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Let’s Talk About Jobs in Sudbury

Lets talk about jobs. Here in Sudbury the main growth sector is the mining supply sector. It supplies Vale, other Northern Ontario mining operations, other Canadian operations and – this is crucial – a growing number of companies around the world.

In the theory of regional development, the mining supply sector is `basic’ – it brings in revenue from exports. With a very few exceptions the commercial sector and the public sectors depend on the income brought in by the basic industries. Once you see this, you can see that a job strategy for Sudbury has to include a really good plan for expanding the mining supply sector.

Glenn Thibeault announced his strategy for job creation today. He emphasized the Ring of Fire. Ignore the fact that the development of the Ring of Fire has been fumbled and delayed by the governnent he is joining. It will happen eventually. A Ring of Fire strategy for Sudbury has to focus on getting ready to grab the business generated by the Ring of Fire Not just the Ring, but also the other mines that will follow once the transportation infrastructure is in place.

The trouble is that the provincial government does not care if development goes to Sudbury. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce is pressuring the government because it wants those jobs in Southern Ontario. The government in Queen’s Park is not going to play favorites.

This is a mistake in the grand scheme. Sudbury already has an internationally recognized cluster of supply firms. You win the bame by building on your strengths and building up your brand recognition. Sudbury already has Brand Recognition around the world. A key part of the Provincial mining strategy should be to build the Sudbury mining and supply cluster.

So, why didn’t Glenn promise to fight for the Sudbury mining supply sector? Maybe it is just bad manners to support a particular region when you are travelling with the Premier of the whole province. Maybe he doesn’t understand the local economy very well. Maybe motives don’t matter – the simple fact is that he missed the chance to stake out crucial territory even before the election began.

If Glenn had understood the economics and politics a bit better he would have said “Kathleen, I’d love to stand for the Liberals, but you have to give me one thing: I want a commitment from you that we will make Sudbury the mining capital of the world and the mining supply powerhouse for the Ontario economy.”

He missed his chance. That will make it harder harder to promote jobs in Sudbury. Instead, Glenn will work to channel money to highway 69 and to wasteful projects like Maley Drive. That is the kind of politics that made Rick Bartolucci a very successful local politician and a very poor Minister of Northern Development.

How do you promote the local cluster? Start by recognizing that there can only be one major mining university for the Province. Sudbury is the only long term candidate. So you start moving mining research to Sudbury and phasing out the weak old programs at Queen’s and Toronto. It would be almost free for the Province, but it would have a powerful effect. It might make Queen’s alumni mad, but it would make Ontario richer.

A second key strategy is to fund more mining R&D in Sudbury. Governments prefer short term research projects, but the way you win the game internationally is to create permanent, university-level research positions. You set out to bring the best people in the world to to your home town. The $50 million in provincial and federal funds that Glenn wants to spend on Maley Drive should be spend on productive talent rather than a Highway to Nowhere.

A major research focus should be on cutting the energy costs of mining. Another should be on making use of all the free underground energy mines have to get rid of. If you could divert the waste heat to warming, say 10,000 gas-heated homes, you could cut amount of gas bought from out-of-province by ten-to-twenty million dollars a year. You would divert some spending into the region making the local economy more resilient and generating more jobs in the commercial sector. Then you would need more schools and busses. A mining-based energy strategy could be one of the keys to
Sudbury’s growth. And it could create a new export industry for the city.

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