By Ian Ross
North Bay and its surrounding townships are one of the first regions out of the block in organizing a local task force to actively pursue and promote its selection as a possible pilot site for a proposed tax-incentive zone.
The provincial government has proposed six pilot projects in Ontario to create tax-incentive zones in rural and northern areas as a means to redistribute wealth and jobs across the province.
“The task force is for the Nipissing region and so we’re going to be going at it from a regional perspective,” says Nancy Creighton, executive director of the North Bay Economic Development Commission, who was named to the Nipissing Regional Task Force along with Nipissing MPP Al McDonald and Mayor Jack Burrows.
In working collectively with politicians from Mattawa, Callander and East Ferris Township, Creighton will be putting together a proposal to promote the Nipissing region, as well as extend an invitation to Brian Coburn, the associate minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing responsible for rural issues to visit North Bay as part of some upcoming business and community consultations this fall.
Northern leaders have been lobbying for a tax incentive program or a concerted government-led effort to encourage major corporations to move beyond the 401 corridor.
Since bonusing is not allowed under the Municipal Act, and the province has historically been adverse to municipalities providing incentives to encourage businesses to relocate or expand, politicians and development officials say the lack of such an incentive program has hampered their ability to compete with provinces and states outside Ontario.
Finally, Premier Ernie Eves made good on last spring’s throne speech at the Aug. 19 Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual meeting by announcing that the province is moving forward with its commitment to create tax incentive zones in municipalities across the province as part of a $- billion package to help cities and towns finance economic infrastructure.
In a media release, Eves says governments must work harder to create a favourable economic climate across Ontario. “These zones will encourage both large and small businesses to invest, relocate or expand in communities, creating economic growth and giving young people the opportunity to give something back to the communities where they grew up.”
Details of the pilot sites and incentive program have yet to be defined and the financial implications are unknown, says Creighton.
“The government hasn’t decided or precluded anything at this point,” she says, “the way it sounds they’re going to be choosing regions or communities.”
Creighton says based on tax incentive programs in northern and rural Quebec, Newfoundland, Ireland and parts of the U.S., the usual criteria for examining tax incentive zones involves unemployment rate, low population growth, shrinking assessment base and income per capita.
“The usual kind of breaks or tax incentives they look at corporate tax breaks or rebates, payroll tax and they also look at the community to implement some kind of property tax break.”
North Bay has already gotten off the mark locally says Creighton, rolling back its industrial taxes over a three-year period for a total of 66 per cent.
Jay Aspin, a North Bay city councillor and former Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities president, says the whole north needs tax incentive zones “not just selected areas.”
“We’re down 40,000 people in the latest census and the electoral commission has recommended for 2004 we’re going to lose another electoral sector in going from 11 to 10.”
Selecting pilot sites can only serve to breed animosity in favouring one community over another.
“All of Northern Ontario needs it and if you start picking selected areas you’re going to pit communities against communities and regions against regions.”
“Make this pan-northern. Make it across the North.”