Kenora MP Bob Nault reflects upon 2017 and moving forward in 2018
Tim Brody - Associate Editor
This past year has been a busy one for Kenora MP Bob Nault.
The Bulletin recently sat down with Nault, who discussed everything from the economy, to healthcare, to infrastructure, to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and how those topics impacted Sioux Lookout and area residents in 2017 and will affect us moving forward.
“I’m going to start by talking about the most important subject on everybody’s mind, and that’s the economy. It’s true the economy in Canada is the fastest growing economy of the G7. It’s true that our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 10 years, and it’s true that we’ve created about 600,000 new jobs since the Trudeau Government came into power. All to say, that’s great that we’re going in the right direction as an economy. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot of challenges and a lot of issues.
“The north’s economy is growing slower here than it is in the rest of Canada, or what the national average is, but it is improving. The unemployment rate’s gone down by between one and a half and two per cent since we came into office. But there are a lot of factors to that, so it’s not about government necessarily. It’s about making sure we have the right process in place so it can grow.
“I guess our challenges here in the region are mainly twofold. One, from the economic point of view, is the infrastructure development in the north. That has a huge impact for Sioux Lookout and the north itself. We’re hoping that the announcements of Pikangikum developing its grid, that Watay(nikaneyap Power) will be able to officially go from its environmental assessment to developing and building for the 17 communities that major infrastructure project.”
Nault continued, “I think just in the Sioux Lookout area alone there are three or four mining potential projects being worked on. All to say that’s going to be very important for our economy.”
Nault stressed another major focus in 2017 was healthcare.
“I think I’ve said this every year since I got back that Sioux Lookout has to play a very important role as the hub for the north for healthcare and that we need to get more doctors here in Sioux Lookout. We need to get more qualified nurses here in Sioux Lookout for the north… That’s something that we’re working on.”
Nault added, “I think governments are now seized with the crisis that had been sort of coming at us for a number of years. It sort of culminated in chiefs basically telling the world we had a crisis and we need to do something and something fast. So the province and the feds have been working very closely. I hope to see more results of that discussion and more resources put into the field. That’s happening… It’s pretty obvious we have a crisis when every week we seem to have to explain why communities are in crisis, why there is such a high suicide rate.”
Nault said he hopes an announcement by the government of Ontario to add 5000 more long-term care beds over four years will have a big impact in the riding this year.
“We’re so short of long-term care beds here in the region; both here and Kenora need to build very large facilities because there’s just a big shortage.”
“I like the Canada Summer Jobs initiative that we’ve changed. We went from a very small amount of money, less than $200,000 a summer, to almost a million now. It was just over $900,000 last year. I think over 300 students in the riding got summer jobs.”
Nault was especially excited about the National Child Benefit.
“That National Child Benefit has proven to be what it was intended to be, a great opportunity for the government of Canada to transfer dollars to families who need financial help to raise their children. This riding got around $70 million last year, which works out to almost $10,000 per family. That’s a huge help for families who are looking to put food on the table, buy clothes for school, get kids ready for school. I think that’s having a big impact in our riding.
“We’ve increased it again this year in the Fall Economic Statement. We’re going to put more resources into this for families, but generally speaking, I think that program has been a real success. The fact that it’s tax free has serious implications in its own right, because a lot of the families I talk to, under the previous program, said it didn’t do them much good. They got money in one hand, and they had to pay it out in the other at tax time. So it really wasn’t all that helpful. So this has had a big impact.”
Nault shared, “The other initiative that we just announced is the National Housing Strategy.”
He explained, “This is in the early days, but as I understand it, Sioux Lookout is the planning process now of hosting a major housing forum… which we hope we’ll have some federal ministers available to talk about this transition that’s going on, of First Nations citizens coming out of the northern communities, starting to live in the cities and towns of what we call the south of our riding. So that’s a very important initiative; huge!”
