Op-Ed |Election 2015: Northern Exposure


Here we are, in the second week of the election – only nine more weeks to go! One debate is in the books, campaign promises and platforms are starting to trickle in. It’s time to take a look at the North, are we going to get good news in October, or left in the dust during the battle for riding-rich Toronto? Ontario is shaping up to be the key battleground in this election – will we cash in on the action? When one of the three local candidates rings your bell, sporting a baby-smooching smile, what will they be peddling? What will it mean for you?

In the Sault Ste. Marie area, unemployment is up, bridge traffic is down – population growth is stagnant. In light of this, does Stephen Harper’s ‘stay the course’ mantra resonate here? What are the alternatives? Is anybody offering any real solutions to Northern problems? In this installment of Canada Votes 2015, we will turn our attention to the campaign trail, look at the platforms of the three major parties in contention, and try to sort it all out. What is being promised? What are the hidden clauses and costs? Will any of this lead to real growth for the North?

SHStephen Harper and the ‘Stay the Course’ Campaign

Stephen Harper is betting his election hopes on a singular argument. In his view, Canada is doing fine, weathering the global economic turbulence, and on track to balance the budget this year. He claims the negative influences hampering the economy come from outside sources beyond his control, and Canada is doing well, all things considered. Do you agree? Sitting in Northern Ontario, do things look ‘good’ to you?

A lot of people take exception to Harper’s argument. The fact is, Canada’s economy has been declining for months. Harper hasn’t balanced the budget in years, even with his majority government. Experts seriously doubt it will be balanced this year, either. Harper has gambled the economic future of Canada on the backbone of the oil industry, and that industry has run into a brick wall. The cuts to corporate taxes that were supposed to lead to real economic growth haven’t materialized. ‘Trickle down’ economics doesn’t work too well, when you can divert the water flow to offshore accounts.

So, you either buy into Harper’s argument, or you don’t. On the local level, it falls upon Bryan Hayes to defend the position. What else will his Conservatives be pitching, to win over the majority of Canadians looking for a change of leadership?

Harper has offered a 15% tax credit on home renovations in his election campaign. Sounds pretty good, but there’s a catch. This tax credit will be contingent upon the economy, so if things don’t improve, you won’t get the credit. But if things do work out, and one of the local hardware stores has a sale that offers to pay the 13% HST, then you could be looking at some real savings! Aside from that, the 15% tax credit will basically cover the sales tax. Will that lead to real growth in the North? Not likely, but you can enjoy the peace and quiet on your new deck!

Harper has also doubled the Tax Free Savings contribution from $5,000, to $10,000. This sounds pretty good, but only if you’re well-heeled enough financially to have the extra to tuck away. Can’t see any of the local Tenaris workers taking advantage of that perk, anytime soon.

Harper wants to allow first-time home buyers the chance to use $35,000 of their RRSPs tax-free on the purchase of their home. Again, that sounds pretty good, if you have that much in savings. A home is the biggest, most important investment the average Canadian can make, but you need to have confidence in the economy, and your job security, before planting those kinds of roots.

Harper also wants to increase the apprentice tax credit to $2500 from $2000, and extend it into the third and fourth years of training. This will be welcome news, for those industries experiencing growth and expansion, but how many of those are located in the North?

Finally, Harper wants to extend the retirement age from 65, to 67, before Canadians can qualify for the government pension. Boo! Hiss! That sucks! That’s not good on any level! It might be fine for a 66 year old to trundle off to work in balmy Vancouver during the winter months, but Sault Ste. Marie in January is a different story altogether! Honestly, the government can’t figure out how to float the CPP without resorting to a prolonged death march? Have they considered diverting some of their ‘Golden Pension’ money to support the cause? What’s it take, 6 years in office to get the Golden Ticket? How about we double that to twelve years, before screwing over our seniors?BryanHayes_small

Yikes, better move on – I’m starting to rant.

