Monday, August 01, 2005

Time for a Major Change?

SOme days it seems as if all of Northwestern Ontario is under attack (and I don't mean by blackflies). Last week it was announced that Abitibi is shutting down its mill in Kenora. Just the latest development in a spring/summert season of dire warnings about the cost of doing business in Ontario and how precarious the forest sector is.

ANd yet I wonder. Is it a real answer to give pulp/paper and saw mills cut rate electricity? According to the companies and to the local MPP it is. BUt what cost does that come with? THe logic is that the Ontario government has made sweetheart arrangements with other industries (particularly the auto sector) so forestry should get the same treatment. But whenever I hear this I feel like screaming "CHEAP POWER SOLVES NOTHING!". Cheap power means more is paid through tax dollars rather than by the user. So called "cheap power" (one argument is that local mills should pay what the actual cost of generating power locally is, rather than the market price which is up 400% more) is priced in ways that don't account for the true cost of those power plants. HOw do you assess a charge for flooded out areas, or smokestack emissions, or changed water temperatures, or variable water flows with all the attendant environmental cost? CHeap power will only be a stopgap solution.

The more I think about it I wonder if we are on the threshold of a paradigmatic shift in economic reality. ARe we about to experience a change in the backbone of economic life in the Northwest? Are we on the verge of changing how we define profitable industries? Most importantly, will this change bring about a new ethic when it comes to assessing the full cost of doing business? If we are about to see these sorts of changes then we are in for a whole lot of hurt. In the short and long term jobs will be lost, with no guarantee of new ones to follow. People will be pushed to re-evaluate what things are "essential" to have and what are luxuries, pushed by financial/economic forces rather than by social ones.

I fully believe that we may be edging toward changes at this level. I fully believe we have to consider that reality as we listen to the demands for bailout packages. Maybe the solution to the siege mentality is to open a gate and see what is really out there.

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