Speaking to a national housing strategy for First Nations, Nault commented, “It wasn’t announced in this package because it was out of respect for the First Nations who wanted to have their own programs and have a longer discussion and negotiation with the Government of Canada. So my understanding is that announcement will hopefully come in the next few months.”
Nault continued, “That’s very important because housing, as we all know, is stunting the growth in Sioux Lookout. We need to find a fix for that. We need to find a way to develop more housing stock, whether it’s rental or home ownership, it is a very large problem here in Sioux Lookout, and one that I’d like to help as much as I can with the mayor and council, the provincial government and the federal government all working together with First Nations up north and making sure that we find a way to deal with that. I see Sioux Lookout’s growth attached directly to our housing shortage here.”
Nault said he is working very closely with the Kenora District Services Board and its CAO Henry Wall with respect to the National Housing Strategy.
“I think Henry and his board are doing an awesome job of looking at how we can crack the nut on some of these issues that have just been difficult to find a way to solve. So I just met with him yesterday (December 19) in Kenora to talk about this whole strategy again, because we’re working hard at that,” Nault said.
Speaking of infrastructure in Sioux Lookout, he commented, “We can break infrastructure down into a number of categories, whether they be municipal infrastructure, road development, sewer and water development, beach development for tourism, all the things that this community is working on.
“I think we’re making some progress on the infrastructure side. Remember this is an 11 year program and this is just the end of the second year, so we have another nine years of a lot of development and conversation about what kinds of infrastructure. For example we’ve not even started with the green infrastructure stuff. We’re just getting going now and talking to municipalities about how that might work for future development for our local infrastructure. We may build our sewer and water systems differently. We may structure our roads differently all because of climate change and / or severe climate weather. Things like severe rainstorms that we never used to have. We get downpours now that we never used to have, so they tell me, years ago. That has huge impacts on your water systems.”
“On the other infrastructure side is innovation,” Nault said.
“The Internet infrastructure upgrades. We’ve started developing some of that in some of the communities… I think everyone agrees, in order to be able to create a business environment, we have to have the basic infrastructure in place… We’ve already started as a rural caucus complaining to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Industry that we need more money. A lot more.”
Speaking about reconciliation with Indigenous people, Nault said, “We need to deliver on our commitments to First Nations, whether they be the removal of all the boil water advisories, or whether it means all weather roads, or (connection to provincial power) grids, or whether it means healthcare facilities and education facilities in the north and in the First Nation communities. That’s all in progress, but we have to be surefooted enough to deliver every year on making progress, because I don’t think anybody expects us to do it all in one day, but they expect us to get it done.”
Nault also spoke of his government’s plans for the legalization and regulation of cannabis (marijuana).
“It’s a huge change and I know that there is a lot more work to do, but it’s a major commitment that we made, that we were failing our youth and we were failing our constituents by not changing the way we manage and regulate and deal with cannabis… The statistics show that 20 per cent of youth are using cannabis every year. Thirty per cent of the population under 30 are using cannabis on a regular basis. Statistically almost 700,000 Canadians have a criminal record for the possession of marijuana; a record that I don’t necessarily think is all that useful for young people to have to carry the rest of their lives.
Nault informed, “It passed the House of Commons just before Christmas and is now going to go to the Senate, so by, hopefully, summertime, it will be legal.”
Finally, Nault addressed the topic of softwood lumber.
“All I can say about our inability to get an agreement with Americans, we’re going to continue to defend our industry, as we have with close to a billion dollars in backstopping our industry as we work our way through the legal process, to make sure that we’re treated fairly. So, that’s very important to us here in the northwest. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been travelling a bit with the foreign affairs committee talking about sales of softwood lumber and products, dealing with forestry in China, Vietnam, Indonesia; all those are huge populations that need the kind of wood that we sell.”
Nault concluded, “Those are some of the key issues we were dealing with this year that signal a very active government that is trying to improve our productivity and our abilities to be a successful nation.
“Of course, this being the wind-up of Canada’s 150th birthday… we should be very proud of how far we’ve come, and if we keep working at it, we can do even better.”