[NDP] Changing the rules [for resourse development in northern Ontario] – (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial – August 10, 2011)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

ONTARIO NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is courting northern votes by proposing to protect and create northern jobs. It’s a familiar pledge. Few northerners will argue with her value-added intentions, announced in Thunder Bay Tuesday. But forcing industry’s hand at a time when industry is fond of simply moving to the cheapest jurisdiction goes against all that free trade and globalization, such as they are, strive for. It’s a tide that will be hard to turn.

Horwath says that if an NDP government is elected in October, it will ensure that Ontario’s natural resources stay in Ontario to create value-added forestry and mining jobs and give northern communities and First Nations a chance to share in more of the prosperity the North creates.

Horwath unveiled plans to fix forestry tenure rules to give communities more control over wood allocations. And she would amend the Mining Act so resources mined in Ontario cannot be exported if they can be processed in Ontario.

Both ideas have been floated for years and while both may seem logical, no government has yet been able to forge them into effective legislation. The market rules because political considerations that are inevitably injected into government aid programs invariably make the marketplace go all wobbly.

The Liberal government has changed forest tenure by putting forest lands up for bid. While this may have led to some more efficient operations, the new operators aren’t always from the neighbourhood. Horwath says the wood reallocation process has caused more than 30 mills to shut down, hurting the host communities. More than 40,000 Northern Ontario forestry jobs have already been lost to the global economic downturn.

Horwath would protect local wood supplies for local communities and reclaim timber rights from companies that close mills. Removing industry’s right to control the Crown timber on which it depends for its profits would complete the restructuring the Liberals have begun — a bold move.

As mining resurges in importance, Horwath wants ore processed here wherever possible instead of being shipped away to less-expensive locations.

Northern communities are already tripping over themselves trying to convince Cliffs Natural Resources that theirs is the best location to process chromite ore from the Ring of Fire development. Cliffs can simply send the stuff wherever it wants and Ontario has disadvantages beginning with higher electricity costs than any other jurisdiction Cliffs is considering. What is Ontario promising Cliffs to convince it to process its chromite here?

Under Horwath’s plan, if a suitable smelter exists, it would be guaranteed the right to process the ore that Cliffs and others take out of the ground. The danger here is that a sole, protected enterprise would inevitably become uncompetitive and might ultimately fail. Then it would be up to government to bail it out, a result that would serve no one in the long run.