The south’s the target in battle for Northern Ontario – by Steve Ladurantaye (Globe and Mail – September 23, 2011)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

“There is a lack of regard by Mr. McGuinty for the people
and issues of Northern Ontario. I know our quality of life
could be so much better and our economic security could be
so much better with the right policies that reflect our
northern way of life.” (Progressive Conservative candidate
 Rod McKay – Kenora–Rainy River riding)

KENORA, ONT.— As the province’s political leaders plowed for votes in Southern Ontario, a more bare-knuckled version of democracy was breaking out in the North.

For the first time in 12 years, someone other than former NDP leader Howard Hampton will be sent to Queen’s Park to represent the sprawling 250,000-square-kilometre riding of Kenora–Rainy River. And the candidates are desperate to persuade voters they’ll find a way to bring jobs to a region that’s struggled to diversify from a forestry-based economy to one driven by both mining and tourism.

In a chalet-like conference room at a Super 8 motel, candidates argued fiercely over the fine details of northern development. But they agreed on one theme – the North and its wealth of natural resources are on the rise, and the south had best not stand in the way.

“There have been great ideas in the past,” said the Green Party’s Jo Jo Holiday, setting the tone in the opening minutes of the debate. “But they are Toronto people who think they know the North and think it goes no further than Sudbury. We are unique and we need to be treated as such.”

With Mr. Hampton out of the picture, NDP candidate (and former Hampton staffer) Sarah Campbell is in a tight fight with Liberal Anthony Leek and Progressive Conservative Rod McKay. The Northern Heritage Party – which dissolved decades ago but was recently resurrected in a bid to raise awareness of northern issues – is running Charmaine Romaniuk, an anthropology student from Lakehead University.

The party’s leaders have made northern development key portions of their platforms so far in the campaign, despite its relatively few legislative seats. Both the Liberals and NDP have visited already on campaign stops, and PC Leader Tim Hudak will face NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in a debate Friday night in Thunder Bay in what is being hailed as the first “northern” debate in recent history. (Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty had previously declined to participate.)

It’s a long way from the plowing matches in Eastern Ontario that the leaders took part in Tuesday, but both the NDP and Conservatives are promising to reduce the cost of electricity – a key issue in the North. And while they are likely to argue about the best way to develop northern resources, the 100 residents who braved the rain in Kenora and the candidates who want to represent them are more focused on local issues.

Campaign managers are working from a single truth: You don’t win over the riding’s 78,000 citizens with platforms, you win them over by campaigning against Toronto.

“It worked for Hampton for years and that’s what you’re seeing here tonight,” one manager said afterward.

While the candidates started out amicably, the debate quickly degenerated into a series of anecdotes and personal attacks the candidates said were borne out of a sense of frustration and a desire to move beyond planning to create jobs for the region.

Mr. McKay, for example, said he knew of specific examples of companies that considered bringing jobs to the region, but didn’t because of the amount of paperwork involved. He didn’t name names.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail webstite: