The Ontario that I grew up in certainly would have been known as the engine of Confederation. It was a proud province that I grew up in. If Ontario was the engine of Confederation, then northern Ontario was the fuel for that engine; it was the lumber, it was the minerals. It also had the minds that were used in crafting northern Ontario-engineering minds, accounting minds, legal minds, all of these components that produced the products that helped build the rest of Ontario.
Sadly today we see an Ontario-the part that I live in, my own community of North Bay, has 11.3% unemployment. We have 60 mills that are closed in northern Ontario, predominantly due to the high cost of power. We have fallen from number 1-the number 1 mining jurisdiction in the world when this government took over; today we have fallen to 13th. This is not the Ontario that I want to see for our families. This is a shell of its former self.
So our party has put together a series of ideas, paths to prosperity-a dozen of them. I want to talk a little bit about some of the content of those paths to prosperity in the Ontario that can and will come again. I know a couple of the speakers have spoken earlier about, "Hang on, Ontario; we're coming back." When our leader, Tim Hudak, is elected Premier, you're going to see an Ontario that is coming back. I look forward to that day.
Recently our leader, Tim Hudak, was in northern Ontario, where he has spent a tremendous amount of time, and he talked about some of the opportunities and presented our vision for northern Ontario in a brochure. It was simply called Our Northern Vision. Let me tell you a little bit about it, Speaker.
One of the main components of our vision is the Ring of Fire. I know we've heard a lot of talk about it. We've been here more than a year and a half now, but sadly, all we've heard so far is a lot of talk and not a lot of action. We're seeing, again, a government without ideas, without any concept of how to actually kick it over the goalpost, run it over the line. We're seeing talk and no ideas.
Let me talk a little bit about what we call the opportunity of the century.
I want to say that our leader, Tim Hudak, has been to the Ring of Fire. He has actually been in the base camp.
Almost a year and a half ago, I was at a Ring of Fire seminar in North Bay, my hometown. The Ring of Fire Secretariat stood up and was giving a speech about the Ring of Fire. She had been employed by the province of Ontario as the key person, the go-to person for the Ring of Fire-the Ring of Fire Secretariat, the person at the top of the pile. She had been employed for 18 months. She gave an interesting speech about what could happen. This was a while ago now. I went to her and I was talking about either my first or second or third trip there-I can't recall-and I said to her, "Coming over with the helicopter, as soon as we got to the base camp and I saw those blue-and-white tents, a big smile came over my face because I immediately recognized that those tents were made in my riding. They were made by a company in Rutherglen called Canadian Can-Tex. They make canvas products. I thought, `Wow, this is what we're talking about. This is only the beginning of the opportunity.'"
As the helicopter rounded and it began to set and I saw these triangle mounds of drill rods-another smile. I felt so good. In Nipissing, my riding, North Bay has 12 companies and Powassan has one that make those drill rods, that ship those drill rods to the Ring of Fire. It's just a fascinating place.
I was so excited with that, and I said to her, "What was the thing that got you the most excited the second you saw that?"
She said to me, "I've never been there."
My jaw dropped. The Ring of Fire Secretariat, the key person who was going to coordinate the activities of the Ring of Fire, had never set foot in the camp at the Ring of Fire.
Our leader, Tim Hudak, has said that we will have a comprehensive plan of action-no more talk. Let's get some action. Let's consult with the mining firms. Is it going to be a rotor or is it going to be a rail? What do you need? We'll be at the table with our share of infrastructure. He has made that commitment.
The first step has to be to talk to the First Nations communities, as we have. We need to understand their needs and their wants. We also need to understand the conditions that they are living in today and whether they want these changes made. That needs to be a consultative process with the First Nations. They need to be in the game all along the way.
I know that our leader has said that he will take a provincial cabinet minister, one of his ministers, and make that person, whoever he or she is, the key point person for the Ring of Fire, to make sure that we can see the end of the talk and the beginning of the action.
