Why is Ring of Fire not burning issue? – by Tom Mills (Sault Star May 31, 2014)


Ontario political parties should be playing a little Johnny Cash on their campaign bus sound systems. Ring of Fire, to be precise. Because this provincial election seems to be about jobs.

And Northern Ontario’s extremely rich mineral deposits in the Ring of Fire could be a very good place to create them. Direct employment estimates for developing those reserves are in the 4,400 to 6,000 range, with presumably much more construction and spinoff employment.

Politicians have been comparing the Ring of Fire to Alberta’s oil sands in terms of economic importance. Yet talk on the campaign trail about the Ring has been sporadic and muted.

So maybe a subliminal message from the Man in Black is needed convince the three major parties to give the Ring of Fire the prominence it deserves in their platforms.

That’s especially true since jobs is trumping government skulduggery as the focus of this campaign. New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath’s attempt to make scandal her campaign centrepiece seems to have been a strategic blunder.

Conservative leader Tim Hudak has bet the house on jobs. His party’s Million Jobs Plan is both dramatic and detailed.

It might not stand up to economic scrutiny. And it certainly inspires political attacks.

Liberal finance minister Charles Sousa claimed the plan would create only 34,000 jobs over eight years. Leader Kathleen Wynne has hammered home the damage that could be done by cutting 100,000 public sector jobs, the plan’s starting point.

Regardless, the resonance of Hudak’s jobs message has the Liberals playing on his court.

To the Conservatives’ credit, the 31-point plan spells out all the job-creation steps they would take.

Some, particularly those cutting cumbersome regulations and reducing power costs, might appeal even to people ideologically opposed to the Hudak brand of conservatism.

There’s a lot to quibble with or downright howl about, depending on your leanings. But at least the plan is thorough and clear.

The NDP’s main job planks are a tax credit for companies of up to $5,000 per job created and dropping the HST from power bills.

Liberals more generally talk about a $2.5-billion jobs and prosperity fund and dropping the employer health tax for small business. That sparked Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli to remark that the only job Wynne’s talking about saving is her own.

Yet Hudak in particular seems to have missed the boat on the Ring of Fire. Instead of being a centrepiece of the Million Jobs Plan, it’s mentioned just once that I can see.

And Hudak elected not to appear at a northern debate in Thunder Bay for leaders, opting to campaign in Peterborough and Thornhill.

That might make strategic sense, considering weak Conservative prospects in Northern Ontario. But symbolically, his non-appearance ceded the Ring of Fire to the two leaders who showed up for the debate.

That’s a little surprising, considering Hudak has said the Ring of Fire could be “what the oilsands have been for Alberta, what potash has been for Saskatchewan,” according to a Canadian Press report earlier this month.

Horwath and Wynne took full advantage, both debaters promising to spend $1 billion on an all-season transportation corridor to the remote site about 500 kilometre northeast of Thunder Bay.

Wynne also dropped her previous proviso that the federal government must help out with transportation corridor costs, saying the province will go it alone if necessary.

Hudak has promised to bring private companies and Ottawa to the table, but insists Liberal dithering rather than lack of federal cash is the problem.

It would have been nice to hear something more from all three on the Ring of Fire, perhaps a dramatic and detailed plan for pushing ahead a project of such admitted importance.

Campaign promises may be made to be broken, but something concrete and visionary might signal that the Ring of Fire won’t continue to languish through the next government term.

But at least Horwath and Wynne were in Thunder Bay to talk about it.

It’s a very big stretch to say it will cost him the election, but the Ring of Fire might prove to be one of those missed opportunities that burns, burns, burns Tim Hudak.

For the original version of this column, click here: http://www.saultstar.com/2014/05/31/why-is-ring-of-fire-not-burning-issue-mills

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