Conference jam-packed with info for Chambers

Duane Hicks

About 30 Chamber of Commerce members from across the region gathered for the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce’s annual fall meeting here last Thursday through Saturday.
Hosted by the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, the conference at La Place Rendez-Vous featured plenty of information for NOACC members to absorb.
“I got some really good comments back from the delegates regarding the presentations and the speakers we had at the NOACC fall meeting in Fort Frances,” NOACC president Barry Streib said yesterday.
“I really enjoyed deputy minister David Lindsay and what he was saying about the [Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry].
“We got some great information from Garry Clark regarding the Ontario Prospector’s Association, and it was really good to hear from John Harrison, the general manager of AbitibiBowater in Fort Frances, in terms of the update on what’s happening in forestry,” Streib added.
“It’s all good information for us.”
Lindsay spoke Friday morning, mentioning the “Northern Growth Plan” will be released soon. He was followed by Kenora-Rainy River MPP Howard Hampton, Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP John Rafferty, and Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer.
Revenue minister John Wilkinson spoke about the HST after lunch Friday.
“I think there’s a bit of confusion around HST, and he really gave us a really good indication of what it means and answered some of our questions,” Streib noted.
Wilkinson was followed by Harrison and then Clark.
Clark noted millions upon millions of dollars are being spent on mining and exploration going on in Northwestern Ontario—and much potential for more activity in the future.
But he stressed NOACC must lobby the province to give explorers certainty of access to land in the north, as well as lobby the federal government to continue the flowthrough tax credit to explorers.
Clark also said he’d like to see explorers’ expenditures better identified as being a major contribution to the regional economy, as right now their spending too often is confused as tourist spending.
Friday’s speakers were rounded out with Marg Scott, executive director of the North Superior Workforce Planning Board.
After breakfast on Saturday, NOACC policy advisor George Macey talked about policy review. Geoff Gillon, regional economic development officer for the Rainy River Future Development Corp., then addressed the delegates.
In addition to giving an overview of economic development activities underway in Rainy River District, Gillon told NOACC it has be relentless in its lobbying efforts.
“We in Northwestern Ontario have a huge job because it is increasingly difficult to get southern Ontario’s attention,” Gillon argued.
“They have a lot going on and you have to be there, be visible, to get their attention,” he stressed, adding the region has to stay on top of the issues and work together to make its presence known, especially since it’s possible down the road that FedNor may become part of massive Southern Ontario Development Agency and be in real danger of getting lost in the shuffle.
He also noted RRFDC reps only get out of the area 20 times a year and usually travel to Thunder Bay and Toronto. As such, he encouraged NOACC members who travel elsewhere in Canada and the U.S. to take note of what they see.
And if they come up with good economic development ideas that could be implemented in Northwestern Ontario, to share them with the RRFDC.
“Please be our eyes and ears out there,” Gillon said.
He was followed by Randy Hillier, Progressive Conservative critic for labour, northern development, mines, and forestry, who slammed the McGuinty government for its continuous creation of “red tape,” and failure to listen to the residents of the north, particularly in regards to Bill 191 (Far North Planning Act) and Bill 173 (Mining Act).
“He gave the perspective from the other side, which is good to hear,” said Streib.
“It’s always good to hear from both sides so at some point in time you can formulate good, solid recommendations with that balance,” he reasoned.
NOACC members also spent several hours working on their 2009-12 strategic plan, with the aim to start implementing initiatives in January.
“The NOACC strategic plan is an ongoing thing,” Streib noted.
“There’s a lot of flexibility built into the plan so as things change out there in the world, in terms of the business community in Northwestern Ontario and the economic situations, hopefully this plan will give us the tools to be reactive or proactive in that regard.”
Streib noted the plan focuses on four key areas: the NOACC advocacy task force; resources for the organization; increased member support; and developing a solid communications strategy, including developing NOACC’s website as a better tool for getting information out to members and getting input from them on a real-time basis.
“I am excited the membership has decided to do this and understood it is the right way to go, the right direction to take for the organization to move forward,” Streib stressed.