Northern Ontario is Canada’s future; Conservative leadership candidate promises he will make Ring of Fire a national priority, boost regional health care – by Erin O’Toole (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – April 23, 2017)

THIS week in Thunder Bay, I visited the Terry Fox memorial and was reminded of the tremendous determination of this iconic Canadian and the community spirit he continues to inspire three decades after his death. Canadians are a generous people who help our neighbours at home and have long played a role in helping around the world from Vimy Ridge to Kandahar.

Northern Ontarians have always gone the extra mile to answer the call of service to help their neighbours. Local leaders know the needs of their communities far better than bureaucrats in Ottawa. That’s why it’s time we empower Northern Ontario to set its own course and become a national economic driver once more.

From Kenora to Thunder Bay to Timmins, northerners know the needs of their communities and the tremendous potential of projects like the Ring of Fire. As an Ontario MP, I also recognize that the development of resources in our north not only creates jobs in this area of the province, but will benefit all Canadians through resource royalties and the addition of secondary processing jobs.

Northerners know all about the great potential of the Ring of Fire. Its known deposits are significant enough to sustain a century of mineral development. Yet, after more than a decade of mineral exploration activity and findings of rich resources, no infrastructure has been developed. Infrastructure that is critically needed to build mines, move people and goods, and grow the economy of Thunder Bay, Geraldton, Nipigon and beyond.

The Wynne Liberals requested $1 billion in infrastructure funding from the government of Canada in 2014, but never provided the necessary plan to flow the funding. Trudeau’s cabinet is largely made up of activists with no private sector experience and a history of opposing the resource industries and the jobs that flow from them. They certainly cannot be relied upon to build the Ring of Fire.

Justin Trudeau mocked the resource sector on his first official trip abroad. But I believe that a prime minister should champion job growth in all parts of the country.

Canada’s economic future hangs in the balance. The Liberals are forecasting a decade of job churn and are amassing more debt with nothing to show for it. They are also telling young Canadians to just ‘get used to it.’ But I have a vision for a prosperous Canada, and a plan that will change the course of our economy. Northern Ontario is ready to play an important role in that.

My Conservative government will make the opportunities of the Ring of Fire a national priority by declaring chromite a nationally significant resource and the development of the Ring of Fire as a project of national significance. The Athabasca oil sands were developed through extensive government and industry co-operation, but it started by declaring it a national priority.

Development in the Hibernia oil field was advanced by prime minister Brian Mulroney in a very similar manner by using the Canada Development Investment Corp. This was one of a series of regional mega-projects Mulroney advanced across Canada. That same dedication, co-operation and vision is needed now in the Ring of Fire.

An O’Toole federal government will work with indigenous communities, industry and scientists to streamline approvals for the transportation corridor. By increasing access to the region, mineral exploration companies can focus their scarce resources on what matters most: putting shovels in the ground and creating more jobs for northerners.

I will also work with indigenous business leaders to develop and implement a national indigenous procurement policy, and prioritize connecting indigenous communities to the electrical grid and guarantee clean drinking water.

But my vision for Northern Ontario does not begin and end with natural resource development. I have committed to making a real difference in the delivery of health care for Northerners. I will require the Ontario government to prioritize health-care access for rural and northern Ontarians and report to me on their progress. I will extend the prescribed northern zones (Zone A and B) recognized under the Northern Residents Income Tax Deductions so that all Northern Ontarians pay lower taxes.

I will double the Medical Expense Tax Credit maximum to $2,500 for residents who must travel 100 km or more to the hospital providing their care, and up to $3,500 for those living in the extended northern zones. To address doctor and nurse shortages, I will incentivize medical practitioners to open practices in northern and rural communities by reducing the Small Business Tax Rate (currently 10.5 per cent) to 5 per cent for medical professionals operating within Northern Ontario.

As leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, I will push for investments in the Ring of Fire and the economic development of Northern Ontario. I have a vision for a stronger North that doesn’t just stand on its own two feet, but drives the Canadian economy. Our North defines our nation and will be critical to our future, but realizing this potential requires vision and a relationship with Northerners built on respect. Our true north can only be strong and free when it is respected and encouraged to chart its own future. Together, we will get it done.

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