This article was orginally published in Northern Ontario Business in the June, 2010 issue. Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business provides Canadians and international investers with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North.
The man who once wanted a separate province for Northern Ontario straps on his political boxing gloves again
Unrest over the province’s handling of the North’s natural resources is rousing an old political hand back into action, as North Bay’s Edward Deibel attempts to revive the long-dormant Northern Ontario Heritage Party (NOHP).
Though he never secured a single seat, Deibel’s first efforts to push the NOHP in the late 1970s received such attention that the province responded by creating the Ministry of Northern Affairs, or what is now known as the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.
Time, experience, and a lack of popular support have changed Deibel’s approach from when he first walked away from the party 30 years ago, however.
The idea of creating a Northern Ontario province, the NOHP’s dominant goal in its heyday, has since changed to simply represent the region’s interests by having 11 NOHP MPPs elected to Queen’s Park.
“This is the formula, and all Northerners have to wake up and say that this has to happen,” says Deibel.
“The one thing politicians understand is the ballot box, and we can’t do any worse than what’s already out there. People have a real sense they don’t have a party they could vote for, so I’m bringing back the NOHP.” Through the Internet, Deibel has rallied supporters to help him gather signatures of support in places like Sudbury, North Bay, Terrace Bay and Timmins, and is not far from hitting the 1,000 needed to achieve official party status.
Once the paperwork is processed, the focus will change to mulling over policy at a convention to be held within six months. This hasn’t stopped Deibel from sketching out some broad ideas, and although many are in the development stage, some have been floated to the public to gauge interest in the NOHP.
This includes the institution of a 2.5 per cent levy on all natural resources shipped out of the North, with the funds going towards a $100-million research and development fund for the region’s post-secondary institutions. Deibel also suggests mandating at least 10 per cent of the natural resources extracted from the region be subjected to value-added manufacturing and processing in the North. As a positive example of this policy, he points to Timmins’ Little John Enterprises, which has thrived as a value-added manufacturer despite having unsuccessfully fought the province for years for a wood allotment.
“We not only need to give him a medal, but we need to expand that same mentality to the mining industry as well, because we’re losing it when we should be adding it.” Indeed, Deibel’s passion these days is centered squarely on the North’s natural resources, which have become a significant flashpoint for
controversy in recent years.
Between the Vale Inco strike in Sudbury, the closure of the Kidd Metallurgical Site in Timmins, and the ongoing questions surrounding the Far North Planning Act and the Ontario Mining Act, Deibel said he was urged back into action.
Before taking any major steps towards running a slate of candidates, the NOHP will need active and significant support from the public in cities throughout the North, far beyond the initial slate of signatures.
Deibel says each riding will need at least 2,000 members to be viable, with each riding contributing between $50,000 and $70,000 in donations.
The financial aspect is one that Deibel has learned about the hard way, having spent much of his own money to make his first run into politics.
“This time around, I have a lot more experience, and I’ve learned a lot, including the fact that if it’s not financed by the voters, then I’m out,” says Deibel. “This is their campaign, their ballot box.”
Some early support has already been drawn from the region’s politicians, including Mike Milinkovich, mayor of Black River-Matheson, who says the real value of Deibel’s efforts lies in making people more aware of the plight of the North.
Even if the NOHP were to achieve its optimal scenario of winning 11 seats across the region, the party would still be little more than a “burr in the saddle” of the province, says Milinkovich. Instead, it’s about forcing the discussion to take place and grabbing the attention of the southern Ontario-based leadership
of the traditional political parties, he says.
“Chances are slim of this happening, but the point is he has some excellent ideas, and if we start talking this way about enhancing the rights of the North, it may happen,” says Milinkovich. “How do we leverage what we have to make people in Toronto understand we are not a colony?”