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Kenora MP Nault looks back on 2018, forward to 2019

Reflecting on 2018 and thinking to what lies ahead for 2019, Kenora MP Bob Nault says he is always looking at progress.

Kenora MP Bob Nault. Picture supplied.

“Is the government doing well by northerners, and do they get what we’re asking for and why we’re asking?” he posed, noting that given raw numbers and the amount of money coming into the riding, things are going well with major infrastructure projects.

The Canada Child Benefit has also been a success for the riding, Nault said, making a big difference for families and having a positive impact on children. “Those kinds of initiatives make me reflect that we are making a difference,” he said. “The other major issues this year were trying to get a deal with the US for NAFTA, to make sure our biggest trading partner is still our biggest trading partner when all is said and done, because that has a ripple effect through the whole economy.”

The modernization of cannabis laws and creating a regulatory regime also numbered in Nault’s list of highlights, along with a ten-year plan for housing funding through the federal government.

“We’ve never put forward a national long-term housing strategy that can start to develop the kinds of infrastructure we need, whether it’s senior housing in Dryden or senior housing in Vermilion Bay, or subsidized housing or market housing,” he said. “We have a huge deficit in housing right through the whole region. Canada stepping up to the plate and taking a role in that is going to make a huge difference.”

The biggest story and issue of the year, said Nault, is climate change and the environment. “It’s a big and important file in the northwest here,” he said. “We make our living with a pristine environment. We’ve made some mistakes in the past and we don’t want to make them again.”

Northerners and all Canadians have to determine what our individual roles will be in protecting the environment, he said, adding that the federal government has been in extensive discussions and debates with provincial premiers and government who have a different view of how managing climate change and putting a stop to pollution will look.

“That’s going to be a very big issue this coming year,” Nault said. “It being an election year I think it will be overemphasized and will be a political football, which is unfortunate because I don’t think this is a political issue at all. I think this is something Canadians are seized with and they need to decide how we’re going to play our part as northerners and Canadians in making sure that we leave the country and a planet to our kids that makes sense.” Locally, infrastructure is still a top priority for Nault moving forward.

“We’re working very hard and we will see some announcements this coming year on all-weather roads. We’re working very hard on broadband and local connectivity. I think that’s another area where if we’re going to have northerners live in the north and do business in the north, they’re going to have to expect they have the same basic infrastructure as anybody else. That’s an area we really need to work more on.”

 Modernizing local infrastructure needs to involve sewer, water, roads, and the grid, Nault said, highlighting Pikangikum’s historic connection to Ontario’s power grid December 20. “That’ s a huge step in the right direction for First Nation communities,” he said. “Big projects like Watay energy, that’s a $1.6 billion dollar project. It’s going to take us a few years but it’s going to have a big impact.”

The grid will impact all-weather roads because in many cases, Nault explained, the road will go right next to transmission lines. Another upcoming project is set to impact all-weather roads as well. “There’s work being done on a bridge that will go across the Berens [River] and it will open up for all-weather roads to Sandy Lake, North Spirit, and over a short period of time I think you’ll see a lot of northerners further afield than Red Lake starting to come into the region, whether it’s Red Lake, Dryden, Kenora or Thunder Bay. Those customers will have access then to infrastructure which will improve the economy.”

For Dryden, funding for a long-term strategy and vision for the area is important. “The economy is changing. The world is changing very quickly to a low-carbon economy. Jobs are going to be different. This year you’re going to see us focus a lot on training, and the abilities for our population to get used to the idea that jobs are precarious and they’re hard to keep for a whole lifetime. We have to keep retraining and working on that. That will be a big focus of the next budget.”

The recently announced round of the summer jobs program can also shape the future of the economy. “We’re looking for the business community and the non-profit sector to help get young people their first job experience because that’s all part of the bigger picture of making sure the north is ready to participate in the economy and we have the right tools to do it,” Nault explained.

Moving into an election year, Nault said, he’s pleased with serious inroads into areas like poverty reduction and providing more funding for science, noting governments do need to take time to put together policy apparatus and structure to make their platforms work. The north, according to Nault, cannot afford to fall behind.

“I still think we can do more on the tourism side,” he offered. “I still think we can do more on the forestry side. I think mining is coming out of its trough along time coming. Mining should take off in the next little while.” People should be pleased with the lowest unemployment rate in 40 years and an economy that is supporting and creating new jobs, said Nault, offering a hopeful perspective for a new year.

“Is there a lot of work to do still? Sure. The Rainy River, Kenora, Northwestern Ontario district and the Far North have some unique challenges that you won’t get in other parts of the country. It’s going to take us a lot more work to get from where we were to where we want to be… Hopefully with the work of the province and the federal government working together we’re going to make some of these things happen.”

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