Here’s What’s Wrong With Municipal Mining Revenue in Ontario – Michael Atkins

A month or so ago, a special task force for the Greater City of Sudbury called the Advisory Panel on Municipal Mining Revenues presented their recommendations to the city.

The committee was struck to review the astonishing inequities between the amount of mining tax money skimmed off the top by the provincial and federal governments, as opposed to the falling revenue for the city. This is not a new idea. The panel puts it in perspective.

In 1964, the mayor of Sudbury, at the time, struck a committee to investigate Sudbury’s financial problems and came up with a report entitled “1964; Year of the Dilemma.” The major theme was the lack of assessment available to the city from the mining industry.

In 1967,  the Ontario Committee on Taxation went at it with a draft proposal that Sudbury would receive even less money. That was fought by the Association of Mining Municipalities of Ontario and another submission from Sudbury. In 1977 came the Mining Tax Reform Committee, which released a document entitled “Modification of Mining Taxation in Ontario”.

In 1985 came the Advisory Committee on Resource Dependent Communities of Northern Ontario. In 1989 came the Ministry of Municipal Affairs Advisory Committee on the Provincial-Municipal Financial Relationship, and in the early 90s the Ontario Fair Tax Commission.

In 1997 came the “Fairness and Equality for our North” report from the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and the Northwestern Municipal Association.

In 2006 came “Claiming our Stake; Building a Sustainable Community” a task force of the then mayor of Sudbury in response to the stunning sell out of both Inco and Falconbridge to foreign owners without a peep or whisper or grunt from the province or the federal government.

All of these essays, with varying degrees of elegance are about money, inequity, powerlessness and unfairness. The net result of all these reports and the accompanying lobbying, cajoling, begging, mouthing off, and kafuffle is that not much of anything has changed in spite of the fact we are experiencing one of the most prosperous metal booms in history.

The boom demands more of the city’s infrastructure and mining income is going down for the city, not up. You cannot run a municipality like Sudbury when you can’t tax underground facilities of mining companies or receive compensating revenue from the province, while the mining companies are eating you alive by driving massive trucks across your crumbling infrastructure. It doesn’t work.

The province knows it, the city knows it, the federal government knows it, the people of Sudbury know it, the people who write and research these endless reports know it, the premier knows it, the Minister of Northern Development and Mines knows it, the keen, but overtaxed staff of the infrastructure ministry who are trying to write an economic strategy for the North know it, the Minister for FedNor knows it, the Chambers of Commerce know it, our labour leaders know it, our MPs and MPPs know it, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities knows, and of course, you know it.

The city’s report is important. It provides facts and perspective. Unfortunately, because of its mandate from the city, it only addresses one element of the problem, namely municipal underfunding and tax inequity.

A bigger problem is that the North is organized for failure. The province is a hopeless steward of our resource wealth. They have no sustainable resource strategy and no way to implement it if they did. The real challenge is to hold the province accountable for its management of the resource economy and find a way to get control of it before it is too late. More on this another time.

This column originally appeared in a recent issue of Northern Ontario Business, a sister publication of Northern Life. Michael Atkins is president of Laurentian Media Group.

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