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Who shall we follow?

You can send your kid to camps that specialize in kayaking and leadership; martial arts and leadership; crafts, sailing and leadership; or leadership and horseback riding. Business schools offer programs in leadership.
David Robinson, Economist, Laurentian University,

You can send your kid to camps that specialize in kayaking and leadership; martial arts and leadership; crafts, sailing and leadership; or leadership and horseback riding. 

Business schools offer programs in leadership. Government and companies send their people off for leadership training. Everyone seems to be on the leadership bandwagon these days.

It makes you think the Western World is deep in leadership crisis. And there is certainly a crisis in economic leadership in Northern Ontario.

What set off this meditation on Northern leadership is the plan to hold a Leadership Summit in Sudbury in late October. The goal is to encourage a leadership culture in the Northeast. The conference will bring together people who have demonstrated their ability to lead, and get them thinking about cultivating and developing leaders for the North.

But don’t we have lots of leaders?

We have a wonderful collection of people creating businesses, campaigning for justice and the environment, leading fundraising campaigns, and working with Big Brother or leading teams of kids.

They are all leaders in one way or another.

The real question is whether there are any leaders OF Northern Ontario. Is there anyone who understands what the North needs?

Is there anyone a large number of Northerners would support if that person said we need action on a particular issue? The truth is that there are leaders IN but not OF Northern Ontario. That’s why our region is growing more slowly than any comparable region in Canada.

You may think that our elected representatives are leaders. Much as I love them all, I don’t see how they could possibly be. They each have an electoral mandate to represent their own ridings in Ottawa or Toronto. That makes them something like ambassadors, but it does not make them leaders. It doesn’t put them in a position to make decisions about Northern development. I can cite good works by almost every Northern politician. But none of them have any real traction as leaders of Northern Ontario.

And you can’t blame them if they don’t lead. Northern Ontario is organized in a way that prevents Northerners getting together to make decisions about their economy. There is no central meeting place, legislature, government house or capital city. It matters.

The word “capital” means the head, where the thinking happens. Northern Ontario doesn’t have a head. Would-be leaders probably gather at the island airport in Toronto.

There is a reverse Catch-22 at work. You may remember Joseph Heller’s Second World War novel where Yossarian could avoid flying a dangerous bombing run if the flight surgeon found him mentally unfit. Since only someone crazy would want to take the mission, Yossarian was not mentally unfit for wanting to avoid it. Catch-22.

Our case is reversed. If you are of sound mind you recognize that Queen’s Park has done a pretty poor job of managing the Northern Ontario economy and that the North needs control of its own affairs to develop. Say this at Queen’s Park, though, or to any of our elected officials, and they will decide you’re crazy. It is obviously crazy to say they are doing a bad job, and even crazier to ask them to suggest that things can be changed.

Changing the government structure of the province is impossible.

Of course, it isn’t really impossible. It’s just a problem in leadership. Imagine a one-legged race made by tying 50 people in a line leg to leg. If anyone takes a step they all fall down. With good leaders they might even be able to run.

So how does Northern Ontario develop leaders that can get them to move in step just long enough to change where the decisions get made? The answer is that this generation of local leaders has to start to create regional institutions.

They have to give Northerners a reason to look to those institutions for leadership. They have to commit themselves to a long campaign to gain power for the North.

Because there is no way that Queen’s Park or the current political parties can solve our problems. And because this is a long-term project, let’s send our kids to leadership camps and hope this Leadership Summit works.