Originally Published in the April 1993 issue of The Outfitter Magazine.
Editors Note: As promised in the January issue of ‘The Outfitter’ the following article is a reprint of Lyn McLeod, M.P.P., Leader of the Opposition speech to NOTO delegates at the 1992 Convention is Sault Ste. Marie.
Good Afternoon. I am delighted to be here with you today. I have met many of you before and it is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak with you again.
As the Leader of the Opposition, I would like to share my thoughts about the challenges facing our province today and some of my concerns about the direction in which the provincial government is taking Ontario.
But first let me begin with an acknowledgement of the important contribution the tourism industry makes to the province – something I know you are well aware of. Nevertheless you need to know that others, too, understand the significance of the role you play in building a healthy economy, as well as providing opportunities for hundreds of visitors to enjoy the natural beauty and resources of Northern Ontario.
The role that tourism plays in the Northern Ontario economy is going to become even more significant.
We in Northern Ontario know only too well that what we are facing in this Province is not just a short-term restructuring of our traditional economic base.
We have depended on our primary resource industries for our economic health in the past and our resource industries are now being battered by changing markets and changing technology, as well as by the recession.
While I believe, as any Northerner does, that Forestry and Mining will continue to be essential to our future economy, it is only through diversification that we will see economic growth.
Tourism must be an important part of this diversification.
The current government has not come to grips with the fact that this is not just a recession and it is not enough to hold your breath and hope it will soon end and we will look much the same as we did before.
Government must understand the changes taking place and how to provide support to manage the change and ensure new development.
All we have from the Bob Rae government, however, is the lip service they pay to economic renewal and job creation.
There is no question that our present economic situation is critical.
Ontario’s unemployment rate of 11.3 percent means that 66,000 fewer people are working in Ontario than were a year ago. Particularly hard hit are a number of major centres in Ontario: Toronto, Hamilton, St. Catherines, Niagara, Windsor and Thunder Bay face unemployment rates that continue to climb and are above the national average of 11.3 percent. And here in the North, overall unemployment has climbed to 18 percent.
The number of unemployed youth in Ontario is 20 percent higher than it is in the rest of Canada.
Unfortunately, the NDP government refuses to face these realities. They have no economic strategy that actually helps to create new jobs, and, seemingly, they have no will to work with the business community to make an economic strategy work, even if they had one.
There is, in fact, a profound and prevailing distrust of the private sector, which is the only place where the new jobs will actually be created.
It is, needless to say, a devastating limitation on the government’s ability to create the conditions necessary for economic renewal.
What we do see, repeatedly from this government, are ministers who keep backing themselves into ideological corners, creating chaos by not knowing what to do when the world turns out to be different from what they wanted it to be.
The examples of this are becoming endless, affecting every area from education to energy, waste management to auto insurance.
But the greatest damage is done when they just march ahead with their own agenda with no concern for what they are doing to jobs and Ontario’s economy and in the course of doing so, change the way this Province works.
Their inability to strike the rights balance was no more evident than with the changes to the Labour Relations Act.
During this critical time, management, labour and government need to work together to get Ontario’s economy moving again.
Yet this legislation has polarized labour and management and will make labour relations worse, not better.
This legislation upset the balance between business and labour, and is already driving investment from Ontario at a time when we need policies that will create a positive climate for investment in the province.
Our prime consideration with this legislation has always been, and will continue to be, its impact on investment and job creation.
According to a study by Ernst and Young, Ontario could lose 295,000 jobs and $8.8 Billion dollars in investment during the next five years because of this legislation. The government has consistently disputed this report, but it refused to conduct its own job impact study.
We never believed this was a theoretical or hypothetical debate: we are convinced that jobs are being lost now as a direct result of the legislation.
This government, which says its first priority is jobs, proceeded with this legislation even though it cost us more loss in investment and more lost jobs.
The Liberal Caucus fought this legislation from the time it was introduced because we believed the proposals would have a damaging effect on an already battered economy.
The Labour Legislation proposals are now the law of the Province.
And just as the Government was determined to proceed with their proposals we must be equally determined to repeal any or all parts of the legislation which continue to drive investments out of the Province.
The last time I had the opportunity to speak to members of NOTO was in 1990 when I was the Minister of Natural Resources in the Peterson government.
At the time I talked about my belief that finding a balance between competing and often equally legitimate interests is the only sensible approach to find the best solutions for problems.
The balance can be found only when we are set aside ideological agendas and take a common sense approach.
