My recent January town hall tour included a week to Rocky Bay First Nations, Beardmore, Geraldton, Nakina and Longlac. The following week included stops in Pic River, Marathon, Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Pays Plat, Nipigon, and both Red Rocks. On my way to Marathon and Pic River I got to battle the combination of blizzard and narrow Trans-Canada highway that we all know so well. I held public meetings and canvassed small businesses and residences in many communities. I came away from this tour wiser, after listening and learning from you – the people who live, work, play and sometimes struggle in our communities. Listening is what Mr. Harper should be doing. He should be listening to families who are struggling to pay their bills. He should be listening to small business owners who find the cost of doing business often outweighs the price that products can be moved off the shelf. He should be paying heed to seniors who find that life is becoming unaffordable due to inadequate CPP, OAS and GIS. And in a minority Parliament, he should be working with opposition MPs to help.But Mr. Harper is focused on his own agenda – spending our money on fighter jets and huge prisons, gigantic tax breaks to large multinational corporations, and his bloated chauffeur-driven largest-in-history cabinet. Is this at odds with the reality in which we live? Does this bring jobs to Northwestern Ontario? I am grateful for the thoughtful and intelligent opinions that I heard during my pre-budget consultations. They help me focus on what’s really important in Ottawa. I heard that our tax dollars would be better spent on: • Accessible funding for small businesses to start, expand and/or diversify. • Incentives to promote and encourage value-added production. And disincentives for the exporting of our raw natural resources for other countries to add value and then sell back to us as finished products. One person said “Canada should put an immediate halt to the export of raw materials. Imagine the jobs that would be created. Large and small businesses would flourish. Canadians are too nice – we don’t look after our own interests. Shouldn’t this be the vision of our Prime Minister?” • Lowering hydro prices to attract investment to our region (it may be largely a provincial responsibility, but someone has to show leadership on electricity rates). • Bringing back the EcoENERGY Program to promote jobs and provide homeowner energy savings. • Enhancing EI benefits to assist those who remain out of work, through no fault of their own, after their benefits have run out. A constituent mentioned “EI fund money ($57 Billion) that was stolen from the workers to pay off general revenues should be put back and used to enhance the unfair EI system.” • Fixing bankruptcy legislation to ensure that workers are prioritized as insured creditors, so that severance and back-wages is paid when a company goes under; • Ensuring pensions are 100 per cent protected when a corporate entity closes its doors. I sense a new widespread optimism with respect to the Ring of Fire development. Critical to its far-reaching success is full and accountable consultations with all affected communities. We must do it well from the start. While in Nakina for a town hall meeting I hitched a flight with Nakina Air Service to the site of the Nor-Ont exploration camp at the Ring of Fire. I was impressed. A hardy crew of up to 90 was busy at work. The conditions for workers (including many Aboriginal people) was immaculate, highly professional, and respectful of our ecosystem. Thank you for opening up your homes, businesses, community centres and band office to me. I appreciate your candid and thoughtful advice, and will bring your ideas to Ottawa.
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