Northern Ontario knew long before the rest of Canada and perhaps the world that the economy was going “south.”
Just ask any community that has been affected by the downturn in the forest industry. While the remainder of Canada -- including perhaps some communities that depend on mining -- was still enjoying the benefits of an economic boom, communities in Northern Ontario that depend on forestry were pleading for assistance to keep their economies from falling into complete disarray.
Now that the economic reality has set in and our political leaders have realized we have a severe problem, we still have the problem of getting the downturn in the forest industry to the forefront because of the auto industry and other governmental priorities.
Remember, assistance brings votes, which brings us to the subject of the January 29, 2009 budget.
Let's remember how we got to this point in the first place. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an economist no less, denied the fact that Canada was in or would go into a recession. This “fairy tale” continued into and right through the federal election.
Once his party stumbled through to another minority, he still had the nerve to suggest, mostly through Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, that Canada would avoid the global recession -- what arrogance!
Not only did this translate into what appeared to be a deception to the Canadian public, it placed our communities in a dangerous position.
In taking office, Harper did nothing more than appear to govern the country as if nothing was really wrong.
Now that Harper has admitted to a recession, there can be no question we were on a course of complete economic destruction – just imagine what this would have done to the already ravaged economies of those forest-dependent towns in Northern Ontario.
While many may criticize the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc for strategizing to move a vote of non-confidence in the House of Commons and form a new coalition government, they may have perhaps set in motion a series of events that may assist us all in getting into a position whereby the recession can be addressed.
First, the move woke up the Conservatives, who immediately began an unsuccessful campaign of suggesting that what had occurred was somehow “treason” or at least un-Canadian. Playing by the rules already in place was apparently not something the Conservatives particularly liked. Second, the Liberals replaced leader Stéphane Dion with Michael Ignatieff.
The Conservatives now had a foe that they would have to be concerned about. The results in the polls were immediate, and the Conservatives should be concerned because Ignatieff is no Dion. Third, seeing the writing on the wall and the resolve of the coalition forced the Conservatives into addressing the recession head-on or else risk losing their government. This has taken the form of meetings across the nation between communities and their MPs, and resulted in a stream of correspondence from municipal associations and other organizations that regularly strategize government policy.
Harper and Flaherty have both admitted that Canada may have to run a deficit budget in the next few years in order to get the economy back on its feet -- really! Is this not what the members of the Coalition said prior to Harper proroguing Parliament?
Now the Harper government is talking all kinds of “smack” about budgetary deficits, tax cuts and a massive infrastructure program -- how ingenious (sarcastic emphasis added.) Is this not what governments in other countries across the world were saying?
In Northern Ontario, let’s just hope that there are plans to help us. We need an expanded mandate for FedNor that provides it with an expanded budget and directs it to assist communities big and small in the North – not all of Ontario.
We need access to more funds for training our people, particularly those that are out of work or those that are at risk. We need re-employment programs that work quickly and are not subject to weeks of waiting or bureaucratic “red tape.”
We need tax cuts and access to credit that put more money in the pockets of people across the North, enabling them to have the type of life enjoyed by their neighbors to the south.
We also need an infrastructure program that is devoid of a competitive process and the “red tape” that has hindered past programs. Providing these funds for some while leaving others out only continues the stupidity of past programs.
If Harper can do all this, great; he will have delivered a late Christmas gift. If he cannot, then the coalition awaits. All I can say is thank God for Canadian Politics!