One more [provincial Liberal] plan for the North [Ontario] – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (March 6, 2011)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario. This editorial was originally published on March 6, 2011.

A plan to create a plan. This is what the provincial government has in its hands as it rolls out its highly-anticipated Growth Plan for Northern Ontario.

They assure it’s a comprehensive framework aimed at guiding Northern Ontario through the next 25 years, developed after a consultation phase so intense it was the subject of more than a little bragging at the plan’s unveiling on Friday.

This plan hits on all the tentpole issues. It’s broken up into sections covering the economy, the people, communities, infrastructure, the environment and Aboriginal people. It touches on mining, forestry and energy (although there’s no mention of energy pricing). But that is absolutely all it does. Touches. There is nothing firm or final. This is just another plan to be the subject of still more consultation.

For example, the province says it will work with school boards to “support an education system that continues to accommodate the unique needs and circumstances of all Northern Ontario communities.” OK. How?

When it comes to jobs, the province says it will work with industry, labour and related groups to optimize labour market participation for all Northern Ontario residents, “with targeted measures for under-represented groups including the North’s francophone and aboriginal workforce.” Great. And those measures are?

The plan calls for the development of innovative approaches and technologies to deliver training in rural communities. Such as?

Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle pointed out the plan is a guide to where in the North the province should — and will, hopefully — invest its money. The thing is, the issues facing the North are far from new. Anyone who lives here has seen these very things brought up again and again by successive governments. Now, the Liberals have published their latest plan, regurgitating them all again. And still there are no concrete answers.

In fairness, it’s hard to come up with an answer if you don’t know the question. So the next step, the Liberals said Friday, is to hold more consultations.

Thunder Bay isn’t just a “service hub,” for example. It’s a northern service hub. That appears to be wholly different thing. How is it different, exactly? Well, that’s hard to say. The province needs to sit down with the various “stakeholders” and figure that out.

We like plans. Plans are good. The North, with its unique challenges and circumstances, needs a plan.

What the Liberals announced on Friday, however, isn’t the answer. It wasn’t ready and it should not have been released, particularly when the government admits it needs to do much more talking before it can figure out what it all means. If it doesn’t know by now, it probably never will.