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Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath touts her plan for government procurement projects to require Ontario materials at a Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay on Sept. 16, 2011. (Anna Mehler Paperny/The Globe and Mail)
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath touts her plan for government procurement projects to require Ontario materials at a Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay on Sept. 16, 2011. (Anna Mehler Paperny/The Globe and Mail)

Touting job creation, Horwath unveils expanded 'Buy Ontario' plan Add to ...

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says if she’s elected, she will require all government procurement projects – from transit and infrastructure to catering – to use Ontario materials unless it’s prohibitively expensive to do so.

She reiterated her commitment to an expanded “Buy Ontario” policy in Bombardier Transportation’s Thunder Bay plant on Friday. The policy would mean all provincial and municipal projects would need to use Ontario materials unless they’re more than 10 per cent more expensive than the cheapest foreign-made version.

“This [plant]is the evidence that shows how much employment is created by good ‘Buy Ontario’ policies. It’s not good enough where it stands now,” she said. “This puts our tax dollars to work for the people in this province ... And that makes a heck of a lot of sense.”

That’s a significant change from the existing policy, which only applies to public-transit projects, and only requires that 25 per cent of vehicle costs be “Canadian content.” In another big change, the program would also oblige local governments to source all their public projects from Ontario materials. Right now, the ‘Buy Ontario” program applies only to provincial funding.

The NDP plan defines “Ontario materials” as anything in which more than 50 per cent of the total value is manufactured, produced or assembled here. “In the case of an assembled product,” the plan reads, final assembly would have to happen here.

It’s a point Ms. Horwath has hammered home before, especially when it comes to the North. She has vowed to go back on a $120-million refurbishment contract she thinks should have gone to a North Bay-based company instead of its Quebec-based competitor; she has also said an NDP government would require any company doing resource extraction in Ontario to process its materials here, as well.

Her argument is that this is a necessary step to both foster Ontarian industry and ensure “value-added” components of the supply chain are here so the province isn’t stuck shipping out raw materials from which it derives no benefit.

“Our tax dollars should stay in Ontario to create jobs and opportunity; our natural resources should be doing the same,” she said.

But she has come under fire from the Liberals for what they call protectionist policies that would close Ontario off just when it’s most in need of foreign investment. Northern Development minister Michael Gravelle, in whose Thunder Bay-Superior North riding she was campaigning in Friday, has called it “devastating.”

Ms. Horwath also came under fire from the Liberals for having voted against the very transit contracts she was praising at the Bombardier plant on Friday as she extolled the potential of made-in-Ontario policies. According to a Liberal statement, she voted in 2006 against an $838-million Toronto transit project, and against a $382-million investment in 2008.

But those contracts were buried in budgets she voted against on principle for other reasons, Ms. Horwath said.

“I vote against budgets the McGuinty Liberals bring in that don’t do well enough for the province.”

Ms. Horwath’s Bombardier visit came after a quick tour of multiple closed and closing mills in the Thunder Bay area. She chalks these closures, many of which have been coming for years, up to neglect from the Liberal government.

“Job losses like this ripple across the community and affect the whole region,” she said. “When people stop working, our towns, our cities, our province stop working. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

It’s a seductive and populist proposal come election time, especially here: Bringing up the issue of jobs shipped out of province with rallies in Northern Ontario (or southwestern Ontario’s hard-hit industrial regions, for that matter) is a sure way to elicit raucous, irate cheers.

But it’s also an awkward time for Canadian politicians to pursue protectionist policies: Ottawa is girding itself to go after U.S. President Barack Obama for his own “Buy America” plan that’s part of his Jobs Act, entreating him to make exceptions for Canadian bids.

“Call it whatever you want,” Ms. Horwath said. “What I call it is a job creation program that puts Ontario tax dollars to work and puts Ontario workers to work putting bread on their tables.”

She also took another swipe at Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, who has declined to attend a Northern debate in Thunder Bay Sept. 23.

“If you apply for a job and refuse to go to the interview, who the heck would hire you?”

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