Short term vs. sustainable long term economic development
in Northwestern Ontario, Canada
Kenora, a typical wood processing town in northwestern Ontario, Canada, is facing an economic disaster. According to a report in the Winnipeg Free Press, the city’s largest employer, Abitibi-Consolidated Inc., announced the closure of its paper mill ‘indefinitely’ as of October 2005. More than 350 employees will loose their jobs. Kenora businesses – which rely on the 82-year old paper mill and its workers for their livelihood – will lose many of their best customers. ‘It’s bad for me, bad for the people I represent and horrible for the community,’ said local International Association of Machinists president Tom Beach. ‘The news is about as bad as it can be.’ A company spokesman stated that Abitibi is continuing its discussions with the provincial government to try to find ways to reduce the cost of production at the mill, especially on the energy side. He said the only way the Kenora mill can remain open is as a one-machine facility that is efficient and cost-effective.… because they are looking for quick profits, worldwide …Udo Staschik stated in a letter to the editor of the local Daily Miner & News:‘The mill closure in Kenora was predictable. Globalization and the inexperience and naïveté of the town administration and elected town officials could not prevent this closure. Large national and multinational corporations are only interested in generating quick and easy profits; they have no interest in sustainability or local involvement. Shareholders of Wal-Mart, Zellers, Weyerhaeuser, Abitibi are residing in Hong Kong, Zurich, Seattle. New York and Toronto. Why would they bother about a town in northwestern Ontario? Town officials and the mayor are inexperienced and naive in believing that attracting large national or global companies to Kenora is of any benefit. Just to the opposite: it creates a dependency on these large outside controlled companies.’… and can count on the incompetence of local officials‘[...] The mayor abdicated his responsibility to represent the citizens of Kenora to Abitibi, Wal-Mart and other companies and now has to realize that these companies have no interest in supporting him or Kenora. [...] in less than six months Wal-Mart or Zellers will notice a drop in sales and income and will close the store in Kenora. Instead of wining and dining large global companies with a limited attention span the city should have focused on supporting locally driven business enterprises. It is very unlikely that a (somewhat local, medium-sized) manufacturing or servicing company like Docks and Lifts, Prendiville Industries, Moncrief or Godbout’s Towing relocate to another location. They have a reason to be in town, Wal-Mart or Zellers have not.’The truly amazing thing is how long people in northwestern Ontario hold on to their blind faith into wood processing transnational corporations. The trend to more and more efficiency has started a while ago and paper mills, for example, employ drastically less people with every phase of so-called ‘modernization’.
Decisions for long-term sustainable development:
The insight that virtually no Native Canadian was employed in the high-tech wood processing plants was important for the decisions of the Pikangikum First Nation. And people realised that clear-cutting on their territory would waste and destroy a heritage which could be the basis of a diversified small scale local economy. This in turn could bring tangible improvements to the Native communities, suffering from extremely high unemployment rates, at the origins of many of their social problems they are left alone to solve.Pikangikum Native Canadians are working on real solutions The aim of a territorial inventory of their resources, compiled by the Whitefeather project, was to use the profound indigenous knowledge of the local people, accumulated over many generations, as a basis for the detailed planning and use of regional natural resources. The approaches used to achieve this have turned the Whitefeather initiative into a pioneering model of best practice. Today, it is even supported by the Government and cooperates with renowned Canadian universities.Young unemployed Pikangikum people interviewed their grand-parents who knew the resources of the bioregion intimately.For the Pikangikum community, this fulfilled an important precondition for further planning. From their perspective creating jobs is the most important task. Yet even this main aim has to respect the tradition of biodiversity and sustainability for future generation.More on sustainable development of the Whitefeather Forest Initiative....Ontario`s Mines and Forestry Minister Michael Gravelle:“We are moving into a time when innovation in the forestry sector is so important,” Gravelle said. “What could be more innovative and more significant than having our young First Nations youth being trained with the help and assistance of the Elders from their communities, teaching them from an indigenous point of view about forest stewardship.”Gravelle said the program will provide the youth with the opportunity to work with the Whitefeather Forest Initiative and other forest companies in the future.“This could be the start of what really should be the trend all across the country,” Gravelle said.Published in Wawatay Online, February 18, 2010, Volume 37, No. 4
Short term perspective aiming at higher shareholder-value