The Divided [Ontario] North – by Livio Di Matteo (October 10, 2011)

Livio Di Matteo is Professor of Economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Visit his new Economics Blog “Northern Economist” at

One of the most interesting results of the October 6th provincial election is the urban rural divide in Ontario – a divide that also characterizes the North.  The GTA is mainly Liberal red with a few NDP exceptions and the Ottawa area is largely Liberal. A glance at the Toronto Star’s election map paints the North as a sea of orange with islands of red in Sudbury and the Sault – and somewhat larger swaths in Thunder Bay-Superior North and Thunder Bay Atikokan. 

Those two ridings, however are dominated by Thunder Bay which makes them mainly urban. As for the Near North, Muskoka-Parry Sound and Nipissing, they are both Progressive Conservative but are more traditional rural areas that have been long-time areas of conservative support.

What might this mean?  For the two major Ontario political parties, their leaderships will need to get to work devising strategies to bring in their respective alienated voters.  For the Liberals, whose policies in Green Energy and knowledge and health sector economy investments are seen as primarily urban policies, they will need to craft policies that appeal to rural voters. 

For the Progressive Conservatives, they will need to create policies that appeal to their rural base and also attract urban voters without alienating their rural base.  For the New Democrats, their support seems to be Northern resource rural and southern Ontario industrial urban – suggesting their appeal is protest against the job losses from economic change but how they plan to keep such diverse voters together will be a challenge.

For the North, these results suggest an even greater division to add along to the ones of geography.  The voters of the larger cities of the urban North seem to have more in common with voters in downtown Toronto than in the rural resource hinterlands outside their cities.  In Thunder Bay, for example, while the forest sector crisis led to major job losses, much of the government investment in health, research and education also went into Thunder Bay making it a beneficiary of the provincial government’s urban oriented policies.  The area outside of Thunder Bay, on the other hand, has had a much tougher go. 

It bore the brunt of employment losses but does not have the population density to benefit from knowledge sector urban style investments.  It is likely a similar story in the northeast in the relationship between Sudbury and the Sault and their surrounding regions.  For a region with wide distances and low population density in general, this additional internal divide will make it more difficult to find common ground on northern policies and strategies.