Northern [Ontario] plans fail to hit the mark – by Brian MacLeod (Sudbury Star – July 21, 2011)

The Sudbury Star, the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper. Brian MacLeod is the managing editor.

When the Ontario Liberals unveiled the draft of their Growth Plan for Northern Ontario in 2010, some critics said it lacked plans for implementation, such as timing, funding and sufficient monitoring.

And they complained it didn’t protect resources, a sore point in the North, since two of the largest mining companies in the world — Inco and Falconbridge — were taken over by foreign companies.

Xstrata, which bought Falconbridge, shut down the Kidd Creek metallurgical plant in Timmins, and changes sought by Vale, which bought Inco, resulted in a year-long strike by the United Steelworkers.

Changebook North, the Progressive Conservatives’ attempt at showing love for Northern Ontario, whose 850,000 citizens have a hard time feeling amore from Queen’s Park, suffers from an even more glaring lack of details.

Of the two growth plans, the Liberals’, at 60 pages, is more complex and wide-ranging, but it’s not a blueprint — there’s too much wiggle room and too much left to interpretation.

Changebook North, at 28 pages, reiterates many of the Tories’ plans for the province, while throwing in a few breadsticks — a bit more than crumbs — for Northern Ontario.

Both parties recognize the need to help train and work with First Nations peoples. Both recognize the need to encourage resource development, especially the giant Ring of Fire chromite deposit, a 5,120-sq.-km area in the James Bay lowlands. Both parties have nebulous plans to address the high cost of energy, which is hurting the resource industry in the North.

Both vow to maintain the $100-million Northern Ontario Heritage fund, which supports regional development.

Curiously, while the Liberals have vowed to complete the four-laning of Highway 69 — the $2-billion project seen as key to unlocking the development potential of northeastern Ontario — Changebook North says nothing about it.

There are other differences. The Liberals earmarked $5 million for a northern policy institute to develop priorities for the North, while the Tories will expand gas tax benefits to all municipalities, which means more money for many small rural communities in the North.

And the Tories plan to hand over mineral royalties from new mines to host communities. Northern municipalities have pleaded with the province for years to keep their own mining royalties.

The Conference Board of Canada notes that Greater Sudbury, whose land mass covers an area several times the size of Toronto with only about 160,000 people to support the infrastructure, needs an extra $30 million annually to achieve sustainability — a “fraction” of what the provincial and federal governments reap from the city’s mining companies.

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