Far North Act Will Impair Our Economy – by Harold Wilson

Harold Wilson is president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce.

On Sept. 15, numerous business representatives, prospectors, municipalities and other organizations participated in a rally at Queen’s Park at a rally organized by First Nations to protest the proposed Far North Act.

The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce received unanimous approval in April from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce delegates on our resolution to have the act withdrawn.

Despite many other long-awaited government initiatives, such as the Northern Growth Plan and the Wood Supply Competition, the Far North Act is first on the agenda when the legislature convenes. Why is it such a big deal?

A group of dogmatic environmental “stewards” ensconced in the
premier’s inner circle, who do not know, nor care to know, how to
grow an economy, are dictating our economic future.

Mine exploration and development throughout northwestern Ontario is new money flowing into our economy. This is private sector money, raised from investors. Regardless of the diversified nature of our local economy, we benefit markedly by development of our natural resources. There are already important tangible examples of how increased exploration and prospecting is adding to the economy of Thunder Bay.

A few recent ones include: Activation Laboratories’ expansion, the expansion at WiskAir of its fleet of helicopters and now its hangar, the arrival of Porter Airlines, Cliffs Resources –a huge mining player in the U.S. — will soon be setting up shop in Thunder Bay. These activities are threatened by the Far North Act and other regulatory impediments to mining in our region.

Moreover, while government officials have stressed that this act is primarily to address issues expressed by the First Nations, the Far North Act is not supported by the First Nations leadership in Northern Ontario. In fact, they have already rallied against it.

The act is about huge land preservation and sequestration, not thoughtful development. The First Nations leadership wants better futures for their children, with prosperity built on sustainability. The jobs that will come from new mines are not only within the mines themselves. This also means opportunities for welding and machine shops and other service and goods providers near the site in First Nations communities to provide timely service, and for the many businesses that will in turn service them.

A group of dogmatic environmental “stewards” ensconced in the premier’s inner circle, who do not know, nor care to know, how to grow an economy, are dictating our economic future.

Nor do they reside in the North.

In addition to arbitrarily determining that 50% of the land base be removed from any development, they have also chosen the Ministry of Natural Resources for the lead role in implementing the legislation and in providing the planning that would consider development on the remaining 50%.

The MNR is not the organization to lead us to economic prosperity, as its track record so richly demonstrates. At meetings I have attended over the past 20 years, the MNR has continually demonstrated that it follows a “regulatory culture,” rather than an entrepreneurial attitude.

Indeed, its approach to development is based on “keeping something bad from occurring,” as opposed to “making something happen.”

Well, a total lack of development meets their prime goal, and that is a “win.” How the MNR could be given the “keys to our collective future” in the wake of the forest crisis and Ontario’s manufacturing decline is beyond belief.

Instead of focusing on how Northern Ontario could move from being a world leader in extraction and transportation of our resources, and instead aspire be the leader in the processing, research and development of our mineral resources, the emphasis will be on ensuring that planning potential development is as risk-averse as possible. The announced Ring of Fire Co-ordinator will be shackled before they even begin.

When I graduated 25 years ago, I elected to return to Thunder Bay and work in economic development for our region. I returned because I thought it was the time when things were going to happen for the region, and I wanted to be a part of that. I believe in a growing and prosperous North, but the proposed Far North Act will not bring either.

In 1981, the signs for Thunder Bay proclaimed our population at 113,000; they now read 110,000. A growing economy needs homebuilders, realtors, retailers and the myriad of services to meet the demand of residents. The work to backfill from lost or reduced economic sectors, the latest one being our forest industry, has been enormous, and the collective effort to date of many, including our current MPPs, has been effective.

However, when it comes to the Far North Act, our provincial representatives are strangely reticent and appear to not want to rock the boat they are firmly in. It is left to us in the business community and the First Nations, together with municipal and other regional organizations to make the cause against economically damaging policy that will devastate our future.

We at the chamber are the voice of business and this Far North Act is a threat to business development to our city and region. This is our call to action. See you on the front lines.