Analysts across the country have accepted Gilles Duceppe’s analysis of the May second federal budget: It’s the next one that counts.
Northerners should be glad, because the current budget has a big hole in it where Northern Ontario should be. Northern Ontario wasn’t at the table, and it shows.
Unless we mount a very aggressive campaign, Northern Ontario won’t be represented in the next budget either.
The Minister for Northern Ontario, Tony Clement, is also the Health Minister - he will be a very busy boy. He is Minister for the North because all the genuine Northern MPs are Liberal or NDP. As the parachute candidate for the resort riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, Tony is as close as the Conservatives can come to a local boy. Who cares that he ran in Brampton in 2004?
So far the Tony hasn’t been a big success as minister for the North. He didn’t get a single item for Northern Ontario onto the cabinet table this time. In fact, he may have helped take money off the table. On November 24 of last year, John McCallum, who was then Minister of Natural Resources, announced that the federal government would spend $1.5 billion on the forestry sector over the next five years. At least a quarter of that should have gone to Northern Ontario.
McCallum’s Forest Industry Competitiveness Strategy included “$581 million to support forest-dependent communities, market diversification and incentives for innovation in the forest industry, including incentives for bioenergy production.”
McCallum’s shift to a community-based diversification strategy made sense. McCallum wasn’t making it up as he went along. He earned his doctorate in Economics from McGill in 1977. The topic was actually relevant: Agriculture and economic development in Quebec and Ontario to 1870. He taught economics for years in Manitoba, BC and Quebec before retiring to serve as senior vice-president and chief economist of the Royal Bank of Canada. His strategy for the forestry sector was almost certainly worked out with the help of the prominent and newly Conservative economist, David Emerson.
In any case, the new conservative budget provides only $400 million over two years “to combat the pine beetle infestation, strengthen the long-term competitiveness of the forestry sector and support worker adjustment.” The mountain pine beetle deserves at least as much attention as Northern Ontario in a Conservative budget, if only because it has more representatives in parliament. This western insect has been threatening to move east as a result of global warming. An estimated $4.5 billion worth of timber is affected in BC alone.
The word that disappeared from the budget discussion between November and May is “communities.” The communities that have dropped out of the budget are the ones in northwestern Ontario where, according to Statistics Canada, a population of 73,200 outside of Thunder Bay lost 7,500 jobs last year.
Northern Ontario’s mining-based economy also got short shrift in the budget. We desperately need a major federal contribution to the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation. We need the federal government to recognize Northern Ontario’s well-established international position in mining and mining supply and we need a federal strategy to build on our strength.
To be fair, the new government is still learning the ropes, and by the time the next budget rolls around the Minister for Northern Ontario may have gotten his mind around our region’s issues.
Or he may not. We can be sure that every other part of the country will be angling for a piece of the coming election budget. Duceppe has already started. We know that a great deal of the government’s energy will go to policies that can attract Quebec voters. Those policies could be paid for with Ontario taxes, and in the battle over the fiscal imbalance, McGuinty will be too busy to fight for Northern Ontario.
The solution is a Northern Ontario budget process led by Northern Ontario organizations. We need a budget convention organized by the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities, the Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors, the Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Chiefs, the new Northern Table, Chambers of Commerce and the universities. Not only would it make sure the North is considered in the next federal budget, it would take us one step closer to effective government for Northern Ontario.
Dave Robinson is a professor of economics at Laurentian University. He can be reached email@example.com.