Consensus in the North: The arithmetic of success – by Rick Bartolucci (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – February 13, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

Rick Bartolucci is the Ontario Minister of Northern Development and Mines

It’s been said that teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.

As Ontario faces the stormy economic times that are clouding the financial futures of jurisdictions around the world, the Ontario government is committed to the task of ensuring that our province not only weathers the storm but emerges stronger than ever.

In the Legislature, our government looks to a consensual approach by all three parties to achieve the success for Ontario that we are all working toward. By collaborating, I believe we will meet our fiscal goals and build a stronger, more competitive economy.

In Northern Ontario too, the need for teamwork is more vital than ever. The North already has a strong tradition of regional cooperation as evidenced by organizations such as NOMA, NEOMA, FONOM and NOACC. Recent developments such as the formation of the Northern Mayors’ Council underline the increased recognition of the importance for northerners to pull together.

When it comes to consulting, listening and collaborating with northerners, the McGuinty government is also ahead of the curve.

This is clearly evident in the work that has been done on the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario. Thousands of northerners helped craft the plan that our government released in March 2011. The plan is a long-term strategic framework to guide the Province’s decision making and investment planning over the next 25 years. Its purpose is to focus and align programs and investment decisions to create a resilient and sustainable regional economy.

A collaborative approach continues to drive the current work to implement the Growth Plan’s policies regarding regional economic development. The Province is working with northerners to create two regional economic development planning pilots in Northern Ontario.

With resources and support from the Province, two local implementation teams and a Northern Advisory Committee have been developing the frameworks for the pilots. The planning teams involve more than 70 highly respected northern leaders including rural and urban mayors, senior municipal staff, Aboriginal leaders, and members of Northern Ontario’s business, economic development, education, research and workforce planning communities.

These planning teams are framing a new more collaborative approach to achieving shared regional economic development priorities. Provincial funding agreements with the cities of Thunder Bay and Greater Sudbury support the work of the implementation planning teams, and should not be misconstrued as focusing economic development in Thunder Bay and Sudbury.

Recent media stories have emphasized concerns by some northerners that their communities won’t benefit equally from regional economic development planning. Concerns that one community will benefit more than another or that rural communities may be overshadowed by cities are not unique to the North. At the ThinkNorth II summits this past June, economic development experts from around the world shared their struggles to build trust and collaboration among communities during the early days of their projects.

But relationships of trust and collaboration are the very foundation needed for our success. The local planning teams will be inviting your input on their proposed approach. This is a time for us to work together on a made-in-the-North solution, and I urge you to participate.

In the northwest, the Northwest Joint Taskforce has posted their draft framework online at www.nwoeconomiczone.ca. I’d like to commend all task force members for the excellent progress they have made. I encourage northwest communities and organizations to participate in the community sessions being hosted by the Task Force this month and next.

In the northeast, a planning team has held extensive community dialogues since last fall to gain input on a northeastern approach. This planning team met in early January to review community input and identify the preferred option. They are now preparing materials that present the proposed approach, and look forward to releasing these materials for community input in the near future.

I am also pleased that leadership of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, the Union of Ontario Indians, Grand Council Treaty #3 and the Métis Nation of Ontario are participating in our early planning of this initiative. More engagement with First Nation and Métis communities will occur. I value having the advice of Aboriginal leadership on the approach for these dialogues.

Our government looks forward to receiving both teams’ recommendations this spring.

I want to thank not only the members of the two implementation teams and the Northern Advisory Committee, but all northerners who are collaborating on this process. I encourage you to keep contributing your advice and ideas for increasing prosperity in Northern Ontario.

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