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Live local or die

Admittedly, the headline is a fairly cheesy steal from the famous New Hampshire licence plate “Live free or die.” I owned a publishing company in New Hampshire for many years and so spent a little time in that neck of the woods.
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

Admittedly, the headline is a fairly cheesy steal from the famous New Hampshire licence plate “Live free or die.” I owned a publishing company in New Hampshire for many years and so spent a little time in that neck of the woods.

There’s no doubt they think a little differently in the granite state. For fun, after work when we were having a pint with staff, I would raise the topic of “public health care” (long before Obamacare) or the second amendment (guns) for discussion. It was like setting off a bomb. When I think about my guerrilla tactics for stimulating conversation, I must admit it said more about me than my audience. I do love a good debate, but it was more like a mauling. In the end, it was probably just licence plate envy from a guy who was born in a place where the declaration,“Je me souviens,” is equally uncompromising. I mean, have you looked at your licence plate lately? “Yours to discover.” Exactly. A tourism tagline. But I digress.

I am serious, however, about the power of local.

We have just survived a 78-day election. As I write, I do not know the result. It’s possible our new government will mean a change in sensibility but not sovereignty. In our next Parliament, we will be adding the Trans Pacific Partnership to our European and North American Free Trade agreements, whatever its complexion. It is as dangerous to join a free-trade agreement as it is to demur. Most countries have given up authority on matters well beyond excise taxes and trade rules. They’ve given up levers on the food we eat, the drugs we ingest, the media we consume, the pollution we endure, and the energy we guzzle.

We have to remember our biggest trading partner thinks pizza is a vegetable and its Congress thinks global warming is a hoax.

So what happens in a small-population country like ours that is busy muzzling and laying off scientists is that your diet and nutrient values are set in another country as their international brands utilize trading rules that prevent you from effectively asserting your own.

What is in your food is just as important as who makes it or trades it. How many steroids arrive with the chicken on your plate matters.

The lesson is that, on one level, local communities have no control over much of anything, except of course if you raise your own chickens. The rise of farmers markets, and the connection between consumers and producers, is expanding all the time. The demand for organic food has even begun to seep into the shelves of billion-dollar supermarkets. The movement is a local phenomenon and gaining traction.

Notwithstanding the province’s ill-advised and inexplicable decision to sell off a strategic asset (Hydro One) to raise money for non-strategic assets (sewers and highways), many local communities continue to own their own power distribution systems. Although the Ontario Energy Board called for these units to be consolidated in the name of efficiency a few years ago, it has not happened. It means over time, it is possible for many municipalities to consider extricating themselves from this morass (started with Mike Harris) and not simply distribute power from the grid, but produce their own.

Sudbury is well positioned to benefit with its ownership of Greater Sudbury Hydro. This jewel, which is also in the fibre-optics business, is in a position over time to provide business advantage to the community with better rates and smarter services. The convergence of the Internet of Things with the management of energy is exploding. A local group as we speak is putting together a community energy plan.

If you care about the environment, the power is local to fix your own footprint or oppose incursion of provincial or national schemes (from pipelines to the railway cars that have replaced them) that run counter to community interests.

The first step is to be in charge. The second step is to demand attention from the institutions that have the intellectual capital and resources to help: the universities, colleges, companies, unions and municipalities in your area.

Of course, we’ve being doing this in Northern Ontario with varying degrees of success for many years.

New trade agreements remind us how important it is.