There are other things in the Harper campaign, but these items should give you a basic picture. Most of what Harper is promising is geared towards enhancing the success of people already on their way to it. It appears to be more of the ‘trickle down’ idea – if people become more successful, then it should pull up the people behind them. The entire theory rests upon a single vital variable, namely positive growth. Is Northern Ontario in a state of positive growth? Will this approach bear fruit here? Or do we need intervention, outside help, to get the wheels of progress rolling again? How you answer this question will go a long way to determining your vote in October.

TMTom Mulcair and the ‘Left Hook’ Campaign

Tom Mulcair and the NDP continue to dominate the polls. The Conservatives tightened things up briefly when everybody cashed their UCCB cheques, but the happy vibe on that has played out, and the NDP are now five points ahead of the pack. So, what is it exactly that Mulcair and the NDP are offering, that has Canadians poised to make political history?

Mulcair is trying to convince voters to ‘hook left’, by-passing the more centrist Liberals altogether. It’s a fine balancing act of reassuring hysterical conservatives that he isn’t going to tank the economy, while offering enough progressive ideas to keep voters from drifting back over to the Liberals. What has he got in his goody bag, that has Canada so giddy?

One of Mulcair’s biggest campaign promises, that has garnered a lot of attention, is his plan to create one million day care spots, at $15 a day. This will indeed be welcome news for young families where both parents are holding down a job to make ends meet. It’s a classic play from the socially progressive playbook, and it has been well received so far. The catch? Well, how he is going to bankroll such a plan remains to be seen. A typical day care spot costs roughly $30 a day, so spots at $15 a day means someone will have to pony up the balance. At a million spots, the tab on that will run at $15 million a day! We’ll have to look elsewhere in Mulcair’s campaign, to see how he plans to pay for this, or if it will lead to further deficits the Conservatives so frantically fear.

Another big plank of Mulcair’s platform involves raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Sounds bold and daring, doesn’t it? All those people slugging it out in fast food joints must be jacked up about that! Not so fast! What Mulcair is talking about, is raising the minimum wage for federal workers. It doesn’t mean that everyone working minimum wage will see $15 an hour anytime soon. While a raise like that may spill into the private sector as employers compete with the government for workers, it is not the provocative, bold plan many mistakenly perceived. I’m not sure if the fault lies in people not paying proper attention when it was announced, or if the Mulcair campaign was vague, but this announcement alone will not cause a paradigm shift in the quality of life for low-wage workers. It certainly won’t make any impact on Northern Ontario, anytime soon.

On the taxation front, Mulcair does have a compelling plan. He wants to reverse tax breaks for large corporations, and give small business owners a 2% reduction in taxes, along with some other perks. The argument here is that large corporations have been given too much of a tax advantage by Harper’s government, and they haven’t delivered the results that were expected. Mulcair plans to shift corporate taxes into a more equitable alignment with other major economic powers, and this argument is a compelling one. The increased revenue from such a move will be used to offset the costs of reducing taxes for small businesses, and may provide resources for some of Mulcair’s other campaign promises. How much will this impact growth in the North? Probably not by much. A 2% break in taxes doesn’t seem to be enough to provoke a sudden surge in new small businesses, but finding a way to finance other campaign promises through such a move may have ripple effects for the North.

The really interesting part of Mulcair’s campaign is his intention to provide $1.5 billion in additional funding to Canadian cities for infrastructure projects. Mulcair argues that this is an area long overlooked by the Harper government, and will address some serious issues with aging infrastructure in many Canadian cities. This could be significant for communities in the North, if the money flows this way, but there’s a hook! If Skip Morrison doesn’t win the election on a local level, what are the chances we will see any of that funding? And if we do get some funding, how do we know the City won’t just piss away $20 million on a building we don’t need, and leave another floor down at City hall vacant and unused?

Oops, starting to rant again. Sorry, but to delve too far into the bowels of politics can leave one twitchy-eyed and raving. Don’t know how you1297715894301_ORIGINAL guys do it for a living!

