A Tale of Two Norths [Ontario and Quebec] – by David Robinson (Northern Ontario Business – June 2011)

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business  provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North.  Dave Robinson is an economist with the Institute for Northern Ontario Research and Development at Laurentian University. drobinson@laurentian.ca His column was posted in June, 2011.

“Ontario produced the least imaginative, worst-researched plan and worst-written of all
the boreal shield provinces. … Quebec promises that the tax spinoff stemming from new
mining projects, new hydro projects and new infrastructure projects will be paid into a
Northern fund. Quebec has a vision for real Northern development.” (Dr. David Robinson)

Planning for the provincial North is suddenly very popular. Ontario delivered its plan March 4. Quebec presented Plan Nord May 9. Saskatchewan is working on a northern plan. Manitoba’s is redoing its 2000 Northern Development Strategy. So how do we compare?

We are conservative. Fluffy. Different. Ontario produced the least imaginative, worst-researched plan and worst-written of all the boreal shield provinces. Quebec’s plan Nord claims to be “one of the biggest economic, social and environmental projects of our time.”

It is all happening in what used to be Rupert’s Land, a vast forest-on-a-rock where the boreal forest crosses the Canadian Shield. It is the provincial North of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. It is a great ring around the inland sea called Hudson’s Bay. Rupert’s Land would have been a separate country if Europe had discoveed North America after the Arctic melts. In the real world, pieces of Rupert’s Land went to each of the new provinces to the south.

The biggest pieces went to Quebec and Ontario. The Ontario piece psychologically ate the Robinson Treaty lands south of the Hudson’s Bay watershed and became `Northern Ontario.’ Now half the North thinks the other half is really the South.

Quebec’s Plan Nord just covers its share of Rupert’s Land. Ontario’s Northern Growth Plan includes our North-North and our South-North. If our Growth Plan had followed the Quebec pattern, it would have left out North Bay, Sudbury and the Sault. Timmins, Wawa, and Chapleau are the Far South of the North North. Thunder Bay on the far West of the North North would be the only large city in a Quebec-style Northern Growth Plan.

Of course, the Quebec style wouldn’t really fit Northern Ontario. Most of the people of Northern Ontario are in the South and mid-North. The mid-north boreal forest is where the forestry towns of Ontario are. Ontario’s Northern Growth Plan struggled to tell a sensible story about forestry towns in the mid-north, cities in the South-North and the remote communities of the North-North. Quebec’s Plan Nord is dominated by the needs of small coastal communities on James Bay, Hudson’s Bay and the eastern shore of the Ungava Peninsula. The central region of the Ungava Peninsula is Taiga – the kind of boreal sub-forest that is not worth harvesting. Plan Nord hardly mentions forestry. The focus is hydro power and minerals.

In Plan Nord and in our Northern Growth Plan, hydro in the North is mainly for industry in the south, but Quebec’s plan emphasizes using Northern power to support Northern industries. A government corporation in Quebec “will develop and operate hydroelectric projects not linked to its main network in order to respond specifically to the energy and power needs of such industrial projects.” Quebec plans to reduce energy supply costs for Northern villages and businesses. Ontario’s plan emphasizes getting power to Toronto. The Quebec plan is just much more more friendly to Northern Development.

Quebec’s plan is also friendlier to Northerners. Even though there are a lot fewer people in Quebec’s Northern communities and the communities are on average much less accessible, Quebec did more consulting than Ontario did.

The Quebec plan promises to “establish local forests in the regions concerned.” This could mean they plan to find places with no trees, plant some and tell them to stay there. It actually means Quebec is much more interested in local control of the forests. Ontario is still last in the country in terms of letting the people of the forest actually make decisions about the forest. Ontario’s new Bill 151 opens the door to limited public participation in forestry planning.

Like our own plan, Plan Nord has plans to plan (for example, the next five years will be spent “taking stock of the manpower in the territory”), but unlike the Ontario plan, Quebec actually did some planning. Where we plan to plan transportation system, Quebec plans to start work.

Quebec is committed to creating “prosperous, dynamic communities.” Quebec is committing $1.625 billion over five years. Quebec promises that the tax spinoff stemming from new mining projects, new hydro projects and new infrastructure projects will be paid into a Northern fund. Quebec has a vision for real Northern development.

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