Sudbury Accent: Move 10,000 civil service jobs North [Part 3 of 5] – by Stan Sudol (Sudbury Star – June 5, 2018)

Without a doubt, the provincial economy overall is doing great. Growth rates of 2.8 per cent in 2017 and a slightly lower rate of 2.4 per cent predicted for this year has allowed the Ontario to gain 335,000 new jobs and lowered unemployment to 5.5 per cent in March.

However, the vast majority of that prosperity is focused on the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). In fact, over the past decade, roughly 80 per cent of new jobs created in Ontario went to the GTA, 10 per cent to Ottawa and the rest of the province had to make due with the remaining 10 per cent.

Is it any wonder why the GTA is drowning in prosperity, with crowded subways, congested highways and an over-inflated housing market?

In the1980s, former Liberal premier David Peterson had an innovative vision of sharing the job wealth with the rest of the province as the government is a major employer. He transferred 1,600 civil service jobs from a number of ministries to Northern Ontario. Thousands of other jobs were also moved to various cities in southern Ontario like Kingston, Peterborough, Orillia and Guelph.

Peterson helped grow the Sudbury Mining Cluster by transferring the Ontario Geological Survey, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and mines section of the Ministry of Labour.

There are an estimated 120,000 Ontario civil service jobs in the Toronto area spread over the Queen’s Park ministries and a wide variety of government agencies, boards and commissions. With the impending retirement of the baby boomers and advanced communications technologies, it’s time to revisit Peterson’s terrific vision to share the wealth and stability that government jobs provide and transfer 10,000 civil servant positions to Northern Ontario. And for good measure, another 15,000 government jobs should be transferred to the cities of the southwest, the Niagara region and the southeast.

The booming GTA can more than withstand this job transfer and it might even help reduce some of the congestion. The new government should hire an outside accounting firm to make recommendation on what jobs should be transferred and to where.

In a brief telephone conversation, well over a decade ago, I recall Peterson telling me that there was tremendous “pushback” from the bureaucrats as they didn’t agree with his policy. In the Ontario of the 21st century, Toronto can afford to and should share the wealth of civil servant jobs with the rest of the struggling province.

Resource education needed

Our natural resource sector – energy, mining, forestry and agriculture – provide about 52 per cent of Canada’s exports. And yet the disconnect between where the materials to build our cellphones and cars come from or how the lights stay on has never been greater. Even global food production would significantly decrease, leading to mass starvation, if phosphate and potash fertilizers were not used to sustain crop yields.

Ontario needs to implement one mandatory resource course in the high school curriculum to educate all kids about the basic building blocks of modern 21st century society.

I am not looking for a propaganda tool. We need to include legitimate environmental concerns, water and pollution issues, as well as the realistic and costly limits of renewable energy proposals and the poverty elimination aspects of resource development in northern or less developed regions and countries.

Twinning Trans-Canada and passing lanes

In a last minute political reprieve, the Liberals committed to twinning the trans-Canada highway throughout Northern Ontario with no timelines or financial commitments. Aside from the collective eye rolling I suspect most northerners were doing, it probably lowered the Liberal’s standing in the polls a point or two – given their desperation of saying anything to get reelected. Aside from the cynicism that announcement brought on, this really an issue that we need to start tackling.

Road and bridge infrastructure is a critical component of the north and that strategic choke point at Nipigon needs to be resolved in some economic manner. In January 2016, a brand new $100-million bridge failed due to some problem with the bolts holding it together, effectively cutting the country in half. We need to have an alternate route preferably in this country as traffic had to reroute through the states to get to southern Canada. Obviously, we need to start twinning the trans-Canada. After all, we are a high-tech supposedly near $2 trillion economy. We should be able to afford it if the prime minister stops spending $4.5 billion on pipelines the private sector should be building.

And there are two secondary highways I really need to complain about. Highway 144 was probably designed the devil himself. I am not calling for its twinning, but we certainly could afford to place some longer passing lanes in ten key places as the construction of IAMGOLD’s new Côté open pit gold mine near Gogama that will be employing hundreds and the traffic volume will expand accordingly. And Red Lake is doing very well. But Highway 105 into the community could also use around 10 lengthy passing lanes strategically placed.

Power Issues

Before the breakup of the old Ontario Hydro by the Mike Harris Conservatives – into Ontario Power Corporation (generation) and Hydro One (transmission), the construction of transmission lines to new resource projects was paid for by the utility. Now the mining or forestry company must foot the bill even though their economic activity will create hundreds or thousands of jobs (direct/indirect) and contribute enormous amounts of tax revenue, especially in northern regions. We need to go back to the old system.

The Green Energy Act and its absurd long-term high-priced contracts have caused excessive increases in both residential and industrial power rates. While the Liberal Northern Industrial Electricity Rate Program does lower power rates for industry, there is a limited amount of money in the program and it is not a permanent fixture dependent on the whims of politics. Ontario needs to implement a permanent industrial power rate for all northern industries that is within a “reasonable” range compared to Manitoba and Quebec. I don’t expect that we could afford to be at their impressively low rates, but somewhat competitive to retain those high-paying, middle-class jobs associated with mining and forestry.

Regulated by the Ontario Energy Board, Wataynikaneyap (Watay) Power is a licensed transmission company, 51 per cent owned by 22 First Nation communities in partnership with Fortis Ontario Inc., which owns the remainder. The federal government gave $1.6 billion to this great initiative to link 16 isolated Aboriginal communities to the grid and wean them off of costly diesel power generation. I have to give the Trudeau government credit for this terrific investment that will benefit more than 14,000 people and is the “most expansive Indigenous-led transmission project in Canada’s history.

There are also extensive training programs for FNs and the ability to expand and grow businesses in these communities which was severely limited with diesel generation, can now happen.

Here is the small problem. Two key Ring of Fire communities are not part of the plan – Nibinamik and Webequie. Wunnumin Lake FN is a partner. This community is only about 60 km west of Nibinamik and 135 km west of Webequie. It would be very easy to run a line to both of these communities and into the Ring of Fire. The government needs to convince both communities to join the Watay initiative.

The last power issue I want to highlight is the need for a critical upgrade to two transmission lines in northwestern Ontario between Dryden and Red Lake and between Nipigon and Greenstone. Both Greenstone and Red Lake are experience significant growth in their gold mining industries.

The current transmission lines are extremely old and need to be upgraded to a 230 KV circuit or it will significantly hold back mineral sector expansion. The Watay power project should have its first Aboriginal community – Pikangikum – connected at the end of the year, which is north of Red Lake, putting more pressure on that transmission corridor. It is appalling that the business sector has been constantly lobbing and fighting with Hydro One, the Independent Electricity System Operator and the Ministry of Energy about this vital issue to no avail. Both these projects involve many FNs communities that will benefit as well. This basic piece of infrastructure needs to be upgraded now.

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant, freelance mining columnist and owner/editor of

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