Again, there are other things in the Mulcair platform, but we have examined enough to understand that he is trying to deliver on promises from the left, while taking steps to demonstrate that he will address the economy as well. There’s some serious spending involved in what Mulcair is offering, and he will have to hope the economy rebounds strongly, if he intends to pull us up out of deficit. Not sure what immediate impact any of this will have on the North, but the part about infrastructure spending does seem enticing.

JTJustin Trudeau and the ‘Wizard of Oz’ Campaign

Finally, we take a look at Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal platform. There are some specific campaign announcements coming from the Liberal camp, but I must admit, it is difficult to give the Liberals a fair shake and a level playing field so far. Many political writers are expressing frustration at trying to elaborate on the Liberal platform, and I am starting to understand their plight. The Liberal message just isn’t getting out, and it is easily distracted. Despite this disconnect, the Liberals still garner substantial support, while remaining in third place in the polls.

There is one very specific plank of the Liberal platform that we can examine, and digest. The Liberals, if elected, plan to shift the income tax brackets. Those paying 22% will see a reduction to 20.5%, while those earning more than $150,000 will see an increase to 33%. A 1.5% reduction in federal income tax would be welcome for people in that position, but how much impact will that really have in the North? How much, in real dollars, will that mean for those Canadians? Again, the message is muddled, and the impact on growth seems minor.

The Liberals have announced they will scrap the age increase to 67 from 65 that the Conservatives want to adopt. This is good news, but the NDP are promising the same thing. They also want to increase contributions to the CPP by workers, to keep the plan financially viable. Ditto for the NDP. The Liberals will cancel the Tax Free Savings increase the Conservatives have offered. Again, the NDP have promised the same thing. The Liberals have promised to scrap the income-splitting tax program the Conservatives have put in place. The NDP have promised to do the same.

So, how do we contrast what the Liberals are offering, from what the NDP have put on the table? Apart from the shift in income tax brackets, what is there? Well, Justin Trudeau recently announced $2.6 billion in funding for First Nations education. I’m sure that is welcome news for those who will benefit from it, and it will have a direct impact on communities in the North, but where is the economic plan to pay for this? Where is the plan for growth, so that these students will have a job waiting for them, when they get their degrees and diplomas? Will there be opportunities in the North, so our local students don’t have to move away to find work? The announcement came out of nowhere, and really needs to be clarified in the backdrop of a larger vision.

I really want to play fair, and give all three parties a chance to be heard and considered, before Canadians vote on October 19th. Terry Sheehan has hit the ground running, and is passionate about running under the Liberal banner. A good chunk of Canadians remain hopeful that the Liberal Party can put together a strong campaign, and offer a competitive third choice in this election. But there is a lack of cohesion that persists in the Liberal campaign, and this isn’t helped by the occasional misstep made by Trudeau himself.

Just recently, Trudeau was quoted as saying he wants to ‘grow the middle class from the heart outwards’. It’s a nice sentiment, but is this what you want to hear from a guy running for Prime Minister? If you’re going to throw out a catchy zinger like that, you better back it up with some serious clarification, or the media will run wild with it, and that’s just what they did. This is no time to experiment with platitudes, this is Canada’s political Superbowl!

And then, as I continued my frantic search for platform nuggets and memorable quotes from Trudeau to bolster up this section of the article, it happened – I had a ‘Wizard of Oz’ moment! I can’t be held entirely responsible for this, because Trudeau put the idea of giving Canadians a ‘heart’ into my head. Then I ran across another quote in which Trudeau said he ‘will restore a level of independence and intellectual rigor, if tsyou like, to the processes of boards like the National Energy Board’. That did it! Now, he’s offering Canada a brain! Unleash the flying monkeys!

