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What if Northern Ontario had a Premier?

The other day a guy named Evan Bayh, a 54-year-old Indiana Democratic Senator in the United States quit politics.
Michael R. Atkins

The other day a guy named Evan Bayh, a 54-year-old Indiana Democratic Senator in the United States quit politics. A former popular governor of the state and 12-year veteran of Congress who still led all his competitors in the polls said, "I do not love Congress." As recently as a year ago he was short-listed for the job of vice-president of the United States.

This is unusual. Americans will do almost anything to become a United States senator and interest groups will do almost anything to influence them.

The last straw for him appears to have been his proposal to set up a bi-partisan commission to tackle the United States’ federal deficit, which is bankrupting the country. It had the support of Democratic and Republican senators.

The Republicans dropped their support when they thought the commission might give political cover to the Democrats in a year of deficit.

Well, you have every right to wonder what a frustrated political star in the U.S. has to do with Northern Ontario.

The answer is the growing inability of democracies and institutions to act, or even want to act in the public interest.

Currently the most telling local case in point, although by no means singular example, is the strike at Vale Inco.

The bitterness grows. The parties who cannot find a way to sit down together are bickering in the press. They are in court fighting about who, if anyone, is negotiating in good or bad faith. The rank and file are increasingly restless, perhaps desperate, and are upping the ante with sporadic closure of picket lines. The company's security guards and their cameras continue to stalk. The rhetoric in the blogosphere is ugly.

The company continues to operate, or claims to maintaining operational status with a message to the picketers that "we will do this with or without you."

The local politicians are throwing mud at one another without a thought of putting politics as usual aside and coming together to influence sanity.

For the first time since the strike began someone with a senior job title at the company has responded to the union’s taunting of their public relations spokesman who has been carrying the communications load through the strike.

It was not calming nor was it meant to be. The message in short was, "we own the company and we'll do what we want, when we want and how we want." The company seems happy to keep the debate confrontational, simple-minded and tough.

Both parties are frozen in time (say, 1957).

It seems fair to expect the proprietors of a multi-billion-dollar company that spans the globe to have the sophistication to manage a strike in ways that do not inflame their employees, limiting the possibility of attacking the real problem which is productivity.

It seems reasonable to expect an important international union with deep local roots to have the sophistication to read the entrails of a changed economy and a new owner, and to manage the expectations of their members accordingly.

In times like these there needs to be a way to advance the public interest without trampling on the essential freedoms of our society. Vale is free to lose money. The Steelworks are free to suffer for their beliefs. But what about the rest of us?

When a community is being distressed by the actions of two parties locked in ideological warfare the rest of us need somewhere to go.

Like Evan Bayh who tried to get Congress to set politics aside so the United States could begin to address its suicidal debt problems, Sudbury needs a leader with the same courage even if it means resigning in disgust.

If Northern Ontario had a premier he would knocking at the Vale Inco office door in Brazil until the president let him in. Then he would fly to Pittsburgh and talk to the president of the Steelworkers until he got his bottom line.

Then he would fly back to Brazil and so on-pushing and shoving and cajoling and threatening until he got a deal. Why? Because that would be his job.

Dalton, it is never too late.

Michael Atkins
President, Laurentian Media Group