POV: Political parties start to woo Northern [Ontario] voters for fall provincial election – by Wayne Snider (The Daily Press – May 16, 2011)

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

Then there is a true wildcard in place for the fall election: The Northern Ontario
Heritage Party. Their message is that Northern Ontario needs to take over control
of the economic future of the region because Queen’s Park — when coloured by
any of the tradition mainstream political stripes — simply wants to take wealth
from the North to feed the heavily populated south. (Wayne Snider, May 16, 2011)

Off and running

Last week’s Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities conference was held to deal with municipal issues impacting the North. It turned into a launching pad for provincial election campaign debates. Anyone who wasn’t expecting the conference to be so politically charged, hasn’t been paying attention.

FONOM has been gaining a louder voice in the past few years. That’s because Northern municipalities have had a lot of concerns to voice. It seems Northern leaders have had an endless stream of provincial policies and legislation to contend with, many of which have been contentious.

The Far North Act, the Endangered Species Act (caribou protection), forestry tenure and now the Northern Growth Plan have caused municipalities to wave red flags, as our leaders fear more harm than good is being done to the Northern economy.

It is through groups like FONOM, the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association and the Northern Mayors’ Task Force that the voice of the North has been raised to the level where it is at least being heard.

But there is a huge difference between hearing and listening.

During the FONOM conference last week, two provincial Liberal cabinet ministers from Northern Ontario delivered keynote addresses: Rick Bartolucci and Michael Gravelle. Usually, political events such as a FONOM conference make the perfect backdrop for provincial funding announcements, particularly in an election year.

But Bartolucci and Gravelle did not come bearing gifts. Instead, they spent their podium time defending their party’s record in the North — to a political lobby group that has been steadily fighting the changes made in Queen’s Park.

Talk about playing a tough room.

While this is going on, Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak sees this as a perfect opportunity to build some more street cred with the Northern masses. He holds a press conference trashing the Liberal’s Northern agenda, and speculation is flying about the latest municipal leader asked to carry the Tory flag in Timmins-James Bay.

Given the Conservatives’ surge in provincial polling, the increasing dissatisfaction with the McGuinty government, and the majority recently obtained by the federal Conservative, one would think the Tory nomination would be a no-brainer step up for a municipal politician. But it is a move that requires a lot of consideration, because winning Timmins-James Bay will not be an easy task for anyone.

Gilles Bisson has represented the riding for more than two decades. The New Democrat MPP has earned the reputation of being one of the hardest working politicians in the game. He has built a strong network of support in all areas of the riding, from the urban centre of Timmins to the James Bay Coast.

While the Liberals and Conservatives were doing some UFC style trash talking at FONOM about winning the belt in this riding, they were doing their best to ignore George St. Pierre — in the form of Bisson — quietly waiting off stage.

Then there is a true wildcard in place for the fall election: The Northern Ontario Heritage Party.

The NOHP was officially granted party status last fall. Their message is that Northern Ontario needs to take over control of the economic future of the region because Queen’s Park — when coloured by any of the tradition mainstream political stripes — simply wants to take wealth from the North to feed the heavily populated south.

The NOHP message resonates among many Northern citizens. Strongly enough that the NOHP could run a sheepdog as a candidate in some Northern ridings and still manage to gather pro-North protest votes.

But can that Northern discontent translate into elected seats that the NOHP will seek in 11 ridings?

For the rest of Wayne Snider’s opinion piece, please go to the Timmins Daily Press website: http://www.timminspress.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3126328

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