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By Sid Ryan

You know the McGuinty Liberals are in serious electoral trouble when 200 citizens of North Bay show up to a town hall meeting to vigorously express their anger at the loss of 26 laundry jobs in the community.

North Bay is the home of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris. The seat is currently held by Monique Smith, one-time chief of staff to Dalton McGuinty and current parliamentary assistant to Minister of Health and Long-Term Care George Smitherman.

The trouble began for Smith when she blithely dismissed the loss of laundry worker jobs to Sudbury as “just a business decision.” The chair of the laundry’s board of directors, Glenn Scanlan, went even further by suggesting the government expects hospitals to have balanced budgets and that “consolidation of laundry services is an unfortunate reality when it comes to running a hospital.”

Unfortunately for Monique Smith, the voters in North Bay don’t quite see it her Liberal government’s way. Vic Fedeli, the enormously popular and articulate mayor of North Bay, has thrown his council’s support behind the laundry workers and is leading a community campaign to keep their jobs in North Bay.

Fedeli is tapping into a deep reservoir filled with anger and resentment from across the province at the loss of good-paying jobs.  In particular, the manufacturing sector in Ontario is experiencing job loss at an alarming rate. Since November 2002, Ontario has lost 150,000 well-paid manufacturing jobs. The average annual wage (with overtime) for a manufacturing job in Ontario is almost $51,000. That’s 24% higher than the Ontario average wage.

Northern Ontario is getting hammered in community after community by the closure of steel and paper mills. The combination of the Liberal’s outrageously high electricity costs and the rise in the value of the Canadian dollar is wreaking havoc on the northern economy.

The families of steel and forestry workers are reeling from the insensitivity of a government that has pegged its electoral fortunes on large urban centres in the south. The heartland of Northern Ontario is being gutted, just like a Muskie after a long day’s fishing. The entrails left behind are the broken dreams of young families and those close to retirement, forced to leave their homes and communities in search of work in Toronto and surrounding area.

Unfortunately, they will not find a hospitable “good paying” jobs environment down south, or “down east” as they like to say in Thunder Bay. Just ask Wayne Fraser, Ontario Steelworkers director, about job losses in the steel and related industries in the GTA. Listen to his passionate speeches about plant closures in Hamilton and Kitchener, about workers having to occupy a plant in Hamilton just to force the employer to pay severance and vacation pay to those who have been laid off.

But, it’s not just steel and forestry jobs that are being lost. The automotive and related industries are flat on their backs and in serious danger of disappearing from the province altogether. Within the past 12 months, 7,000 manufacturing jobs in the parts sector alone have been lost.

Compounding the problem, when you lose good-paying jobs from the manufacturing sector, you also lose the tax base that supports community services such as public transportation, child care, long-term care, social services and the list goes on.

Monique Smith failed to grasp that very important fact when North Bay’s laundry workers first asked her to help save their jobs. However, she cannot be faulted for her insensitivity towards the plight of laundry workers, as the old Irish expression goes “it’s not off the ground she licked it.”  She picked it up in the Liberal caucus room.

Her boss and political mentor Dalton McGuinty, when asked about the loss of manufacturing jobs in Ontario, said, “I don’t believe we should stand in the way of the inevitable.” Even worse, McGuinty steadfastly supported former Liberal MPP Tony Wong‘s outrageous comment on community job losses: “…what they should do is look for new ways to create jobs to develop their economy and not just come as crying babies to the province.” (Shades of Mike Harris and his comparison of nurses to workers in now-defunct hula-hoop factories!)

Something tells me there is going to be a load of Liberal crying babies after this fall’s provincial election.