Dear John, Tom, Lynn, Vic and John;
Congratulations on your success. There is no greater honour than to be elected to lead your community. The voters, who know you well, have said they trust you.
You are brave or mad or both, but whatever it is, we appreciate your commitment to public service.
We live in the best of times and the worst of times. If it’s mining, you're trying to find employees; if it is forestry you are laying them off. The problems, however, have not changed. The only difference between a mining community that is booming and a forestry community that is struggling is the part of the cycle are you riding.
There is a lot of experience among you. In Sault Ste. Marie John is working on his third term, in North Bay Vic is into his second term, in Sudbury John Rodriquez is new to the municipal scene, but he has been in politics for decades, Lynn in Thunder Bay was virtually unopposed to earn her second term and Tom Laughren in Timmins is new to the mayor's post, but is an experienced councillor.
You all have your own city issues, but never before have your interests been so completely aligned. Whether you are rich or poor, you know in your gut that Northern Ontario is not working in Ontario. It is either in the emergency ward or will be as the cycle turns. The forestry industry is collapsing and the stunning rise in mineral prices has rewarded shareholders and tax collectors from far away places. Something is wrong with this picture.
In Thunder Bay, Lynn has the biggest challenge. Thunder Bay is hurting and needs help now. They are, however, well organized and policies and directions are emerging. The Liberals are going to have to do something or risk being run out of town. Last week's announcement on electricity prices for forestry companies is a case in point.
In the Sault, John has won a decisive victory and has more influence than at any other time in his last two mandates.
He is a scrappy activist and not afraid to call a spade a spade.
In Sudbury John Rodriguez has a massive mandate, but not much leverage. The sitting provincial government member Rick Bartolucci is the only politician more popular than he is, and the only one who can go, blow-for-blow, with our expansive new mayor. They are both ex teachers and learned their craft in opposition. A fight with the mayor might serve the member well as he gears up for re-election. The mayor also carries the baggage of being a life time New Democrat in a province where there is no love lost between the two parties.
In North Bay, the specter of party politics arose with Stan Lawlor taking on Vic Fedeli . Vic trounced him. Vic has been completely preoccupied with North Bay politics. It would be a good time for him to sit up and start thinking about Northern Ontario. He is a bright and successful politician and if he took a bigger interest in the systemic problems of Northern Ontario it would help a lot.
Things are pretty good in Timmins right now. It will be interesting to see if Tom takes an interest in pan Northern Ontario issues. Let’s hope he does.
The opportunity, with this talented group of individuals, is to, once and for all, address what is really wrong up here. What is wrong is how we are organized to cope with our challenges. It doesn’t work. The reactive, free lance fire fighting (forestry today, Algoma Steel yesterday, Inco Layoffs 15 years ago, Spruce Falls 10 years ago) is ineffective, tiring, and nonsensical.
The City of Greater Toronto has new taxing powers and legislation. Northern Ontario needs the same thing.
Northern Ontario’s economy is completely different than southern Ontario. It must have separate powers to manage its economy, revamped resource tax policy, make education more relevant to our environment, manage natural resources, rethink our forestry economy, tackle immigration and drive economic development.
We have four years. There is a provincial election in one year. There is no reason why we can’t get one or the other of the major parties to support substantive change. The time is now. This is not party politics, this is Northern Ontario politics.
Michael Atkins is president of Northern Ontario Business and can be reached email@example.com