Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lakehead Living

Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Joe Comuzzi is no longer a Liberal. He's voting for Stephen Harper's budget because it has about $15 million in research money for Lakehead University.
Fair enough, I suppose. However, Thunder Bay has a lot more problems than $15 million for a medical research centre will fix. The port is dead. Grain shipments that used to go through the Seaway have dried up. The European and Russian markets are flooded with subsidized EU grain, and our wheat goes to China and Japan.
The timber business is also ruined. Logging practices in Northern Ontario were never particularly good, and now, between a lack of available good pine, competition from US pulp producers, the softwood lumber deal and the high dollar, the industry is on its last legs.
Rail transportation is in the crapper. Via no longer runs to Thunder Bay. Freight traffic is now handled by smaller rail crews as CN and CPR have squeezed payrolls and moved white-collar jobs out of the region. WestJet no longer flies to Thunder Bay.
Big box stores have drained the commerce from the downtowns. A "charity casino" has replaced the old Eaton's store, which was the anchor of downtown Port Arthur. Money flows out, not into Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay's non-Native population is declining. The gap is being made up by Natives moving into the city from the dismal reserves farther north. There are no jobs for the newly-arrived people.
So, as I said, $14 million will make little difference.
This is Thunder Bay . I doubt Joe Comuzzi's actions, no matter what they are, will help. Thunder Bay needs real interest from Ottawa and Queen's Park. It needs ways to create an entrepreneurial culture. Now, the good jobs are leaving. They're being partly replaced with some civil service jobs like the Ontario birth certificate office, and employment for people who provide social services for Natives.
The answer is in real business jobs: sustainable and competitive forestry and mining; creative tourism; and re-development of the ports.

Unfortunately, YouTube has yanked the video, probably because (as usual), there's some kind of copyright violation. Anyway, the clip was a seven-minute tour of downtown Port Arthur, Fort William and Westfort, showing all the boarded-up stores. There were quite a few. Probably the music score was the problem.

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