Infrastructure investment, cutting red tape, and stopping Bill 191 are the central tenets as the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party unveiled its Northern Ontario jobs plan last week.
“The big picture here is that [when] developing economies like China and India grow, and the American economy rebounds, there will be a massive appetite for Ontario’s wood products and minerals and other resources,” party leader Tim Hudak said in an interview with the Times before Christmas.
“Ontario can open its doors and take advantage of greater investment and job creation, or we can follow [Premier] Dalton McGuinty’s path which has sadly closed the door and cost Northern Ontario some 44,000 well-paying jobs to date,” Hudak argued.
Released in mid-December, the plan highlights the party’s views on what direction should be taken with the Northern Ontario economy, including investment in roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, reducing and eliminating unnecessary regulations, and having northern revenue reinvested back into the region.
“We’ve put a number of ideas on the table, [and] we look forward to see back from business and municipal leaders on how to have them put into place,” said Hudak, noting the next step is for the party to hold consultations across Northern Ontario with residents, businesses, and municipal leaders.
These meetings are slated to take place in the coming months, with Hudak planning to be in the northwest just after Christmas, including a stop at La Place Rendez-Vous here in Fort Frances on Thursday, Jan. 7 at noon.
Conservative MPP Randy Hillier, the party’s critic for northern development, mines, and forestry, also will be on hand.
If not used by the Ontario government, Hudak said the ideas put forward with the plan and consultations will “serve to form the basis of a PC campaign platform” for the October, 2011 provincial election.
“We believe the best approach for government is to invest in infrastructure which is going to support long-term, private-sector job creation,” Hudak said about the focus of the PC’s jobs plan for the north.
“For example, investing in Northern Ontario’s crumbling roads, bridges, and broadband and cellular service to create a better environment for job creation,” he explained.
Infrastructure investment also would include raising the standards of broadband Internet access and cellular services throughout northern and rural Ontario to give businesses in these areas “greater access to the outside world.”
The building and strengthening of partnerships between business and post-secondary institutions in the north also is part of the party’s plan, said Hudak, citing the example of the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology Inc. (NORCAT).
To help pay for this infrastructure, part of the proposed plan includes ensuring northern communities and local leaders have a say in how revenues from resource development and taxes are spent.
“Currently, all of the royalties from Ontario resources fall into the giant treasury at Queen’s Park in Toronto,” Hudak said.
“We think it’s better to earmark some of those funds for Northern Ontario infrastructure, and give host municipalities and First Nations a fair share,” he stressed.
Another key idea to the northern jobs plan is “reducing and eliminating unnecessary legal and regulatory hurdles to resource development.”
“Sadly, despite having one of the most valuable and abundant resources in our continent, the mining and forestry sector find themselves constantly fighting with the government, wading through thick red tape,” Hudak charged.
“The forestry sector will tell you that wood costs are among the highest of competing jurisdictions.
“Things like the forest management plans take a tremendous amount of resources to put together and keep updated,” he added. “The mining sector has extraordinary challenges on tenure on their land.
“So we think it’s important to clarify the red tape that is holding businesses back and allow for greater investment in the north,” Hudak argued.
Along with ensuring there is reliable and affordable electricity, addressing issues like the “red tape burden” will help re-open mills, he remarked.
As well, killing Bill 191, which would stop development on a so far undecided amount of land north of the 51st parallel, also is important to helping out the forestry industry, Hudak added.
“[Bill 191] will put an enormous chill on investment, not just on the far north but across Northern Ontario, by saying that Ontario is closed for development,” he explained.
While the main points of the PC’s plan focuses on resource development in the north, Hudak said the investment in developing infrastructure will support job creation in different economic sectors, including agriculture and tourism.
Coming from the Niagara region himself, which borders the U.S., Hudak also stressed he PCs would take a different approach when it comes to the Ontario/U.S. border.
“A major and ongoing concern in the PC caucus has been about the growing sickness of the border between Canada and the United States,” said Hudak. “That we’ve seen our tourism from bordering states reduced dramatically under Dalton McGuinty, who sadly seems to shrug it off.”
This includes encouraging tourists from border states—those on the “rubber tire circuit”—to “enjoy all that we have to offer in Northern Ontario” and “address the growing sickening of the border that’s keeping that at home,” he noted.
“Ontario historically played a lead role in Confederation in addressing these types of trade and tourism issues. But Dalton McGuinty seems to have played no role whatsoever in improving our relationship with our bordering states,” Hudak charged.
The agricultural sector often is the “first victim of growing problems with trade with the Americans,” Hudak warned, noting unfair subsidized competition from abroad also is a challenge for the agricultural sector and that Ontario should play a leadership role in addressing these issues.
And it’s a change in government that’s first of all needed for this change to happen, Hudak said.
“I think that Northern Ontario’s best days are yet to come,” he enthused. “We just need the right kind of leadership that will put policies in place that will support private-sector job creation.”