[Ontario] Northerners fight back [against Queen’s Park] – by Wayne Snider (The Daily Press – May 2, 2011)

Wayne Snider is the city editor for The Daily Press, the city of Timmins newspaper. Contact the writer at news@thedailypress.ca.

With the resources available in Northern Ontario, there is no reason why we shouldn’t thrive socially and economically. Northern leaders need our support if we are no longer to be treated as a colony, whose wealth creation feeds the needs of the south.
(Wayne Snider – May 2, 2011)

Centralization of Northern Ontario to Sudbury and Thunder Bay leaves other communities out in the cold

Tired of largely being ignored and having legislation rammed down their throats without any meaningful consultation, municipal leaders from across Northeastern Ontario are getting ready to fight back.

Members of the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association (NEOMA) will devote the lion’s share of their next meeting to developing a lobbying and marketing strategy for the North.

Tired of being force fed a steady diet of legislation that negatively impacts their communities — such as the Far North Act, the Northern Ontario Growth Plan and changes to the Endangered Species Act — our leaders realize the time has come to get the message out to not just the government in Queen’s Park, but all Ontarians. With a critical provincial election coming up in the fall, it is now do or die time for the North.

“Our way of life is critical to who we are as a people,” said Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis. “We need to stand up and do something about it.

“If we don’t have our own strategy to accomplish our own goals, we’re going to be part of someone else’s strategy to accomplish their goals.”

One of the biggest fears is that the province is pushing to centralize the North in two centres — Sudbury and Thunder Bay. All other communities would be left to pretty much wither and die.

Northern Ontario includes about 90% of the land in Ontario, but only about 10% of the population. As youth outmigration continues, without any plans to encourage economic development, population retention and growth, the population base of the North will drop even further.

Unless the trend is reversed, Northern Ontario will go from being “insignificant to truly trivial” in terms of provincial priorities.

Under the leadership of Timmins Mayor Tom Laughren and Kapuskaing Mayor Al Spacek, two groups — the Northern Mayors’ Task Force and the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) — have already done an excellent job in identifying the challenges facing the North and what needs to be done to survive.

Politis believes it’s time take the next step, and quickly.

“The solution is to implement the media strategy from the mayors’ task force,” he said. “Rather than look at marketing and campaigning as last resorts, make it a priority.”

He used Newfoundland and Labrador as an example of successfully marketing of a region.

“Newfoundland created their own brand is selling it to the rest of the country,” he said. “Marketing is how we get people on board.”

Leaders from across the North agree this is a critical time.

“We can’t agree more on the challenges we face,” Spacek said. “We mean nothing in terms of the federal and provincial picture.

“But we’re not organized. Too often we are hearing about changes that impact us in the news media” without being consulted.

It’s not just political leaders who see the handwriting on the wall in terms of provincial  government planning.

“You hit it bang on about centralization,” said Timmins CAO Joe Torlone. “Northern CAOs are objecting to the Northern Growth Plan.

“We feel there will be two centres in Northern Ontario” if the current direction is not changed.

Laughren, chairman of NEOMA, said it is vital that Northern reps continue to speak with one voice if our region is to be given any chance of survival.

For the rest of this opinion piece, please go to The Daily Press website: http://www.timminspress.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3104830