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Dalton McGuinty's New York moment

It’s mid-week at the Thomson-Reuters building in midtown Manhattan. Far aloft, on the thirtieth floor, picture windows give an unparalleled view of the ball that drops over Times Square on New Year’s Eve. And Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty is holding forth on his mother. “I know there are a bunch of Ontarians in the room,” he says to the assembled throng. “Well, this is a message on behalf of all Ontario mothers: it’s time to have you back.”
Veiled guilt trips about the brain drain aside, it was a good thing McGuinty came to New York to promote trade with Ontario. (It had been a while: his last trip here was in December 2003.) Ontario is the state’s biggest trading partner by volumeaccording to factsheets prepared by Statistics Canada, the two do some $23 billion in trade annuallyand McGuinty was here to sell New Yorkers on efforts Ontario is making to preserve and expand that business.
His speech was a brief run-down of what Ontario’s been up to, and why New Yorkers should care. This included plenty of spending $3.2 billion, for example, on nurturing an “innovation economy” in Ontario, with a focus on clean technologies, health sciences and digital media. He acknowledged the challenge of coordinating with the U.S. federal and state governments in their ongoing attempts to bail out the cross-border auto industry. And he cited the province’s commitment to build new nuclear power plants. That’s an overdueif likely very costlyeffort to bridge the energy gap created by his government’s efforts to close coal-fired power plantswith no clear plan of what was going to replace them.
The contrast between McGuinty’s effort and Stephen Harper’s New York moment was striking. Harper came to town in March, just after U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Canada. He invited media in to stare at a closed door, then speak briefly with his spokesman.
That said, McGuinty also left no time for questions after the speech. So I asked him casually why his government had gone for nuclear over other options. He said he saw it as the best solution to a complex problem, and that the most interesting response he’d gotten to it came from U.S. state governors caught in the same energy-bind as Ontariowho were amazed Ontario could even attempt nuclear. (With Three-Mile Island and other nuclear disasters clear in the public’s mind, nuclear is seen as a less viable political option Stateside.)
The chief alternative to nuclearat the scale requiredis coal-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technology, in which the carbon burned by the plant is captured and stored underground. In theory, such technology allows for cleaner coal, which is both a cheap source of electricity and abundantly available. However, it comes with a roughly equivalent price tag to nuclearestimates range at up to US$1.3 billion a plant. It’s also potentially dangerous (like all gases, carbon dioxide in concentrated form is lethal to human health). And it has only been tested out over the past decade.
The technology to capture and store nuclear waste, on the other hand, has been proven over several decades. However, the issue of where to put that waste presents a tough problemand the Ontario experience with nuclear plants in the past is not exactly confidence-inspiring either. It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out.
McGuinty headed out soon after his speech, leaving a throng of navy- and black-suited New Yorkers and Canadians to mingle and talk shop. Of course, the business crowd was most struck by the Ontario premier’s pledge to continue to lower corporate taxescurrently at 14%, and slated to come down to 10% over the next three years. There’s also tax relief in the works for manufacturers, who have been suffering mightily from the double whammy of the high dollar and collapsed U.S. demand.
Commented John Leung, a Canadian businessman who works for a U.S. company in New York and has been here for more than 15 years: “Everyone this side of the border is raising taxes. It’s frankly refreshing to hear there’s somewhere that’s lowering them.”