The New Democrats are unable to find that balance in governing Ontario whether the issue is Bill 40 or environmental legislation.
Environmental regulations are a particular threat to the pulp and paper industry right now but that is another story.
The challenge is to put in place policies that find that balance again.
I believe people are looking for alternatives that make sense; alternatives that clearly show an understanding of the realities the Province is facing.
I believe we must go beyond the criticism that comes so easily to offer what we consider to be constructive alternatives and we are trying to do that.
We are certainly concerned about a $10 billion deficit run up by a government that thought it could spend its way out of the recession.
We are concerned that any new taxes now will have a negative effect on the economy and would likely increase the deficit, not lower it.
Bob Rae accuses us of “voodoo economics” – he likes to say that we want to lower the deficit, lower taxes and increase spending. NOT SO.
But we believe some selective tax reduction might serve to stimulate the economy, and would increase revenue, not reduce it.
For that reason, we called for a rollback of the 3.4 cent a litre increase in gasoline taxes which was announced in Bob Rae’s first budget.
Northerners, in particular, have identified the high cost of gas as an impediment to economic health. Gas taxes certainly affect tourism in the North, as you well know. They keep your clients away and add to your costs of doing business. A decrease in gas tax would be a tangible benefit and signal of support that could be a real stimulus for the industry.
Now the treasurer is sceptical: he says a tax reduction will result in less revenue, and that we will then criticize him when the deficit goes up.
We will be critical of the deficit going up: but it is just possible that an increase in tourism and a decrease in cross-border shopping would mean more, not less revenue.
At the very least Treasury officials should be doing this kind of analysis.
We do believe the government has to control spending, particularly its own spending, to get the deficit under control.
So we are not calling on the government to spend more: and we will support any legitimate effort they make to bring about restraint.
We do expect, however, that the government’s spending priorities will ensure that economic growth is supported.
That support must include the provision of an infrastructure that recognizes how vital transportation links are to the Northern economy and, most certainly, to Northern tourism.
But providing the support that is needed can sometimes seem to be very simple – like allowing more signage on our highways.
We know too, that if we are to put in place an economic strategy that works, we must ensure that the business climate is one in which it makes sense to do business in Ontario. Government must understand, for example, the cumulative impact of new policies and regulation on your industry, from increases in the minimum wage to uncontrollable Hydro rates, to the opening dates of the fishing season. And, understanding that impact, government must ensure that it is not making it impossible for you to do business. And then government can begin to work with you to identify some positive initiatives that could be put in place. In tourism, for example, coordinating tourism marketing across ministries could have beneficial results and Canadian trade offices could be used to promote Ontario tourism.
Ontario, and especially Northern Ontario has some of the world’s most spectacular scenery and most abundant natural resources. But this is still too well kept a secret. Why is it that Canadians will travel to Katmandu to see some of the world’s wonders but we are less successful in persuading the world to canoe in Quetico or drive the Lake Superior Circle Route?
We in our caucus are working to develop policies that will be relevant and effective, because they are based on an understanding of what is needed and what government’s role should be. If policies are to make sense, they cannot be the usual top-down, one-size fits all policies that are most typical of government.
Policies that make sense will be based on an understanding of the problems people in different sectors and different communities are facing; and they will reflect, as well, the solutions that those same people believe are part of the answer.
I find myself talking almost exclusively these days about job creation and the economy.
It seems to me that when you have 550,000 people out of work and a $10 billion deficit, it only makes sense to ensure that economic renewal and getting people back to work is the government’s number one priority.
And it is not a question of economic concerns versus people concerns.
Surely, there is no question that we need a strong economy to pay for our valued social programs.
Surely, we understand that it is only through support for economic renewal that we are going to turn around this disastrous cycle in which the costs of social programs spiral up, while the revenues to support them spiral down.
As I travel this province, I find that people are almost desperate for some sense of confidence about the future.
People are frustrated with higher taxes, angry that they don’t get value in the government they pay for, but mostly, they’re worried about their jobs and their future. We cannot continue to see economic and social issues as separate; real people, our friends, our families, are paying a real price for our current economic problems. We have to get away from false dichotomies: us versus them, social concerns versus economic interests, environmental protection versus development, labour versus management. We do have to understand that a solid, functioning economy is the basis for achieving our other goals.
And we must, having understood that, have the wisdom, determination, vision and courage to understand how we can respond to the daunting challenges we face in this province today.
This will be a time of change – much of it unsought and inevitable. But we must learn how to see new opportunities in the change itself. Then we can get on with the work that needs to be done.