Tom Mulcair tours Northern Ontario

I spent the better part of the last week of July travelling in Northern Ontario with NDP Leader, Tom Mulcair.  I knew right off the bat that this was going to be time well spent when Tom declared that he had come to the region to listen – and we heard a lot.

From Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury we met with entrepreneurs, business and labour leaders, First Nations, municipal politicians, umbrella groups, and a great many people that we bumped into while we travelled around.  We heard a variety of specific concerns and suggestions and we were also able to see and hear about successes as well.

Common themes that tied many of these meetings together were the challenges related to infrastructure investments and a lack of communication – either with respect to effectiveness or an absence of – between different levels of government.   

As one might expect, the specifics always differ, but it seems a good deal of the frustration in Northern Ontario has to do with the downloading of costs and responsibilities from one level of government to the next.  The end of the line for that phenomenon is municipalities and First Nations.  On that front Tom did say that there will be no downloading with an NDP government.

In Sault Ste. Marie we heard how inadequate rail infrastructure is driving up the cost of transportation for northern business. While in Elliot Lake our visits with the mayor and the Chamber of Commerce focussed on economic opportunities, as well as infrastructure needs.

When meeting with the Manitoulin Municipal Association, we heard about communities forced to buy water treatment systems that they can no longer acquire integral components for and their funding concerns if forced to invest in other options. We also learned how the damage from the federal/provincial showdown over the Chi Cheemaun Ferry’s season is still being felt with some businesses being down as much as 30-50 % from previous years. 

On First Nations the consequences of structural inequities, funding cuts to programs, as well as the struggles and goals related to the reconciliation process for residential school survivors topped the list.  In these communities, chronic underfunding for education amounts to reduced opportunities for aboriginal children.  They believe that developing designated child-care agencies on First Nations would help address some of this problem but have been frustrated by governments that won’t listen, support, or advance this idea.

These are turning into legacy issues, if they aren’t already.  That is to say they are items with costs associated to them that we are in danger of leaving for future generations to deal with.   That is not an acceptable outcome and we require a federal government that isn’t afraid to roll up its sleeves and get to work.   We can’t hand off a country that is seized by long-term issues without even recognizing the problems for what they are and honestly trying to do something about them.