What Happened?Monday, March 23, 2015 by: Bill Walton
Suddenly, it seems, the City is leaking jobs faster than my home-made rowboat. The captain and some of the crew are bailing with their bare hands (the bailing buckets have been misplaced and the captain has crew members searching). However the leaking ship that was once the Gateway to the North is sinking, slowly now, but more holes in the hull are appearing each passing day. Public and private business employees are finding pink slips in their mail boxes or lockers. How long before we founder? Some of the galley mice have already leapt overboard, fleeing to the low-tax suburbs or south to jobs in the Golden Horseshoe - aka, the Centre of the Universe.
How did we get ourselves into such a state? No doubt part of the blame can be assigned to the winds of change in the world economy, and despite whatever new spin the Prime Minister tries, Canada, with its resource-based economy, is caught in the doldrums. It does not help that our good fleet Ontario squandered money in the past decade like the proverbial inebriated sailor and is now pulling the plug on government jobs across the province in the vague hope that they can avoid hitting the bankruptcy shoal that is just over the horizon.
Did our own crew have anything to do with our present situation? Did we spend money polishing the silverware on our little ship of state in an attempt to attract passengers at the cost of a rotting hull and infrastructure? Well, yes they (we) did. Call it a mirage or a delusion, but the idea that bringing people to a sports event once or twice a year, luring guests for a summer weekend as a means of creating permanent and on-going jobs and wealth is a myth. Multiply the dollars visitors spent on meals and motels with whatever factor you chose but these events are only Band-Aids on our leaking ship. Certainly, if our playing fields were busy every day with money-spending visitors the sports venues would be worth our investments. But to characterize these expensive venues and occasional events as part of our lifestyle that attracts companies to North Bay is simply naive and wasteful.
Yes, the new Memorial Gardens looks very classy but it is simply a money pit, another hole in our hull, with dollars going to a private business that is along for a short cruise. Having a Junior A hockey team attracts businesses with jobs? Sure, the team returns some of its (our) money locally, but was it a good return on the millions were are doling out? Spending public money on a circus may have held the Roman Empire together for a few years but it too crumbled from within. North Bay did not need the sod covered playground in Ferris or the ice palace on Chippewa to accompany the 14 million donated to the CPR for the polluted waterfront. Nice to have, but needed? Water meters are another example and although the SMART meters were mandated for Hydro, they too, were a waste of money.
Yes, it is nice to guild the lily with fancy pavers, flags and flower pots and it does add to the aesthetics of the community but first things first. If you are too busy dodging potholes to look at the flowers what does that gain us?
However, having committed the public purse on these initiatives the least we could have done was to see that the contracts were sound and properly managed. What happened? In fact, what has happened to other contracts - construction, union agreements, management of the Agencies, Boards and Commissions? We were sailing along as if on a luxury yacht, paying the handsome fees to captain and crew when what we had was a working freighter with a small cargo of mainly resource-based goods manufactured by working class people in our small northern town.
We have been living beyond our means for a number of years and now the piper wants to be paid. In coin, not promises. What can we do? First, we must get our house in order. We have to trim our costs, stop paying for ‘luxuries’ we do not need and get the holes in the hull plugged. Once we have shown ourselves to be responsible stewards, we then have to go the Provincial government and make a case for small-town Ontario. (We are not alone in our struggle to survive as smaller enclaves of industry that can support the provincial and federal coffers with our taxes.) We are the outliers, working on the edges of our resource-based economy. Unless the government (that’s us again) wants ghost towns in the hinterland and us all living in the Big City, we need help to get ourselves sorted. We need projects like mines, smelters, pipelines, sawmills and transportation. We need the infrastructure to add value to our resources, factories to build, transport to ship the goods world-wide. We need the homes, schools and hospitals to support these workers on the resource frontiers.
We need some help, provincial and federal. But first, let us get our own ship in order. We need to trim our sails, take the slack out of the lines on board the ship and set a new course for financial reality. (I’m running out of nautical terms here but you get my drift). We need to do more with less, develop a plan that is sustainable and start working towards a realistic port. This is not a Disney cruise we are on - it’s a working tub with faulty steering gear. And we need to stop the NIMBYing every time somebody wants to build or try to make a living with a new enterprise. If you think the value of your house might decrease, think what it will be worth in a dying town.
It is not yet time to send out an SOS but perhaps someone should get on the radio and admit we need a little help or even advice. Setting a course for that Ring of Fire might be a good start.