Time for North [Ontario] to take control – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (February 6, 2011)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario. This editorial was published on February 6, 2011.

For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery

Provincial energy policy has punished the North with electricity prices that haven’t been able to match competing jurisdictions nearby. And yet, the North produces all of the electricity that it needs at a real price that is far lower than that which is being charged its industrial, business and residential users. (Thunder Bay Chronicle Editorial – Feb/06/2011)

THE TIME has never been better for Northern Ontario to take control of its own destiny. Discontent with provincial policy has rarely been stronger in the North which has been given a strong new hand to play in the form of major mining opportunities.

This region has shipped its resource riches and the bulk of their profits to southern Ontario and beyond for many decades, even as they provided the province with a major part of its revenue. One provincial government after another promised to facilitate value-added manufacturing of forest products but the logs and lumber, as well as much raw mine product, left here. Paper mills that did thrive are now mostly closed due in large part to provincial energy policy that helped to render them uncompetitive.

A slow provincial reallocation of forest resources is beginning to show some results, but the woods industry will never be what it was. The Northern Growth Plan remains to be written but from what is known about it so far, we should not expect a breakthrough in innovative thinking at Queen’s Park.

Mining, though, is poised to lift the northern economy back to health and with it, an opportunity for the North to be in control of itself. There is simply no need to continue suffering ineffective and inequitable provincial policy that must, by design, be all things to all Ontarians — but mostly to where most of them live and vote.

There is no need to endure the rigmarole of trying to create a separate province of Northern Ontario. But there is every reason to insist that the province enable the creation of regional government in the North. This would allow for in-house planning for economic and resource development and control of northern energy, transportation and environmental policy.

The James Bay Lowlands and other mineral-rich areas are wholly contained here in the North. The Ring of Fire alone is poised to become perhaps Canada’s biggest mineral development. Communities tried to position themselves as the best location to process all of this ore and Sudbury has apparently won out. But the northern communities that don’t get the smelter still stand to realize much economic and employment benefit from the North’s new mineral riches.

Provincial energy policy has punished the North with electricity prices that haven’t been able to match competing jurisdictions nearby. And yet, the North produces all of the electricity that it needs at a real price that is far lower than that which is being charged its industrial, business and residential users.

A northern power grid is eminently sensible, especially now that the province is focused on expanding transmission lines to accommodate the large demands of mines for electricity. A regional power authority could facilitate the development of much unused northern hydroelectric power that is far cheaper than the nuclear power produced and used in southern Ontario. And hydro power is clean power. This authority could take charge of the Thunder Bay and Atikokan generating stations already being converted to gas and biomass. And it could negotiate its own contracts with the burgeoning alternative energy sector, contracts that needn’t be beholden to the province’s needlessly expensive Green Energy Act.

The concept of regional government in Northern Ontario is not new. Queen’s Park has heard, and ignored, versions of it for years from a variety of northerners. Lakehead University economist Livio Di Matteo is among the most ardent and informed proponents. In many columns for this newspaper, and lately on his blog, Di Matteo makes the compelling case that Northern Ontario can be a strong, independent sibling to its much different southern sister.

And this needn’t be a confrontational arrangement. A new Northern Ontario should be seen by the province as a partner in economic development. The province should work just as hard at encouraging its northern child to thrive as it does trying to keep it in line with its imperatives as the parent of a large family.

The districts and municipalities and First Nations of Northern Ontario comprise a family all their own, with the abilities, the talents and now the means to start a new life. Our life.

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