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Provincial politics: A new deck of cards for the North

Actually, there is a new deck of cards for the whole province. Ontario is on the cusp of a recession. Times are going to get extremely tough.

Actually, there is a new deck of cards for the whole province. Ontario is on the cusp of a recession. Times are going to get extremely tough. The car industry is in chaotic decline, and in a couple of years the construction industry is going to start winding down and things are going to look grim and of course we know about the forestry industry.

In political terms, we go from being ignored because things are so robust elsewhere, to being ignored because we are only one problem among hundreds.

That said, on the face of it, Northern Ontario has nothing to complain about in terms of its representation at the Cabinet table. McGuinty’s decisions for the North were tough and deliberate.

He took a Minister of Northern Development and Mines who loved his job, and who was immensely popular in his riding and who brought with him supporters who raised large amounts of money for the provincial Liberal party and moved him to Safety something. He won’t be heard from again outside of his riding.

Then he turfed a long time northern cabinet Minister, David Ramsay, the Minister of Natural Resources who struggled to cope with the crisis in the forestry industry and gave him early retirement without warning or political cover.

Next, he gave the Ministry of Patronage, (Northern Development and Mines) to Michael Gravelle, from Thunder Bay riding where the government is in need of some good news. Thunder Bay is ground zero in the collapse of the forestry industry and Michael is well known and well loved in Thunder Bay and the Northwest. My guess is he will be in Sudbury about as often as Rick Bartolucci was in Thunder Bay the last four years. Like Rick, Michael is a constituency man and a formidable campaigner.

Happily the Premier has matched David Orazietti from the Sault as Michael’s parliamentary assistant. David is interested in policy and long term vision. Michael and David could be a good combination.

The next chip he played was brilliant. Natural Resources is a disaster area. It is a battered Ministry, and has failed miserably to be a catalyst for strategic planning for our resources and deserves a shake up. Enter Donna Cansfield from Etobicoke with no experience in Northern Ontario at all. She can afford to look at problems as they present themselves without having to worry about getting elected by forestry workers who want to send logs to Quebec. She can make tough decisions and still get elected in Toronto. She is smart and if not fearless, open minded. This is where the action is going to be over the next four years.

Finally, Monique Smith, from North Bay to the Ministry of Revenue. A former chief of staff in the Premier’s office she is said to be a straight shooter. We have no idea what she believes in or whether she will content herself with just local issues and her Ministry. The reality is we have four members at the Cabinet table, which is considerable. If they can work together, which is a very big question mark, they could make an impact. Alone they will have little influence.

A positive potential for the North is a change the Premier did not make. He left David Caplan in charge of the Ministry of Infrastructure Renewal. This in part contains a group trying to look at the economic power of regions.

Northern Ontario is next on their list and they are beginning to meet with various municipal actors.

The issues remain the same. Sustainability, accountability, and renewal. Much of Northern Ontario is on its knees and the temptation is to think short term, backed by some high profile politically palatable initiatives and not be bothered with the systemic failure of governance in Northern Ontario.

Like everyone else who knows him, I like Michael Gravelle. I’ve known him for 35 years. I don’t know if he has the stomach to look at real change. His heart is in the right place, but I don’t know about his head. We shall see. David Orazietti has potential, but we don’t know if he will have any influence. Let the game begin.
Michael Atkins
Laurentian Media Group