There is a power shortage in Northern Ontario. There is a power shortage in Northern Ontario. The North doesn’t control its resources, it doesn’t control its education system, and it doesn’t control its future.
There is a simple solution: make Rick Bartolucci king of Northern Ontario. It will take the powers of a king to create a comprehensive growth strategy for Northern Ontario.
Control of the key decisions in Northern Ontario now lies in a dozen ministries. The main sectors of the economy are divided and diluted; divided because forestry is in one ministry, mining in a second, and tourism in a third. They are diluted because the mine division has to take care of gravel pits in the south and mining speculators in Toronto in addition to the export-oriented largely metals-based northern industry. Furthermore, labour force development is under the ministries of Training, Colleges and Universities, Labour, and Education.
If all this makes economic development strategy seem difficult, remember that it grossly simplifies the situation. Native Affairs, the Environment, and Intergovernmental Affairs all have a say.
But Rick has already collected the key pieces. He is the minister of mines and northern development. Northern development is the key portfolio. Mining is where the biggest opportunity lies, and Rick represents Sudbury, the largest city in the North. If Northern Ontario works together it is just possible that King Rick can cut through the brambles and get the economy moving.
The Ministry of Northern Development was created to provide a focus for decision making for the North as a whole. It was intended to direct the other ministries in all matters relating to northern development.
The new ministry got off to a good start when David Peterson was minister of northern affairs. Peterson was also premier. As premier he was able to move the Ministry of Northern Development and the Ontario Geological Survey to Northern Ontario. This was probably the most effective single development decision of the last 30 years because it put some of the research and management for northern industries in Northern Ontario.
Under the Conservatives, however, ministry funding was cut. Economic development strategy went out the window. To do his job, the new minister will have to fight to build up the influence of MNDM. He will also have to fight for influence outside of his ministry, because the problems of the North extend well beyond the ministry’s mandate.
According to the 2001 census, the biggest gaps in the economy of Northern Ontario are in two areas. The largest employment category in Ontario, at over 16 per cent, consists of managers of enterprises and companies. That is one and one half times the share in Northern Ontario. That’s a power gap. We also have a professional and technical gap, with only half the share of professional and technical jobs. We have one-fortieth our share of PhD students.
A successful economic development strategy has to reduce these gaps. It has to move highly paid research and management jobs into the North. Since the key industries in the North are forestry and mining, the goal of the Minister of Northern Development and Mines must be to move the management and professional jobs related to these industries into the North. Since 77 per cent of the province’s mining is in the North, 77 per cent of the mining management and the mining research and the mining education should be in the North. (The south can keep all the research on gravel and salt.)
The problem, if the minister wants to make lasting changes, is that research and education, like many other crucial areas, are controlled by other ministers. Those ministers will focus on southern Ontario because that’s where most of the people are. To develop the North, however, we need to have decision making for the North, in the North, and by the North.
That’s why we should to make Rick Bartolucci King, and David Ramsey, the Minister for Natural Resources, can become Prince David of the Far East. Michael Gravelle, who represents Thunder Bay and Superior North, and has served for years as the critic for Northern Development and Mines, would be Prince Michael of the Far West.
Together they should create a king’s council that meets regularly in Northern Ontario. King Richard and his council could build up the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, and together they could make the rest of cabinet understand what Northern Ontario needs.
Dr. David Robinson, PhD, is an associate professor of economics at Laurentian University. He is also with the Institute for Northern Research and Development.