The province of Ontario is broke.
The Canadian government, while
certainly not broke, is cutting back substantially on program
spending. It wants less government for financial and ideological
Northern Ontario is going to get
hammered. It has already begun. It is a lot easier to spend more than
spend less. It hurts. Funding announce
ments usually get made three or four
times. Try and get information when things are being closed.
Small things make a big difference up
here. Everything matters. The first rounds from the province are not
encouraging. They appear devoid of consultation. The Ontario
Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) closure, divestiture, call
it what you will, is not transparent and not collaborative. No one
knows anything, as of this writing, except that the last passenger
train has run its course. Twenty- four hours before the last ONTC
train left the station, the province announced it would close 10
parks, nine of them in northeastern Ontario. Incredible. They didn’t
talk to anyone about it, including most of their own staff, who were
blindsided by it. It seemed purposely insulting. The savings were
picayune and hardly worth talking about when compared to the tens of
millions flushed down the drain to move power plants around in
southern Ontario for no obvious public purpose.
The only institutions in Northern
Ontario that have any capacity to respond, protect, fight back,
reason or otherwise propose solutions for Northerners, are the
municipalities. Everyone else is dependent on the provincial or the
federal government for something and they will be keeping their
mouths shut. The opposition MPs and MPPs will, of course, raise hell
but they have no currency with the government and are ignored.
I can only imagine Nipissing MPP Vic
Fedeli must be knawing his hands off his arm about the ONTC. His
party’s response to the ONTC included the usual exclamations of
outrage but in practical terms was tepid. The Tories hold a balance
of power on this issue but have not offered it up. If they wanted to
save it, they could. Vic is an activist, a doer. He must rue the day
he moved from mayor of North Bay where he could do much, to
Opposition where he can do little. Of course, if the Tories win, he
will be the next minister of northern development and mines but
probably too late for the ONTC. My guess is the Tories prefer the
Liberals wear this one before they have to do anything. If Vic was
mayor, he would find someone to buy it or do it himself.
We are not at our strongest in Northern
Ontario these days. We have rookie Mayors in four of our five major
cities and they don’t work together the way it used to be. These
things come in ebbs and flows and we are currently on an ebb.
I don’t believe in less government in
Northern Ontario. I believe in activist government in Northern
Ontario. There is no other way to survive. Senior governments come
and go, as does business. Municipalities endure.
There is one jurisdiction in Northern
Ontario where this tradition of activism is still alive: Kapuskasing.
Al Spacek, mayor since 2007 and provincial Tory candidate in the last
election, defies his Tory credentials with a bias for action and
risk, not ideology.
He’s put Kapuskasing in the solar
energy business. A while back someone couldn’t pay their taxes on a
subdivision so the town put solar panels on the vacant lots and
anywhere else in the city it could find and started selling energy to
Ontario Hydro on the provincial Feed-in tariff plan. They make a
$100,000 a year. A one per cent rise in the tax base is $80,000. He
is currently negotiating to help other jurisdictions do the same
thing. They have submitted 22 projects in partnership with eight
municipalities from northeastern Ontario.
The federal government is closing down
the Beef Research Farm in Kapuskasing. Al got them to delay the
closing until March to give him time to put together a group of
stakeholders and he is going to buy the thing and run it.
This is the same spirit that led North
Bay to take over the Canadian Forces base when 414 Squadron was moved
from North Bay years ago. It is the same spirit that led former
Kapuskasing Mayor René Piché to lead a delegation to camp on
Queen's Park until he saved Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company from
The cuts are coming. The only line of
defence is creative, activist and fearless municipal leadership.
Without it, it will be the usual.