Where is Don Cherry when you need him? The NOEDIs, Northern Ontario’s Economic Development Irregulars, are in a crucial game and they need a coach. Here is the situation. On Sept. 22 the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines asked for help to “develop a strategy that will strengthen the foundation for sustainable management and stewardship of Ontario’s mineral resources.” Only the NOEDIs can make sure that the Ministry gets the right answers.
The process is terribly predictable. The most influential presenters will be the financial players in Toronto.
Second will come the Northern Aboriginal communities, with the mining and exploration companies close behind. Prospectors will probably be next. Some Northern municipalities will make presentations and so with the local Chambers of Commerce, but if history is a guide they will take their lead from the exploration companies and the prospectors. There will be a presentation from the North’s mining supply and service association, but since MNDM is still subsidizing the national organization, the case for building supply industries in the north may be ignored.
Almost every recommendation from these groups will have been submitted a hundred times before. Only the NOEDIs can change the game by insisting on a new agenda - development in the North.
The rules in this game are a bit odd because the pitcher is on our team and the pitch is so slow it won’t go by until Nov. 30. And everyone gets to swing.
Unfortunately, our team never practices together and doesn’t have a coach, so let me make a few suggestions. First, let’s deal with sucker balls. The Ministry’s release talks about “Ontario’s” mineral resources. That’s a classic sucker ball. The only pitch we want to swing at is the one labelled “Northern Ontario’s resources.” No one on our team should waste time trying to hit southern Ontario’s balls. (Will that get past editor Craig Gilbert?) The ministry’s discussion paper also talks about “sustainable management and stewardship.” That’s another sucker ball. We need to make the ministry focus on “using Northern mineral resources to develop a sustainable Northern economy.”
According to the Ministry’s discussion paper four “key strategic objectives” have been identified. These are pretty much the same objectives that people have been talking about since I was a kid. The order is interesting, though:
1. Promoting long-term sustainability and global competitiveness
2. Supporting modern, safe and environmentally sound mining
3. Clarifying and modernizing mineral resource stewardship
4. Promoting community development and opportunities for all
Northern communities are on the list as item four. This is the pitch NOEDIs should swing at. NOEDIs have to keep repeating that economic development for Northern Ontario is the first objective. Let the world-class financial market in Toronto items 1 to 3 while Northerners promote the North. There is no reason for us to swing at Toronto’s balls.
Pitch number four is easy to hit. It is fuzzy, vague and weak. It is fuzzy because “community development” is not the same as “economic development.” Sending in community organizations counts as community development, but it doesn’t make jobs. It is vague because “opportunities for all” could mean opportunities for our kids to get good jobs in Toronto or for Russian companies to buy mineral claims cheap. It is weak because it says nothing about using northern mineral wealth to promote value-added and supply industries in the North.
The principle that mineral wealth should be used to promote local economic development is firmly established. It was won by Aboriginal communities dealing with De Beers, for example.
De Beers has promised to help train local people, to support local supply chains and to promote local businesses. These are concessions that the rest of Northern Ontario doesn’t get.
Maybe the Attawapiscat negotiators should be hired to coach the NODIs.
The terrible irony is that development for northern communities is good for the south. The more money stays in the north, the more people the north supports, and the more customers the south will have. Policy makers have forgotten the National Dream. After Toronto and Montreal merchants created Canada they set out to recruit settlers for the north and the west. Settlers would provide a growing market. Unfortunately those same central Canadians sucked so much of the wealth out that Northern Ontario and Saskatchewan are actually shrinking.
So here is the question - will you be a NOEDI? The team needs you to step up to the plate.
Get the discussion paper at http://www.mndm.gov.on.ca/mndm/mines/mds/documents/Mineral_Devp_Strategy_Eng.pdf
Dave Robinson is an associate professor of economics at Laurentian University. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.