Will the [Harper] Tories please the [Ontario] North? – The North want in! – (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – May 6, 2011)

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

“Second, Harper is anxious to encourage economic activity and the
North’s Ring of Fire mining development is just the sort of success
story he admires and will want to brand Tory blue. …

… Make FedNor independent again, give it a northern minister like
Rickford, and let the Conservatives practise the efficient government
that they preach.” (Chronicle-Journal Editorial – May 6, 2011)

AMONG the theories floating around after this week’s election is that, besides a split between left and right and another between Quebec and the rest of Canada, the results suggest a form of class distinction between urban and rural Canada.

One such example is Ontario where much of the south, including wealthy Toronto and its suburbs and the burgeoning technology centres, voted Conservative while the North mostly picked the NDP.

A superbly tailored Tory campaign convinced economically-conservative minded voters to choose the offer of stability while large sections of the have-not hinterlands opted to register their disapproval of Conservative and Liberal approaches by supporting the social democratic message of Jack Layton and the NDP.

If this split is valid, there are circumstances that will tend to blunt it.

First, the Conservative candidates in three of the four Northwest ridings came second with Tory Greg Rickford easily retaining Kenora. In the northeast, Jay Aspin just won Nipissing-Temiskaming and Bryan Hayes took Sault Ste. Marie, both for the Conservatives.

Stephen Harper is nothing if not rewarding of support and he will have noticed that a traditionally Liberal region sent Liberals packing to mostly third-place finishes.

Second, Harper is anxious to encourage economic activity and the North’s Ring of Fire mining development is just the sort of success story he admires and will want to brand Tory blue.

Harper’s industry minister in the former government, Tony Clement, wears a black eye over gluttonous G8 summit spending in his Muskoka-area riding. This will be painfully detailed when Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s report into the funding is presented after Parliament resumes.

Harper dutifully backed Clement but will be looking for some way to divert attention from him on this file.

Meanwhile, a consistent complaint during the election campaign was that FedNor, Ottawa’s development agency for this region, remains lumped in with the Industry department while other such agencies in different parts of Canada are stand-alones, the way FedNor used to be.

Rickford has been a faithful backbencher and Harper could do worse than rewarding him with responsibility for a stand-alone FedNor with an increased budget.

A new analysis by a Winnipeg consultant hired by Industry Canada to scrutinize FedNor says its biggest drawback is the time it takes to get approval for projects — six months, which is twice as long as similar agencies in the West and Quebec. That’s far too long when speculative investment funds are on the line.

As a sub-group of Industry Canada, delays are inevitable and administration eats up one out of every five dollars spent on projects to boost the northern economy.

Make FedNor independent again, give it a northern minister like Rickford, and let the Conservatives practise the efficient government that they preach. This will further serve to prove the Tories know and care about Northern Ontario.

As for the Official Opposition, NDP Leader Jack Layton should consider Thunder Bay-area MPPs Bruce Hyer and John Rafferty and Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing’s Carol Hughes — relative veterans compared with much of the rest of the big new caucus — for key critics’ roles in Parliament.

The North wants in.

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