Published on: 12/4/2012 2:44:23 PM Print | Font Sizes:  Normal Text Large Text

To see ourselves as others see us


By: David Robinson

David Robinson, Economist, Laurentian University, drobinson@laurentian.ca.
David Robinson, Economist, Laurentian University, drobinson@laurentian.ca.

Did you ever wonder what a Northerner is, deep down in the southern mind?

Image matters in politics. Why else would Mr. Harper spend millions to destroy the image of Liberal leaders? If you can’t control your image, you can’t control your future.

Something about the way Northerners are seen in the south makes it OK to ignore what Northerners want. Northerners need to understand why southerners feel they aren’t fit to govern themselves.

Historically, the North was populated by “Indians” who were seen as primitives. This was a convenient fiction that neatly justified taking over the vast region north of Superior. These Indians were often portrayed as children. They certainly didn’t get to vote.

Once the resources were legally available to Upper Canada, they were handed to nice, civilized businessmen who hired a rabble of immigrant workers to cut the trees and mine the ores. These workers didn’t get to vote either. They were lower class, or even non-British.

Throw in the French settlers who weren’t entirely welcome, and you have a population of ill-educated, superstitious, muscular and probably oversexed country people who had to be civilized.

You may see yourself as a fully modern, well-educated, absolutely civilized citizen. You are not treated that way. You don’t have the right to elect a regional legislature the way the 35,000 people in the Yukon do. Or the 32,000 in Nunavut. Or the half-million in Newfoundland. In the political unconscious of the south you are still a wild child from the wilderness who lives by killing bears, chopping trees and digging holes. From the points of view of urban, civilized Ontarians you are a kind of 19th-century hunter-gatherer throwback, ripping resources out of a delicate environment. You need to be controlled.

Whether you think cancelling the spring bear hunt made sense or not—and it did cost the province and Northerners a lot of money—every time a southerner hears about the bear hunt it reminds them that Northerners just want to kill bears.

Whether the decisions made by Tembec and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Wildlands League are right or wrong, enlightened southern environmental groups have accepted the myth that Northerners are primitives who just want to cut down trees.

At the annual general meeting of the Chambers of Commerce of Ontario in November, the participants in a panel on mining decided that Northern Ontario needs “a greater degree of coherence in the Northern point of view to present to the South.” Translation: the North is represented by a contradictory babble. Nobody is listening because there is no one body to listen to.

All 13 legally constituted Canadian jurisdictions have legislatures to speak for them. Northern Ontario has a quarreling collection of mayors, tribal councils and industry organizations. The North is constitutionally voiceless.

Every colonial government justifies itself on the grounds that the people it governs are not fit to govern themselves. It is a convenient myth, and you bear-killers, tree-choppers and hole-diggers will have to deal with it.

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