Green Party candidate Dr. Scott Daley
The campaign for Green Party candidate Dr. Scott Daley is calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the FedNor Regional Development Program.
The recent discussions during all-candidates debates regarding FedNor’s future have primarily been focused on whether it should remain a program within Industry Canada, or become an independent agency, similar to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) or the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
We fully support equal treatment for northern Ontario, but the primary problem with FedNor isn’t the name, but a lack of long-term economic planning for the region, the province, and the country as a whole. It is difficult to work towards a better future if we have no concept of what that future should look like.
FedNor does provide important funding and grants for non-profit organizations and small businesses. We support an expansion and overhaul of the FedNor program, particularly in the following areas:
1. Creating a long-term regional economic development plan. The focus of such a plan would be on value-added manufacturing, and sustainable resource management that ensures economic prosperity today and jobs for tomorrow. We need to start turning more of our natural resources into finished goods before shipping them off. After three hundred years of giving our resources away for a relative pittance, it is time for us to make more use of them ourselves. This is the way to make our local economy truly sustainable, green, and prosperous for generations to come.
2. Expanding FedNor’s mandate to include a low-interest loan program. (The current program only provides non-repayable grants.) This will enable FedNor to provide financial assist-ance to more small businesses while limiting the financial burden on taxpayers, since loans are expected to be repaid, whereas grants are not.
3. Increasing the total grant/loan ceiling beyond the current limit of $500,000. The present limit precludes FedNor participation in medium to large-scale industrial operations. Small business development is critical to the region, but long term prosperity is also linked to an expansion of our industrial base in an ecologically sound manner.
4. Targeting agricultural programs for local food processing and marketing. Rebuilding our farm industry starts with food being processed and sold in our region. Such a shift will reduce transportation costs and help farmers get fair value for their products.
5. Providing a leadership role to create a Northern Ontario Investment Fund. This will allow residents to save for retirement while redirecting their funds back into sound investments in our region. Such a fund would be RRSP and RESP eligible.
FedNor is overly bureaucratic. We need to cut red tape, make it simpler for business to access loans and grants, and cut overhead costs. This means more money for businesses, and more jobs for the region.
FedNor needs to be more accountable. Full financial disclosure of all loans, grants, and overhead costs should be easily accessible from the FedNor website. Currently, this information is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.
As presently constituted, FedNor is not living up to its potential. It is time for the federal govern-ment to take the needs of northern Ontario more seriously, and give FedNor the powers it needs to properly promote economic development in our region.