It is difficult to remember the last time Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals did something right for Northern Ontario’s economy. For a government that perpetually has its head up a dark cavity on Northern issues, putting forestry back under the umbrella of the Ministry of Natural Resources was like a positive first step toward making amends with this region.
The decision essentially reverses a decision the same government made two years ago to have forestry governed by two ministries — the MNR and Northern Development and Mines.
The consequence of that decision was that forestry had to deal with two sets of government bureaucracies with different sets of priorities. Last week’s cabinet shuffle set that mistake right.
The other positive thing McGuinty did was hand the ministerial responsibilities for mining and forestry to the Liberals’ two Northern ministers — Michael Gravelle and Rick Bartolucci.
One would assume, that only makes sense having Northern ministers in charge of mining and forestry.
But when we’re talking about a government that thinks reintroducing caribou at the expense of Northern industry is a good idea, anything that makes sense is going to be a refreshing change.
Bartolucci needs to focus on maximizing job creation and economic benefits from expanding mining operation to Northern communities.
Meanwhile, if Gravelle is smart, he will approach his new responsibilities by cleaning the slate and rectifying some of the concerns that have made Northerners upset with McGuinty’s Liberal government.
There are forest management plans on the table throughout the province which in the long term will result in major reductions in fibre access.
Gravelle needs to address this and ensure we have a thriving forest industry in Ontario that can supply the U.S. housing market when that economy picks up again.
As the new minister of Natural Resources, he also needs to ensure the province’s objectives in preserving caribou habitat and reintroducing them in areas where they haven’t existed in 100 years, don’t steamroll over the economic needs of Northern communities and industries.
If Gravelle can address these problems, introduce balanced and realistic government objectives, and ensure the economic needs of Northerners, we would happily hail him as a political hero.
Now, that would be a refreshing change.