Northern Ontario seats get attention – by Brian MacLeod (Sudbury Star – April 28, 2011)

The Sudbury Star, the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper. This column was published on April 28, 2011 and is by Brian MacLeod, the paper’s Managing Editor.

Federal parties have tried to court Northern Ontario votes with varying degrees of love — which is surprising, given potential voter volatility in the North. You’d have thought they’d be throwing pebbles at every window.

The NDP is giving the North a big hug. The Liberals are offering up a sibling kiss. And the Conservatives, well, they’re just not that into the North, it seems.

Seven of Northern Ontario’s 10 ridings are held by the NDP. Two are held by Conservatives (including Parry Sound-Muskoka’s Tony Clement) and one, Nipissing-Timisking’s Anthony Rota, is Liberal. That’s a big change from 2006, when the Liberals held seven of the North’s 10 ridings, with the NDP holding just two and the Conservatives one.

This shows voters intentions in these ridings can be changed, which makes the area — the size of France and Germany combined — a possible deal maker or breaker for a majority government.

NDP Leader Jack Layton and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have hit several Northern ridings, but Stephen Harper’s lone venture into Northern Ontario was to Sault Ste. Marie on Monday, where New Democrat Tony Martin edged his Conservative rival by about 1,100 votes in 2008.

Health care and job issues are exacerbated in northern areas because there are no “down the road” solutions to local problems. If services aren’t available in the community, residents find themselves on a pilgrimage to Toronto.

So promises by the three parties to lure doctors to rural areas with incentives are important. All three parties have also committed millions to fund a cyclotron — which is useful in early cancer detection — in Thunder Bay.

Northerners are acutely aware of the boom and bust cycle of their resource-based economy.

The Conservatives are relying on business tax cuts and other budgetary measures to help create jobs.

Both the Liberals and the NDP vow to revise the Foreign Investment Review Act, a promise that stemmed from a bitter, year-long strike at Vale in Sudbury after the Brazil-based company bought the former Inco.

But the flashpoint in jobs creation is a northern development agency known as FedNor. The Conservatives absorbed the $50-million program into Industry Minister Tony Clement’s purview, which means he must OK funding. Given the minister’s propensity to spread G8 money around his own riding of Parry Sound- Muskoka — which many don’t really consider to be part of the North — it’s a sore spot.

The Liberals say they will make FedNor a stand-alone agency reporting to Parliament. So will the NDP, but they also promise to double FedNor’s funding to $100 million.

The NDP promise to invest in job creation specifically aimed at keeping young people in the North. And they say they will set up a permanent flow-through shares program, which lets investors claim 100% of their investment in exploration companies on their tax return.

For the rest of the column, please go to the Sudbury Star website: