POV: Northern Ontario speaks up clearly with one united voice – by Wayne Snider (Daily Press – May 13, 2011)

Wayne Snider is the city editor for The Daily Press, the city of Timmins newspaper. Contact the writer at news@thedailypress.ca.

During the past 20 years, the North has seen its influence on Queen’s Park diminish.
It’s now at the point where municipalities feel powerless and ignored. … Like residents,
Northern leaders have had enough of being treated like insignificant pests. … The upper
tiers try to milk as much wealth from the region as possible, while giving back as little as
possible. It has become a savage, sadistic economic ballet. (Wayne Snider – May, 2011)

The annual conference for the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities wraps up at the McIntyre Community Centre Friday. With cabinet ministers and various other politicos in town, usually the North anxiously awaits the message delivered by the big, bad province.

This year, however, the tables are turned. With an important provincial election looming, political parties should listen to what Northern leaders have to say.

During the past 20 years, the North has seen its influence on Queen’s Park diminish. It’s now at the point where municipalities feel powerless and ignored. Hence the start of the “speaking with one voice” campaign, where Northern leaders approach the government with a united front on key issues.

The North realizes the precarious position it is in. Out of 107 seats at Queen’s Park, only 11 are in Northern Ontario. With these odds, the playing field is heavily tilted in the favour of Toronto and 905 communities.

Like residents, Northern leaders have had enough of being treated like insignificant pests.

Wednesday, FONOM president Alan Spacek told delegates that Ontario could learn from Quebec when dealing with Northern regions. Monday, Quebec’s government announced an $80-billion initiative to extract gold, diamonds and uranium from its North.

“I think they (the Quebec government) see the value that the northern part of their province can provide and we’ve been saying that for a while,” Spacek said.

Municipal politicians know the score when it comes to dealing with the feds and the province. The upper tiers try to milk as much wealth from the region as possible, while giving back as little as possible. It has become a savage, sadistic economic ballet.

“In the last five years, federal taxes in resource industries are up 100%,” said Timmins Coun. Mike Doody, during the January session of the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association. “Provincial taxes are up 60%. But municipalities are down 8%.

“We don’t want more taxation, just our fair share.”

Groups like FONOM, NEOMA and the Northern Mayor’s Task Force have been fighting the good fight. While some gains have been made, overall the North is still largely ignored.

In recent years, there has been a growing undercurrent that it is time for the North to break away on its own. It’s a sentiment municipal leaders have been fighting against.

But if the upper tiers continue to exploit the North, watch out.

This is why the fall election is critical to our future.

news@thedailypress.ca

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