Northern Asymmetry: Comparisons Between Ontario and Quebec Attitudes to Northern Development – by Livio Di Matteo (June 28, 2011)

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/  

The most recent point of comparison between Ontario’s Northern Growth Plan and Quebec’s Plan Nord lies in the difference in marketing.  Quebec’s Premier Jean Charest is in Europe promoting Quebec’s economic development as well as Quebec’s Plan Nord.  He will be visiting England, Belgium and Germany during the course of this week promoting Quebec but more importantly promoting northern economic development in the mining and resource sectors.

Of course, Quebec”s plan is quite easy to market given the dynamic and assertive nature of its language and content.  Charest says that the Plan Nord could lead to 11 new mining projects during the next few years as well as 80 billion dollars in public and private investment.  Charest is also planning to visit China and Japan this month to promote the Plan Nord.

On the other hand, Ontario is not promoting its northern development and its Northern Growth Plan in as engaged a fashion as Quebec.  Why?  Well, Ontario’s plan for the most part is a rather bland collection of plans to engage in further planning.  It is difficult to market boring platitudes in a manner that does not put your audience to sleep.  While Northern Ontario politicians have to sit through provincial government summits and seminars that endlessly repeat the same empty statements in order to demonstrate their fealty to Queen’s Park, international financiers and politicians would simply leave the room.

It is however, more than this.  Ontario’s government  seems to be embarrassed about mining and resource development in the North whereas Quebec’s government sees its North as a resource frontier and an opportunity for development.  Quebec’s government has embraced its north whereas Ontario’s government probably wishes it would go away. 

The Queen’s Park bureaucracy sees the North as a far flung region full of rocks and trees to be administered as a sparsely populated peripheral colonial possession with strange people who want to hunt and fish.  After all, the conventional wisdom at Yonge and Bloor is fish are our friends and not our food.  Food is something you find in its natural habitat – the supermarket shelf.  Northern Ontarians engage in activities not compatible with the environmental lobby that has swayed so much decision making at Queen’s Park when it comes to Northern Ontario land and resource policy.

The Ontario Northern Growth Plan was not designed for Ontarians as a symbol of where their economic future can take them.  It is merely another cynical political device designed to make  Northern Ontarians feel that they are are indeed valued when in reality they are not.  There is a profound asymmetry in how the northern resource frontier is perceived and valued by the Government of Ontario and the Government of Quebec.  That is why Jean Charest is in Europe selling his province’s north and Dalton McGuinty isn’t.

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