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Auditing the Corporation of Northern Ontario (04/06)

Ryan Minor is an accountant. Accountants like to think about money in and money out, and Ryan is especially interested in money going in and out of Northern Ontario.

Ryan Minor is an accountant. Accountants like to think about money in and money out, and Ryan is especially interested in money going in and out of Northern Ontario. The government doesn’t keep separate books for the North so Ryan is reduced to prying out pieces of the puzzle using the Freedom of Information Act. He just received six very interesting pages that list the grants from the Ministry of Innovation and Research for the year ending March 31, 2005. He carefully added up grants to Northern institutions and he found that only 1.48 per cent of the innovation money for that year went to Northern Ontario.

That is less that one quarter of our per-capita share.
Premier Dalton McGuinty set up the new Ministry of Innovation and Research because he believes that prosperity depends increasingly on our ability to innovate. To make sure that his innovation program goes ahead, he made himself the Minister of Innovation.
Ontario’s Finance Minister, Dwight Duncan, also believes that research is the
way to solve economic problems. When farmers came looking for more subsidies he told them “Research is the most cost-effective support for agriculture.” In his Budget speech on March 22 he said “the jurisdiction that is the first to come up with new ideas and the first to develop them into new products and services will have a prosperous economy and a high standard of living for all its citizens.”
So why has the Ministry of Research and Innovation been giving the North only a quarter of what is spent in the south? Our forestry sector is in worse shape than the farm sector. Mills are closing and whole communities are in danger. You would think the minister of Innovation and the Finance minister would be shoving innovation funds down our throats.
But the minister knows a terrible fact about Northern Ontario. We have only a quarter of our share of brains. We don’t have as many researchers, graduate students or technicians. We don’t have our share of graduate programs or even university graduates. No wonder we need people in southern Ontario to do our thinking for us.
The principle that normally drives innovation funding is simple: “Them what has, gets.” The government doesn’t send research money to Northern Ontario because we don’t have the people to ask for it. We don’t have the people to ask because the government sends all its innovation money to the south – even the money collected from forestry and mining companies.
The North is caught in a vicious circle.
Can we break out of this vicious circle? The people who fought for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) found a way. Northern Ontario got a medical school after local heroes worked for years to make Northern healthcare an issue in the south. The reason we are not getting our share of other innovation funding is that we haven’t fought for it.
We need the same kind of campaign for the economically crucial innovation facilities in mining and forestry. If we think southern decision-makers will happily give us our share of forest- and mining-related research facilities, we are living in a fool’s paradise. Southern medical schools tried to block NOSM and southern universities are tenaciously opposed to concentrating forestry and mining research and training in the North where it belongs.
In his recent budget, Finance Minister Duncan told Ontarians that when the Liberals took office they “found a health-care deficit, an education and skills deficit, a fiscal deficit and an infrastructure deficit.” He didn’t mention the North’s brain deficit, but there was one very promising sign that the Province is prepared to stop sucking Northern brains out and start luring them back.
The Minister has promised $10 million for a Centre of Excellence in Mining Innovation for Sudbury to match funds put up by the federal government. Rick Bartolucci, as Minister of Northern Development and Mines, deserves credit for getting this item onto the Provincial budget table. So do the Chambers of Commerce, the City of Greater Sudbury, and all the others who picked up the issue.
It will take more than one project to get the innovation accounts to balance, of course. With the increases in innovation funding to the rest of the province our share might not even go up this year. Let’s hope Ryan Minor keeps watching this file, and let’s hope he continues his quest for a set of accounts for Northern Ontario.
Dave Robinson is a professor of economics at Laurentian University. He can be reached