CEMI: The High Cost of Split Jurisdictions – By Michael Atkins

Northern Life, Greater Sudbury’s community newspaper, gave Republic of Mining.com permission to post Michael Atkin’s column. www.northernlife.ca

Michael Atkins

If you have even a passing interest in the politics of northern Ontario, and Sudbury in particular, you will take note of last week’s refusal by FedNor to support the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) at Laurentian University and weep.

The message came from a PR flake in Toronto or Ottawa (it doesn’t really matter where) who was kind enough to point out that it “would not serve to maximize FedNor’s priorities of promoting growth, economic diversification, job creating and sustainable, self-reliant communities in northern Ontario.

Of course, and the tooth fairy henceforth is declining visits to our children on the grounds it no longer fits her mandate.

You will note this piffle did not come from the Sudbury office. It didn’t come from the Sudbury office because the Sudbury office was involved in helping to imagine this project from the beginning and has supported it strongly.

In fact this decision has nothing to do with the merits of the project, pro or con.

It has to do with the war between the province and the Federal government and to a lesser extent the tension between the Sudbury office of FedNor and its minister.

The Federal Tories and the provincial Liberals loathe one another.

Two months ago the Federal Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty, in astonishingly insulting language, suggested all Ontario’s economic problems could be corrected by corporate tax cuts. The Minister further mused that he couldn’t understand why anyone in business would be so stupid as to invest in Ontario under the current tax regime. With friends like this, who needs enemies? Not even the governor of Michigan, in a life-and-death competition with Ontario for jobs, would be so rude.

I’ve been watching politics for 35 years in this province and I’ve never seen anything so economically hurtful and personally vitriolic.

Not that the province is without blame. A few weeks ago Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci referred to FedNor as “FedNot,” as he was trying to smoke them out on their investment in the university. This is unsportsmanlike conduct and probably killed any chance that Laurentian would get its long-promised funding.

Some insiders swear the funding was on track until the minister’s unfortunate remarks.

It doesn’t get worse than this. FedNor looks awful and ineffectual, Tony Clement looks spiteful, Rick Bartolucci looks clumsy, and Peter Kaiser, the executive director of CEMI, looks hopelessly naïve by calling the Federal government “arrogant” for not giving him his money. I’m sure they can hardly wait to help him with his next request.

In fairness to FedNor, not a month ago they invested a very important $2 million in the new NORCAT Commercialization and Innovation Centre here in Sudbury and that very positive step gets diminished in the shadow of this cat fight.

But why has it gotten out of hand?

Very simple. The battle is really between the Hatfields and the McCoys, better known as the Harris Tories and the McGuinty Liberals and they all have thin skins and long memories.

Jim Flaherty is the former minister of finance for Ontario. His wife holds his old provincial seat in the provincial legislature. Tony Clement is the former health minister for Ontario. McGuinty beat the Tories not once but twice in Ontario. More locally Gerry Lougheed Jr. is a close advisor to Rick Bartolucci and an important fundraiser for the Liberals. Lougheed used to be an avid Tory until he quit the party in a bitter conflict over funding travel for cancer care patients in northern Ontario. He put the cause above his party affiliation.

This is a family feud and the collateral damage is us.

Politics is a blood sport and all of these people are effective and important players in the political process when they don’t have to deal with one another. Someone in this scenario needs to lead with humility and get back to this file without the background noise. That work may include a reworking of CEMI in a way that would attract renewed interest from the Federal Government.

In the broader picture however, this is another example of how northern Ontario is organized for failure. We need to rethink how we are governed and who is in charge. This can’t go on.

Date Originaly Published | May 26, 2008

Michael Atkins is president of Laurentian Media Group. matkins@itworldcanada.com

Michael Atkins Column Archive: http://www.northernlife.ca/News/Columns/Atkins/default.asp