One reason northeastern Ontario is going nowhere is that it does not have a voice at Queen’s Park. That’s not my conclusion- it is the view of a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the Conservative Government.
The Northeastern Ontario Smart Growth Panel was appointed by the former minister of municipal affairs to “provide the province with strategic advice on growth issues relevant to the northeastern zone.” Notice the word “advice.” An appointed panel of northerners advises, and Queens Park decides. Hasn’t anyone heard of representative government?
Seven members of the panel were at least elected somewhere - there were mayors from Kapuskasing, Elliot Lake, Sudbury, Iroquois Falls, and Timmins, as well as the Reeve of Nipissing .
The other appointments were a bit strange. Why did the manager of external relations for the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs get equal representation? Why did the panel include Gord Adams from the District Municipality of Muskoka? Muskoka is not even in Northern Ontario.
The answer to the second question is pretty scary. Muskoka is now technically part of the North
because the province wants to pretend that investment in Toronto’s cottage country is northern development.
The Smart Growth panel concluded that the North is not heard at Queen’s Park:
“The panel feels that an arm’s-length champion should be appointed by the provincial government to ensure that the northern perspective is reflected in decision-making.”
The panel concluded with the following comments: “Now, more than ever, northerners need a voice within the provincial government to speak up for, and take action on, issues that affect the region.”
The panel tried to be polite about the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, but is clearly intended to signal that MNDM is not representing the North. That is a pretty damning conclusion for a ministry created to promote the North; the panel is dead-on. Two senior people at MNDM tell me that the ministry is not there to serve the North. Mining happens all over the province, so MNDN has to serve the whole province. A ministry that represents an industry for the whole province can’t be expected to represent the North effectively, and that is why the northern mayors want someone with the ear of the premier. They have decided that MNDM is politically irrelevant.
The North needs a Ministry of Northern Development and NORTHERN Mines. Southerners wouldn’t notice the extra N in the name, but it would make a huge difference to the North.
But, from the Toronto point of view, the North is irrelevant. It does not need and does not deserve a bigger voice in provincial affairs. It only has 7.4 per cent of the provincial population. In a good year the south grows by more than half the population of the entire North. Northern Ontario is like a beaver in bed with an elephant. The beaver wonders why it isn’t having fun. The elephant wonders who’s squeaking.
The Toronto perspective is pretty odd though. The population of Northern Ontario in 2001 was 841,288. That is larger than New Brunswick, Newfoundland, or PEI. Even Thunder Bay and Sudbury are both bigger than PEI. If it weren’t irrelevant, Northern Ontario could be Canada’s seventh-largest province.
Northern Ontario has six times the population of Prince Edward Island, but PEI has its own legislature. It has members of parliament, and senators. It has political parties. It has elections about provincial issues. Prince Edward Island collects its own income taxes and has a highway-planning branch. It has its own department of economic development. Prince Edward Island has its own government.
Even the Yukon and Nunavit are better represented than Northern Ontario. Northern Ontario has 29 times as many people as Nunavit and more than twice as many Native people. If the world made sense Northern Ontario would be a small province and two territories.
The Smart Growth Panel didn’t call on the North to separate from Ontario. It didn’t ask to be represented as well as other parts of Canada. It gave the provincial government some advice about how to develop the North. And then the panel let it be known that the mayors of the major cities in northeastern Ontario don’t think they are being listened to. And if the people who really make the decisions aren’t listening, the North will continue to decline.
David Robinson, PhD, is an associate professor of economics at Laurentian University.