The only thing missing, was courage – or was it?. As it turns out, Trudeau already has plenty of guts. He stepped into the fray, and hoisted up the Liberal banner into this election, facing off with some serious heavyweights. And speaking of heavyweights, Trudeau beat Patrick Brazeau in a boxing match (remember Brazeau, Google it If you don’t). So, while Trudeau is looking to find Canada a heart and a brain, he already has all the courage required to see this thing through. The boy has some moxy. I only hope he can get into a rhythm, and deliver a campaign punch that will do justice to the Liberal legacy in Canada. It’s still early in the fight, plenty of rounds left to go!

Where’s the Beef?

It’s easy to cherry-pick someone else when they try to propose solutions to complex problems. Roger Waters wrote a song called. ‘The Bravery of Being Out of Range’, which sums it up nicely. So, if somebody picks apart the ideas of others, does it fall upon them to pose alternatives? That seems fair.

I don’t see anything so far, having much of an impact on Northern Ontario. There will be some subtle shifts in the wind regardless of who wins, but I don’t see anything in this campaigns that will replace the paper mill we lost in the Sault, or put the Tenaris workers back on the payroll. To my mind, we need something big, something significant up here in the North, that will energize and mobilize our community in a way that will leave no doubt that real change has come..

So, where are the big ideas? I came up with a few of my own, one for each party to champion. I think each and every one of these schemes would have a strong impact on the North. Check them out, see if you agree!

keep-calm-and-legalize-marijuanaLegalized Pot

Okay, this is where I throw Justin Trudeau a bone. This really isn’t my idea, because he has expressed his willingness to at least decriminalize marijuana, but I want to take it all the way, and propose that marijuana be completely legalized, and regulated, across Canada!

Stephen Harper is doggedly opposed to this. He actually wants to increase funding for policing, and crack down on drug use, even marijuana use. His thinking is stuck somewhere back in the George Bush era, and even America has moved past that.

Several States have legalized marijuana with widespread success. The money is flowing in hand over fist, and there are booming economies in towns that have embraced it. Anarchy hasn’t ensued, the world hasn’t ended. People aren’t dying in the streets from marijuana overdoses (probably because it is practically impossible to physically accomplish).

You want to revitalize Queen Street here in the Sault? You want to see shops bustling, cafes crowded, hotels being booked? You want to see American plates coming across the bridge, and Americans spending some serious money over here? You want to see eco-tourism take off? Legalize pot!

Imagine every border town in Canada, with a new way to entice Americans to visit our country. They would forget all about high gas prices and $40 cases of beer, because $100 US will buy them $133 CAD worth of recreational bliss! The HST on Doritos alone will probably get us out of deficit, once and for all! But it’s a limited time offer, because the Americans already have a foothold on this economic bonanza. To upstage them and really swing things in our favour, we need to make a big move, and make it fast! Imagine how much tax revenue can be gleaned from legalized marijuana. Would it be enough to bankroll Mulcair’s $15 a day child care? Easily!

Do you think unemployment would be sitting at over 10% in the Sault if pot was legal? Not a chance! So, what are we waiting for?

keep-calm-and-highway-to-hell-4Trans-Canada four lane

Here’s one the Conservatives can wrap their minds around. That is, after they get done cursing me out over the legal pot thing.

Back in the 1800’s, there was a monumental shift in fortunes, that set North America on a path to economic prosperity and dominance that would last for a century. A lot of big dreamers and schemers got together, and built a railroad that crossed the continent! It was a massive undertaking with colossal costs both in blood and gold, but it was the heart of the industrialized world, and it served us well.

And then the Americans took the next logical step. They built magnificent highways that crisscrossed the country, propelling them to even loftier economic dominance in the world. To travel through America is truly amazing. Wonderful divided highways in any direction you choose, and elaborate rest areas dotting the landscape. At 70 miles an hour, Florida from the Sault is a mere day away.

