NDP says invest in Northern economy, not the Senate (photo)Thursday, August 29, 2013 by: Darren Taylor
Members of the federal NDP’s Northern Ontario caucus are currently visiting stakeholders in Northern and rural communities, as reported earlier by SooToday.com, to learn more about issues and needs unique to the region.
Pictured, from left to right, are NDP Northern Ontario Caucus Chair and Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP John Rafferty and Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes.
The trio spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon while on a stop in Sault Ste. Marie, after meeting with Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Debbie Amaroso and the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce.
The MPs were planning to meet with First Nations representatives at the Indian Friendship Centre as well as local labour officials Thursday evening.
Thursday’s visit follows a July 29 stop in Sault Ste. Marie by federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.
The three MPs stopped short of stating the two visits are part of a warm-up to the 2015 federal election campaign, and said their tour aims to gather input concerning Northern priorities, and prod the Conservatives to act on those priorities once Parliament resumes in the fall.
As an example, Thibeault said: “We’ve heard about the deep-water port and how important that is, not only for Sault Ste. Marie but for all Northerners, because as the member for Sudbury, I know the miners need a way to get their products out.”
“If we were able to put it (mining products) on a rail line and bring it here to the Sault, and then put it on a ship at a deep-water port, that benefits everyone in Northern Ontario.”
The mammoth, $121 million project has been identified by City Council as Sault Ste. Marie’s biggest infrastructure need.
Rafferty, who is the NDP critic for FedNor (the federal economic development agency for Northern Ontario), said: “There are concerns about reductions in budgets for FedNor.”
Rafferty said because FedNor funding is approved for Northern and rural projects, the term “rural” often means funding may go to small communities as far south as the Muskoka region.
Rafferty said he hopes that with the recent appointment of Kenora MP Greg Rickford as the new Minister responsible for FedNor (replacing Parry Sound-Muskoka’s Tony Clement), that Northern economic development projects will be “taken off the back burner.”
Rafferty stated New Democrats are committed to the establishment of a stand-alone FedNor Ministry within the federal cabinet if elected to power in 2015.
Among other concerns raised Thursday, Hughes added: “Canada Post was one of the big issues brought up.”
“The concern is with respect to losing the sorting capacity here.”
“It doesn’t make sense for them to send the mail to Ottawa to be sorted and then sent back to the Sault. We’re hearing that all across Northern Ontario with respect to protection of Canada Post employees jobs.”
All three MPs emphasized the need for a passport office to be located in Sault Ste. Marie, as well as the need for the federal government to get going with construction of the new Bridge Plaza, for which $44 million in funding was announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on a visit to Sault Ste. Marie in September 2009.
Hughes added: “We also heard that along with a deep-water port there’s a need for rail investment too.”
“Different groups have been advocating for passenger rail across Northern Ontario, and what we’re finding instead is they are pulling rails up or closing, as we saw with Ontario Northland.”
Issues like these, Hughes said, “seem to be falling on deaf ears in Ottawa.”
“We really need the government to take a stand on economic development, and how Northern areas can play an active role.”
Convincing the Conservative government to invest more in infrastructure projects will be difficult, given the Tories current policy of fiscal restraint.
Thibeault said those infrastructure needs (and the economic growth that comes with them) can be met if the government was to change its priorities.
“Their priorities are reducing corporate taxes, giving billions of dollars to big oil companies and paying Senators. What they should be doing is addressing infrastructure needs in Northern Ontario and across the country.”