people.
Earlier in the year, and as the critic responsible for this file, I asked the researchers at the Library of Parliament to find out how much money was approved by Parliament for FedNor each year since it was created, as well as how much of that money actually was spent each year.
When the research note finally came back, I was appalled by the numbers.
In 2004-05, Parliament approved a budget for FedNor of $67.5 million. But by 2012-13, this amount had dropped to just $42.6 million annually—a cut of 28.75 percent in annual funding for economic development in Northern Ontario since the Conservatives came to power.
Over this same period of time, more than 40,000 good-paying jobs were lost in Ontario’s forestry sector alone, and the $50-billion “Ring of Fire” mining project remained stalled.
These are facts and they are bad, but it gets worse.
The Library of Parliament also found that during the eight-year period between 2000 and 2008, Parliament approved more than $609.1 million in spending for FedNor and economic development in our region.
But during that time, just $213 of that money “lapsed,” or was approved by Parliament but not actually spent by FedNor.
The research also found that the following four years (from 2009-13), Parliament approved just $213.6 million for FedNor—yet the amount of lapsed spending had skyrocketed to more than $10.9 million over that span.
I have no idea how this government went from having just $213 unspent over eight years to having more than $10.9 million unspent over four, but the terms incompetence, deceit, and negligence all come to mind.
We’ve had a rough go of it in Northern Ontario. The mill closures, which now include Resolute’s mill in Fort Frances, and the virtual collapse of the $50-billion “Ring of Fire” project, are irrefutable evidence of this.
So this begs the question: with these extremely difficult economic challenges facing our region, why on Earth is the federal government not spending the full amount of money that Parliament approved for economic development, diversification, and job creation in Northern Ontario?
I can think of only two plausible answers to the above question. The first is that Greg Rickford, the MP who represents Kenora and the region surrounding the “Ring of Fire,” and who also serves as both the natural resources minister and minister responsible for FedNor, is terrible at his jobs–all of them.
The second is that Greg Rickford is fantastic at all of his jobs but both he and Stephen Harper are at best indifferent, and at worst hostile, towards the economic interests of the families, communities, and industries of Northern Ontario.
I have no idea which of those is true, but it is clear that Mr. Rickford and Mr. Harper and their Conservative Party all must be turfed from office—and as forcefully as possible by the people of Northern Ontario—in 2015.