It is an exciting opportunity for every community in Ontario-not just for communities in the north, but for men and women who want to work in an exciting sector. It's going to provide a tremendous amount of jobs.
If you dare to dream a little bit, think of the components of stainless steel, Speaker: ore, nickel and chromite. Those are the three components that are needed to manufacture stainless steel. In Ontario today, we mine a lot of ore, and we certainly mine a lot of nickel. And once we get through the talking and get into action in the Ring of Fire, we will mine chromite. Now we have all the components for stainless steel. It's something that we need to look at. We need to understand the value added that can be hopefully in northern Ontario, but at least in Ontario.
This is the kind of vision that our party and our leader, Tim Hudak, are bringing to Ontario. We're also looking at other guidelines in the mining sector-again, we hear lots of talk and no action. Our party will make a share of the mining tax available to the First Nations communities and to the local communities.
I think about our friends in Sudbury-always a good example. I know that when I served as mayor, we would sit with the mayor in Sudbury and the other mayors throughout the north. It was called NOLUM, Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors. The five of us met monthly, and we developed plans. We would come and we would try to get these ideas put forward. They were great ideas-sharing the revenue. The mayor of Sudbury was always quick to say, "You know, the mill is over here and the mine is over here, and the trucks barrel up and down the streets, tearing up the streets. The city has to pay for all the repairs, and the province gets all the money without having to pay for any of those." It was always an interesting debate. Our party has looked at that, and we have agreed with those northern mayors that yes, there is revenue that should be shared. We have agreed with the First Nations: Yes, there is revenue from mining that we should be sharing.
The same can be said for forestry, that there is an opportunity to discuss the forest tenure system that has failed in Ontario. It's not just mining that's suffering today; it's forestry as well. Our party will commit to 26 million cubic metres per year of lumber that will be harvested, and this will be very, very good news to the forestry communities throughout northern Ontario. Again, when we can afford it, the stumpage fees from the forestry sector, like the mining fees, will be shared with the First Nations and with the local communities, the municipalities who need that revenue so much, whose streets are being torn up by the mining and forestry vehicles and who are not earning any of that revenue.
In addition, we look at our plan for northern Ontario, and we believe that Ontario Northland should be treated as the economic engine-the infrastructure-for the rest of northern Ontario. Ontario Northland needs to be treated as an economic development tool, not a plaything that we've seen in this province.
Actually, just last Friday, in North Bay, I uncovered and presented to the waiting media the transition funding requirements. You know, this government announced the sale of Ontario Northland with no consultation whatsoever with stakeholders, with their employees. They just stood up one day and announced, "We're selling it off. Goodbye." They said it was going to be sold to save $265 million a year. The document that I uncovered, a Liberal cabinet document that we got through the gas plant scandal hearings-oops, we're not going to save $265 million. It's actually going to cost the government $790 million to sell Ontario Northland.
I've said earlier, and I'll say it again, to the Premier: End the charade now. You got caught. Your own documents tell us that you're not going to sell it anymore. Will you put the families-the 1,000 families of Ontario Northland-put their minds at ease and end this misery that you've put them under for more than a year now? You're not going to sell it anymore. It's going to cost you $790 million; your own document shows that. So quit the game, quit fooling around and get down to the point. Do what we've asked of you right from the beginning.
We brought great solutions to this Liberal problem right from the beginning. We said, "You need to have a strategic asset review. Review all of the assets, and let's find out what we need to make each of these things work." Instead, they just kept going ahead with the sale. They never did sell anything because they now realize the 14-year severance requirements for Ontario Northland employees and seven-year severance requirements for Ontera employees-they finally figured out what we told them right from day one: "You're not going to save any money. It's going to cost you money." We told them how much it was going to cost, but now, for the first time and the only time, we have written proof, the only written proof here, that the Liberals know themselves it's going to cost this money. So we asked them to end the charade and start treating Ontario Northland like the economic development tool it should be.
