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Let's help the South find itself

Northern Ontario would do much better if southern Ontario understood itself. We in the North need to help the south with its midlife crisis so the south can finally loosen the apron strings and let us develop.

Northern Ontario would do much better if southern Ontario understood itself. We in the North need to help the south with its midlife crisis so the south can finally loosen the apron strings and let us develop.

Once upon a time southern Ontario was the growing half of the Province of Canada. Upper and Lower Canada had separate legislatures, but they were the two pieces of a single colony. They formed a natural political and economic unit with an enormously promising future.

Upper Canada included a leftover piece of piece north of the Great Lakes. That big scrap would become the core of Northern Ontario.

The real Canada, though, was the valuable land south of the Canadian Shield. It would come to becalled the Windsor–Quebec Corridor.

The corridor is still the major feature of the Canadian economy. It is a sliver of land 100 kilometres wide and 1,100 hundred kilometres long. It is home to 17 million Canadians. That is 57 per cent of the entire population of the country. The corridor has Canada’s most successful agriculture, most of Canada’s manufacturing,and most of the best universities in the country.

It is a world-class economy that could go it alone. The corridor has three times the population ofSingapore and 50 per cent more land. It has the same area as Hong Kong and double the population. It has access to the sea and access tothe biggest market in the world. It is highly diverse, urban, educated,and rich. Something like 80 per cent of Canada’s immigrants go to this area.

The Windsor-Quebec corridor is the historic heart of Canada, it is still the economic engine of Canada, and it is the destiny of southern Ontario.

For Northern Ontario to prosper, southern Ontario has to prosper. For Canada to succeed, southern Ontario has to succeed. And the way to make us all more prosperous is infrastructure.

We need to build a multi-track, high-speed transportation corridor from Windsor to Montreal. The entire corridor needs a new backbone.

And southern Ontario can do the job. Sixty-seven percent of Ontarians live in the Ottawa-Windsor corridor. They don’t need us and they don’t need Quebec. They do need to gather up the nerve to seize the opportunity. They need to forget their old dreams of a Northern empire.

It doesn’t matter that Lower Canada still speaks French and that secessionists sometimes run the government there. If southern Ontario builds a 21st century transportation backbone it will reach to within 35 kilometres of the island of Montreal. Montreal business will build the rest. And they will pay to use the Ontario section.

Montreal is the only piece of Quebec that matters – Quebec City can be left dangling if the government of the day wants to hold out. Southern Ontario’s bargaining position is irresistible. It gets 90 per cent of what it needs when the transportation backbone reaches Ottawa. Ontario doesn’t have to ask Quebec or wait for Quebec.

But the corridor needs a form of local government, something less than a province but more than a city. The city of Toronto and the province of Ontario are simply outdated structures. Southern Ontario has to have the political and economic power to plan and to build. It has to have a government committed making that corridor the best place in the world to live and work. It needs all the revenue from the gas tax and the sales tax. It needs complete control of transportation policy.

The corridor has to be developed as a single coherent economic entity. It has to become a virtual city- tate. It is time to give the majority of Canadians direct control of their future.

This is a radically new vision of Ontario and for Canada. Even so, it has a solid foundation in history and in economics. If the Fathers of Confederation from the province of Canada had been better economists, we would have a stronger country and almost certainly a province of Northern Ontario.

We in the North should be promoting the Windsor–Ottawa super-city. Its success will pull us along. And once the people of the Corridor understand what they really need, they may give the North a chance to develop too.

Dave Robinson is an economist with the Institute for Northern Ontario Research and Development at Laurentian University.