Dear Michael Gravelle:
Just having our own Facebook page doesn't magically turn old fogies like us into citizens of the 21st century. We have to learn to think like natives of the information age. And you and I are not doing too well, Michael.
As an academic, I have to learn to use the web and the media to communicate with students and citizens across the North. As a politician, you have to learn to run an electronic democracy. You have to involve people in decision-making and give them all the data they need to make decisions.
You missed a wonderful chance with the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario. You could have supplied all the information Northerners needed to really participate in the decision-making process. Instead, you held token consultations without doing any of the background research. You wasted time and money and held meetings before we had the hard data. Then, you buried all the advice and suggestions instead of sharing them with everyone. You sucked information out of the North, instead of putting information in.
In southern Ontario, research was done to prepare for the southern growth plan. It was posted on the web. Southerners got implementation documents, technical papers and backgrounders on the development of plans and policies. We Northerners got a short collection of fluff that anyone could have pulled from the web, plus an unsupported population estimate from the Ministry of Finance.
It really looked like your ministry didn't do the background work that it takes to develop a 25-year blueprint for Northern growth. The academics I talk to certainly don't think you did the work. You can still convince us that you have the research needed for a Northern economic plan - just show it to us.
We need to know exactly how much the province gets from Vale Inco and forestry companies, for example, and exactly how much income tax, sales tax and gas tax you collect. We need detailed information on spending in the North. Ask a few businessmen and women in Thunder Bay whether they would develop a plan without this information.
We need a serious transportation analysis. How much would it cost to develop a deep water port on Georgian Bay? I donít make plans until after I have done a feasibility study. We needed a rigorous study on why our schools encourage young people to leave the North. This is the first issue that comes up when I listen to Northerners. The Northern Growth Plan should have begun with research on why youth leave. It should have identified the training that youth need to take on the jobs in the North. It should have proposed ways to make them want to stay.
We also needed to see what the thousands of participants in your consultations recommended. After all, democracy is based on listening to your fellow citizens and deciding for yourself.
Anyone born in the information age would have made sure all the submissions were also available on the web as well.
A real strategist would have used the consultation to move toward e-government for the North. E-government means using electronic media to give people better information about and better access to government. E-government would solve some of the problems that come with our vast Northern region. E-medicine is already helping with health problems. E-government could help solve our governance problems.
We are just too old to be making decisions in the 21st century, Michael. All our ideas about how to plan and how to consult with our constituency are out of date. We should resign and let the kids take over. At least they understand the communication technology. And they can’t do worse on policy decisions than we have been doing.
Maybe you did collect the data, Michael. Maybe you had enough information to propose a plan for the North. It is not too late to pretend that you are living in the 21st century and post all the submissions, data and background studies for the Northern Growth Plan on the web for Northerners to read.
Communication won't save the plan you produced, but it will be a step toward a real plan. And it will be a step toward a real Northern Ontario democracy.
Dave Robinson is an economist with the Institute for Northern Ontario Research at Laurentian University.