But up here in Canada, it’s a different story. It gets even more acute, when you look at the North. To get from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay, travelers must face hundred of kilometers of two-lane traffic. It is a deadly highway, one that closes with more and more frequency in the winter. How can Canada remain a world class economic power, when we haven’t even addressed this issue? Why are we still dealing with antiquated road systems, while the rest of the world leaves us in the dust?

Imagine the commitment, one that rivals the railroad dreams of old, of a leader who made it their singular ambition to see a divided highway built from Halifax to Vancouver! A grand adventure, one that would generate many thousand of jobs, for years to come. A concentrated effort, uniting the Provinces and the Federal government in a strategic partnership, to catapult Canada into the 21st century!

This kind of thing should be right up Stephen Harper’s alley. Big corporations and industry would both benefit greatly from such a plan. The leader who delivered this lofty goal would be immortalized in the annuls of Canadian history. Of course, it would be outrageously expensive, but if we’re going to talk about infrastructure and long-term planning, why not go for the gold?

keep-calm-and-oil-on-23Nationalized oil

This one is for the NDP. Canada is an oil-rich country, yet we have fallen on hard economic times. Oil is down under $50 a barrel, yet our gas prices remain at $100 a barrel prices. Foreign companies have gained access to our oil, yet we fail to see the benefits. Stephen Harper claims his hands are tied, that free trade agreements dictate what happens in the market, not the government.

I call bullshit on all of that nonsense. Saudi Arabia trades oil to the US and other countries, right? Just like we do, right? Guess how much Saudis are paying for a liter of gasoline right now? $0.16US! How about Kuwait, another trading partner with the US? Wow, they pay a whopping $0.21US a liter! So, how is it that other oil rich countries can avoid pillaging their own people, while still trading oil in the global market?

Americans buy oil from Canada, refine it, and sell it to their own people for less than Canadians pay at the pumps! How does that work, exactly? Canadians are still going over to the US to fill up on gasoline, because it is cheaper! Even with the Canadian dollar in the dumps, it is still cheaper! How do we rectify all of this? How do we put Canadian resources back into the hands of Canadians?

How about we nationalize oil? Take back our prized commodity, have it government owned and regulated. Other countries do it, why can’t we? I’m sure there is a mountain of legalities involved, but so what? It is our resource, isn’t it?

Canada has a federal debt of some $600 billion. Where would that debt be, if we owned, produced, and sold our own oil? The debt wouldn’t exist. We would be lending money to other countries, instead of borrowing it. Don’t believe me? Just ask Saudi Arabia!

Or maybe we can look at Norway, for inspiration. Norway controls it’s own oil production. Norway’s gas prices are really steep, at $1.86Us a liter! Why so high, if they own and regulate their own oil industry? Well, Norway has done something extraordinary and unique in the world. They have set up a fund, reserved for all citizens of Norway, in which they deposit all of their profits from oil. How much is in the fund? Just over $900 billion US! Every man, woman, and child in Norway is a theoretical millionaire! Not bad, huh? Wouldn’t mind paying $1.24 a liter at the pumps if that was our fate, would we?

If the government wants to fund things like health care, old age pensions, and rebuild aging infrastructure in Canada, perhaps its time we looked at the fundamentals of our economy, and ask ourselves some fundamental questions. Will the world hate us, turn their back on us if we seize back control of our oil assets? Will they still need our wheat, our lumber, our minerals and metals? Of course they will For that matter, they will still need our oil. And we could still sell it at competitive prices in the global economy, we would just reap the benefits for our own people. Would a steep drop in gasoline prices have a direct impact on the North? You betcha!

So, there you have it. A few big ideas, a sincere effort to examine the three major campaigns, and their impact on the North. Which campaign promises do you like best, and what ideas do you have to kick-start the economy? It’s time so seek out those local candidates, and start bending their ears!



Editor’s Note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of the Northern Hoot, but only of the comment writer. Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed. Please keep comments on topic. For more information on our commenting policies, please see our Terms of Use. If you see a typo or error on our site, report it to us. Please include a link to the story where you spotted the error.