Mineral Resource Sharing Needs to be Addressed in the Canadian Federal Election – by Bill Bradley

Northern Life, Greater Sudbury’s community newspaper, gave Republic of Mining.com permission to post Bill Bradley’s article. www.northernlife.ca

Campaigning federal politicians are getting an earful from city residents.

As they canvas door-to-door, they are hearing similar complaints from the electorate — poor roads, lack
of health care facilities and services for themselves and their loved ones, lack of affordable housing, and high gas prices.

City councillors hear the same concerns every day.

Behind all these complaints lies an unfortunate truth — northern Ontario is not getting its fair share of resource revenues. Northern Life in this election has been alerting candidates to a report entitled A Refined Argument: Report of the Advisory Panel On Municipal Mining Revenue presented to and adopted by city council February 27.

Prepared by a citizens committee, chaired by retired former Inco vice-president Jose Bianco, the report presents some stark facts. On page 29, in a graph entitled Growth in Tax Revenue Generated By The Ontario Mining Industry in Ontario (2001 to 2005), is shown the following: federal revenues from the mining sector increased 77.6 per cent, and provincial revenues from the mining sector increased 109.8 per cent.

Yet, the following sentence states the reason for our municipal problems in the north.

“From 2001 to 2005, municipalities across Ontario have experienced a 4.5 per cent reduction in municipal property tax revenue from mining,” states the report.

The northern Ontario mining boom has stressed municipal coffers to provide the necessary infrastructure, including roads, contributions to sports, recreation, arts and health care facilities. But the money for those same services from senior levels of government has been sporadic, ad hoc and mostly inadequate.

Mayor Rodriguez has received the support of the northern Ontario mayors and is now seeking the support of the Ontario association of mayors to get a better deal on resource revenue. Then he will go the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) for their support.

Greg Clausen, Greater Sudbury manager of infrastructure services, has noted that, up to 1997, when his department planned a $5 million road improvement project, he could always count on a dollar-for-dollar matching fund from the province of Ontario, as long as he had a good project in mind.

That matching program was changed by the Mike Harris Conservative government to allow municipal politicians to spend the money on other projects, said Clausen. While the federal Conservative government and province have stepped up with a new infrastructure program, Build Canada, Clausen
still thinks the amount of money this city can get is insufficient. It is one reason why our roads have suffered.

Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume said delays in the Build Canada program make it difficult for city council as the budget process begins. Many expensive projects are on the table — the $18 million-plus Levack Water Treatment Project, the $2 million city contribution for the Chelmsford alternative care facility and the $30-$38 million biosolids waste management project in Lively. Now the city has indicated it would
like to add the Northern School of Architecture to the list.

One million dollars per year for ten years is being requested as the city contribution to the $35 million capital fund. Then the city’s legacy projects add up to another $165 million, if they are proceeded with.

Budget chief Ted Callaghan has asked city staff to prepare a list of all major projects the city has shown interest in along with their price tags, so councillors know what they are up against.

Berthiaume said its unfair to get residents to pay more taxes for maintaining basic infrastructure that is under increasing stress from the mining boom and its related spinoffs. “Senior levels of government collect income tax. That revenue source is more fair because it is based on what you earn. That is not the case with city property taxes, especially for seniors and those on fixed or low incomes,” said Berthiaume.
He indicated his sympathy for seniors who, faced with a possible hike in taxes, may be no longer able to stay in their homes. With plummeting vacancy rates, where will they go, he asked?

Green Party candidate in the Sudbury riding, Gordon Harris, said the amount of money, $42 billion, involved in the buyout of Canadian mining companies in the Sudbury area shows how much this ore body is worth. John Lil, FNX president, has pegged its value past and present at $1 trillion.

How can things change?

“From 2001 to 2005, municipalities across Ontario have experienced a 4.5 per cent reduction in municipal property tax revenue from mining.”

Above from: A Refined Argument: Report of the Advisory Panel On Municipal Mining Revenue

Charlie Angus, Timmins-James Bay NDP incumbent politician, said it is important that mayors in the northeast look at northwestern Quebec, just across the border from where he lives.

“You look at Val-d’Or, Quebec. It created one quarter of the wealth that Kirkland Lake created. Yet Val-d’Or looks like a city. Kirkland Lake is always struggling. Why is that? The province of Quebec reinvested in this region. Ontario has yet to make any serious commitment to its mining communities,” said Angus.

These Quebec cities are not just industrial outposts but communities with clear support from senior levels of government, said Angus.

“I think the mayor of Sudbury is right-on-the-money in taking this fight up with both senior levels of government.” Diane Marleau’s campaign office said she was able to deliver more than $25 million to Sudbury through the New Deal for Municipalities, more than $7 million under the Canada Ontario Infrastructure Works and COMRIF programs, between 2004 and 2006. She also delivered almost $1.8 million for public transit.

Last Thursday in Toronto, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion pledged $70 billion for city infrastructure — for roads, bridges and sewage systems.

Let’s hope all federal leaders listen to the voters and make this a top election issue.

Bill Bradley is Northern Life’s city council reporter