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Perhaps some light at the end of the tunnel

You’ll see on the page opposite, a new series from Northern Ontario Business called “Rethinking Northern Ontario”. The compilation of ideas and perspectives frankly are not that new.

You’ll see on the page opposite, a new series from Northern Ontario Business called “Rethinking Northern Ontario”. 
The compilation of ideas and perspectives frankly are not that new. My partners in this adventure (Livio Di Matteo and David Robinson) and I have been on the same page more or less for years. Both economics professors have written for Northern Ontario Business in the past and have a considerable following. I’m delighted to work with them.

 “Rethinking” is meant to bring together some of our ideas in a more coherent manner. It’s also meant to be a catalyst for an important debate about how we administer and manage this wonderful part of the world. We can do a lot better.

To begin to make change we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Our greatest weakness is that most of us are compromised when it comes to speaking our mind. In a small economy dominated by big actors like resource companies, and big government, it is a brave man or woman indeed who speaks from the heart without regard for economic consequences.  We live in a small world. Many of our leading locally-owned companies do a lot of business with our major resource companies. All of our mayors need to think long and hard about biting the hand that feeds them, which is to say the provincial government. It can be subtle or it can be brutal.

It is the difference between doing business in a diversified economy, where power is dispersed, or a smaller one where power is concentrated.

The recent sale of Inco and Falconbridge is a case in point. There was no serious debate about the implications of such a massive change in our economic life. Business was silent, provincial politicians had nothing to say, federal politicians of all stripes were no where to be seen except in private meetings where the discussions were to be charitably sycophantic, and only after some considerable prodding did our former Mayor David Courtemanche put a working paper together that addressed some of the issues. Nothing of consequence has resulted from that report.

We have no influence. It is the province that establishes the rules of the road for resource companies and it is the federal government that can impact when there is a massive change in ownership of a Canadian company.

The discussions that need to take place are tough. There is nothing easy about going to a mining company and saying you aren’t paying enough tax.

There is nothing painless about going to a forestry company and saying you haven’t done enough about diversifying into the value added business and we are going take back some forest to make sure it happens.

There is some hope. The McGuinty government has done a couple of things to indicate it realizes change must happen. The first is that it gave Toronto more authority to deal with its unique problems as Canada’s largest City-State.

Secondly, it has launched a planning process (see Rethinking) that acknowledges implicitly that economic planning in a province this large needs to be seen through a regional prism. The Liberals deserve credit for these decisions. The first hiccup is that Toronto has completely blown its first attempt to increase revenue.

Mayor David Miller put together a gutsy plan to put a small land transfer tax on housing and a vehicle registration tax.
It was to raise $400 million dollars or so. Very quickly the vested interests in those sectors screamed and the council caved in. Miller lost his tax by one vote (well they deferred it to November) and there is a huge cat fight. But this is not a failure. This is just the first act of a municipality having to grow up. It is healthy and David Miller should have known he needed to show innovation in saving money as much as collecting it. He will learn. We have to grow up in Northern Ontario as well.

Our job at NOB is to raise all the issues you don’t want to talk about and give some of these ideas the light of day.

Your job is to have an opinion.

Go to www.RethinkingNorthernOntario.org and tell us what you think.

Michael Atkins
President
Laurentian Media Group
matkins@itworldcanada.com




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