Speaker, I talk a lot about the time that I had the privilege of serving as mayor in the city of North Bay. One thing that confused me more than anything was the lack of attention to the north when it came to decisions. These decisions that were Toronto-centric decisions were made here for Toronto problems, but the solutions spilled over to cause problems in northern Ontario. I've used this example before, but I'm going to use it again because it does reflect the terrible situation when you don't shine a northern lens on problems: We built a phenomenal industrial park in my hometown. It's about a $40-million industrial park: sewer, water, fire hydrants, utility poles, high-speed Internet, paved streets, a full checkerboard of streets bringing business in. Northern Ontario is built on two things, Speaker. I'll call it swamp or rocks. That's what we're built on; let's face it. "Wetlands" is the more proper word, but when we look at it driving through there, we know what it is. It's a wetland and rock. Both, to me, are very beautiful and both very necessary.
When you walk through the concrete jungle that is Toronto, you don't see a lot of wetland. You don't see a lot of rock outcroppings either. They've all been blasted away or filled in, and off we go. At home, we have that, and we know how to manage these things. We know very well how to manage these things. Our industrial park is almost entirely wetland. What we do is, when we sell a piece of wetland to be filled in, we had the right under Ontario's laws to recreate another piece of wetland elsewhere of equal size. The conservation authority loved the plan, because when we built this equal-sized wetland somewhere else, we put boardwalks to it, signage. We made beautiful parks out of these areas. We've accumulated hundreds of acres, in my hometown of North Bay, of wetlands with signage, bird-watching sites-just absolutely gorgeous boardwalks that you can just spend your days in.
One day, Bill 26 came through, which oddly enough was called the Strong Communities Act, which did everything except strengthen our community. It said, "No longer can you take a wetland and fill it in and build an equally sized wetland, albeit better, anywhere else." That's gone now, because in Toronto we can't fill our wetlands in. I agree: You don't have enough to fill them in. We in the north understand the filter system that a wetland provides. I'm not sure they understand it here, but that is what it is. They took that away, and now we have a $40-million industrial park with stop signs and fire hydrants, beautifully laid out, that you can no longer use. It's not for sale; the land is not for sale. Forty million dollars and you cannot build another building there because you need to take the wetland and replace it elsewhere. So that's gone now.
Now the city of North Bay is building a new industrial park up on the top of Airport Hill where the municipality happened to own about 1,600 or 1,700 acres, and off they go, spending millions to build another industrial park. I'm quite sure one day someone here in this Pink Palace will figure out why we can't use that one as well. I'm just being a little facetious today. But the whole point, Speaker, is that you've created a Toronto solution to a Toronto problem with the blinders on, and that solution has spilled over to create an unbelievable problem in every single municipality north of Steeles Avenue.
It's not just the fact that there's lack of consultation. Had they only talked to us one minute before this thing passed, we would have been able to stay to them, "Great idea. It's very important in Toronto and southern Ontario that you do that. But at home, here's why it won't work, and here's what's so important."
When they took our fishing in Lake Nipissing and cut the amount of pickerel from four to two without consultation; when they announced the Algonquin land claim and had one hour, after the announcement was made, of public consultation in the middle of March break-that was their idea of consultation; when we hear about the Big Move in Toronto and this plan to raise the GST and other revenue tools here in Toronto-I can guarantee you, Speaker, there's not a whole lot of people in northern Ontario that are eager to start paying 1% more of GST so that Toronto can have their traffic eased, when our transportation through Ontario Northland, whenever we need to spend a nickel on anything, that's a subsidy, but when Toronto needs to spend billions, that's an investment. Those are the kinds of things that we find offensive in northern Ontario. We're offended to hear those words.
While there was very little in that budget document that outlined anything at all for northern Ontario, and certainly nothing new for job creation, I would say to you that this last 20 minutes has been a good opportunity to understand a little bit of what's in the hearts and minds of the men and women in northern Ontario.
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