Does the Northern Ontario Need a Provincial Minority Government? – by Livio Di Matteo

Livio Di Matteo is Professor of Economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Visit his new Economics Blog “Northern Economist” at http://ldimatte.shawwebspace.ca/

“A majority government is in many respects an elected dictatorship and once Rome
has spoken, the case is closed.  A minority government, because of its inherent
fragility, is much more open to debate and compromise.” (Livio Di Matteo-April 5, 2011)

In light of a federal election that may yet provide us with another minority government, it is useful to contemplate whether a minority government at Queen’s Park might not be a useful development for Northern Ontario.  While majorities provide stable government, they also provide an environment where it can sometimes be difficult to get your point of view across especially if your region is marginal in terms of its share of population and electoral seats.

Consider the last decade in Northwestern Ontario under a provincial Liberal majority government.  Despite persistent lobbying by Northerners for something to be done about the forest sector crisis, the provincial government (even with cabinet representation from the North) took a long time to recognize the problem and by the time it offered some relief, much of the sector had shut down.  Then there was the Far North Act, which sequestered large sections of the North from economic development with very little debate. 

Then there has been the reluctance of the provincial government to do anything about regional energy prices or bring about tax incentive zones.  One not need even begin getting into the province’s controversial green energy policies.  Most recently, has been the decision of the provincial government to not hold hearings in the North for Bill 151, which will deal with forest tenure reform and instead hold them only in Toronto.

A majority government is in many respects an elected dictatorship and once Rome has spoken, the case is closed.  A minority government, because of its inherent fragility, is much more open to debate and compromise.  The parties need to work together and that forces a degree of consultation and accommodation that takes multiple points of view into account.  There have been minorities in Ontario in the past including a period of Conservative ones from 1975 to 1981 and of course the minority of the 1985-87 period.  From 1985 to 1987, there was a minority government known as the Liberal-NDP coalition under David Peterson that ultimately generated a large number of positive programs for Northern Ontario.

Indeed, the period 1985-1987 saw a program of broad accomplishment in the North that really has not been equaled since and it was mainly due to the minority government situation, which made even small marginal regions more electorally important.  And what was the result for Northern Ontario?  The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund was formally established in the summer of 1988.  The Northern Ontario Health Travel Grants was established in 1985. 

And, in July of 1986, a program for moving government jobs was announced and over the next year 1200 jobs moved north including the registrar general to Thunder Bay, Ontario Lottery Corporation to the Sault and Correctional Services to North Bay. You can debate how successful any of these programs ultimately were but they were attempts at solutions.

Minority governments are not perfect but they do create an environment where there is more debate and trade when it comes to important issues.  A minority government in October’s provincial election is something that could happen but it might not be a bad development for Northern Ontario.

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