Early warnings for the [Ontario] North ignored – by Wayne Snider (Timmins Daily Press – June 28, 2011)

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

OPINION: Report pushed highest growth in southern urban centres

Many people believe Northern Ontario is largely ignored, both at the provincial and federal levels. This isn’t a new phenomenon, nor is concept limited in terms of the political stripes of ruling governments.

For decades population growth in the south has resulted in a long line of provincial and federal riding boundary adjustments. Provincially, urban centres, particularly the GTA, has been getting more and more clout in Queen’s Park, while seats have been cut in rural and Northern areas.

The voice of the North and rural Ontario is becoming increasingly drowned out by urban centres. So it should not come as any huge shock that government planning has largely centred on southern urban centres. This is by design.

In February 2004, the report Investing in People: Creating a Human Capital Society for Ontario was presented to Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Oddly enough, the report was commissioned when Conservative Ernie Eves was premier. It wasn’t finished until after the Liberals had ousted the Tories provincially.

The report, which had a budget of $1.8 million, was compiled over two years. The mandate of the panel behind the report was to “examine the future role of the provincial government in promoting economic growth, strong communities, fiscal responsibility and accountability.”

This report includes a number of recommendations which have become reality today. For example, it recommended the establishment of an Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), combining both the federal Goods and Services Tax and Provincial Sales Tax.

The report also favoured providing further support for major urban centres of the province, at the expense of rural and remote areas.

“Ontarians have been migrating to the cities for some time. Urbanization has been the story of Ontario and Canada … both socially and economically over the post-War period,” the report states. “Ontario’s urban areas generate most of Ontario’s economic activity and are home to the majority of its population. Canada’s ability to compete in the global economy is increasingly tied to the health and wealth of its cities.

“The percentage of Ontarians living in cities with more than 10,000 people increased from just over 50% in 1951 to over 80% by 2001. This urbanization raises a number of concerns, notably the fiscal capacity of cities, the impact on the environment, and the future viability of rural and remote communities.”
Encouraging growth in rural and remote areas — in terms of Northern Ontario, this includes any community but Sudbury and Thunder Bay — is not a priority.

“The sustainability of many small, rural and remote communities in Ontario is a matter of considerable concern,” the report reads. “While recent population trends do not indicate alarming levels of population decline in such communities, growth is largely limited to areas where more than 30% of residents commute to urban centres.

“In some communities, a lack of economic opportunities and recent demographic trends suggest that population decline will continue and will deepen in the future. The provincial government’s primary goal in dealing with small, rural and remote communities should be to ensure that they have access to a reasonable level of public goods and services and programs that assist those living in at-risk areas with the challenges of community restructuring.

“The province should phase out regional economic development programs, such as the provision of subsidies and tax incentives to businesses, which risk promoting permanent government-induced dependency.”

In terms of youth out-migration from areas like the North, the report says the provincial government should be encouraging young people to go to major urban centres to further aid the development of big cities.

For the rest of this column, please go to the Timmins Daily Press website: http://www.thedailypress.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3189949