Dispatches from the road: Northern Ontario

Greetings from small rural Northern Ontario. A few comments this morning:

French Immersion
Kelly Lamrock has announced a compromise on French Immersion. Grade 3 will be the entry point for French Immersion. I hope this is part of a broader reform that will lead to better overall outcomes.

What really matters
I read here that the government is ramping up its efforts to help the Miramichi’s economic development:

The measures the province is taking include helping the city purchase new buses to improve its transit system, including one bus that will be wheelchair accessible. The provincial government will also help Enterprise Miramichi assist local entrepreneurs in the development of business plans. The government will also help the city with its wellness initiatives. Statistics Canada says Miramichi has one of the highest rates of obesity in the country.

Buses, support for local entrepreneurs and wellness. I don’t want to criticize these initiatives but let’s face it. The only reason why Miramichi hasn’t collapsed is that hundreds of the former mill workers are commuting to Alberta and Saskatchewan for work and sending their paycheques back here.

At a broader level, I talk about the range of issues that impact a positive business climate in my column today in the TJ.

Importance of Anchors
…but the bottom line is that communities need anchor industrial projects. These companies usually employ a fairly large percentage of the local workforce and they set the bar on wages and benefits. They are the anchor on which much of the rest of the economic grows. That is what I see in Northern Ontario. The communities that still have mills and mines tend to be doing well. Those that lose these anchors are not doing well.

Of course it won’t be easy. Of course a lot of suspect projects will come out of the woodwork to try and take advantage of the situation but the government should be vigilant. The AV Nackawic mill is an example of this – even though some have criticized it. All of these half measures will not replace the two lost mills in Miramichi.

The hollowing out of Aliant continues
I have a lot of excolleagues and acquaintances at Aliant so I don’t want to criticize them too much but it is a fact that NBTel has devolved from a major economic development driver incubating new ideas and new technologies to a pure play, old school POTS. The TJ discusses the latest moves here. The problem is that lots of jobs are gone (high paying jobs) and the innovative potential of telecom is all but gone as well. I was one of those naive guys that thought Bell might continue to use Aliant as – what did they call it – a “living lab” for technology development. Nope.