Some suggest inviting Premier McGuinty to a Northern Ontario summit
Northeastern Ontario’s municipal leaders, our elected voices across the North, are worried that their voices are falling on deaf ears at the higher levels of government.
The problem is so bad that Northern leaders are discussing whether to pool their money to hire professional lobbyists to speak out on behalf of the North at Queen’s Park.
The issue was debated at length this past week when the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association (NEOMA) held its Winter-Spring meeting at the McIntyre auditorium.
The key concern is whether government is listening to Northern municipalities on such issues as severely limited logging in the Abitibi River Forest and the perceived need to protect caribou habitat. In both cases, the municipalities are worried that southern Ontario policies are being imposed on Northern Ontario without regard to the economic realities of the north.
CARIBOU? WHAT CARIBOU?
The MNR plan is to create recovery zones in the north and if they wait long enough woodland caribou will make a comeback. The concern is that no logging, mining or other development will be allowed in the recovery zones. The plan is roundly criticized by most Northern politicians who grumble privately that if you really wait long enough, the wooly mammoth will come back too.
NEOMA chair, and Timmins mayor, Tom Laughren told the meeting that he and other NEOMA members were able to travel to Queen’s Park in early December for a meeting with Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle.
“I consider that we had a very good meeting with Minister Gravelle, and really to make a long story short from our perspective, we really talked about the impact to the communities,” Laughren told the meeting.
“I believe as a group we made it very clear to the minister that communities were no longer going to put up with this; that we very much had to be part of the plan, that we very much had to be part of the solution and we very much had to be part of dialogue that is unfolding,” said Laughren.
“Minister Gravelle at that meeting took what we said and I think he was very sincere in his comments about recognizing that we had a huge stake in this and that we pretty much had to be part of this,” Laughren continued.
Gravelle was looking for what he termed was “a balanced approach”, said Laughren.
“At that meeting he suggested to us he would be back to us at some point in January with his plan moving forward,” said Laughren, who then added that Gravelle has not been in touch at all.
Laughren said the plan now is to set up a new meeting with the minister at the annual convention of the Ontario Good Roads Association which takes place from February 26th to the 29th.
“This is a huge issue and has huge consequences for the whole Northeast region,” said Laughren.
He added that the North also to do more lobbying on the issue of hydro-electric energy rates, since it relates directly to the issue of whether the principals involved in the Ring of Fire mining development will be likely to build a ferro-chrome smelter in Ontario.
Laughren also told the NEOMA meeting that he spoke with the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission in December and expressed his wish that Ontario Northland needs to become involved in the Ring of Fire.
LOSING A WAY OF LIFE
Cochrane mayor Peter Politis said his concern about the need for lobbying is that the Northern Ontario way of life will be lost if southern politicians and interest groups continue to dictate policy to the North.
Mayor Politis said even if all Northern Ontario MPPs were on side with the municipal leaders, they “are still fighting an uphill battle.”
He added that the southern based environmental groups are not large groups at all but they have learned how to raise money and have other people pay for the lobbying effort. Politis said he is willing to put a report together on how NEOMA could adopt a similar strategy.
Hearst Mayor Roger Sigouin expressed frustration over the caribou issue and the fact that municipal leaders have been speaking out against the Endangered Species Act for the past three or four years, but no one in the provincial government appears willing to listen. Sigouin said provincial officials seem to work in isolation without any regard for the socio-economic realities of Northern Ontario.
The Hearst mayor said the caribou issue is just the beginning and that other species will also be identified as needing protection.
Black River Matheson mayor Mike Milinkovich said the lobbying efforts should not only be restricted to protecting mining and forestry, but also to agriculture, which Milinkovich said will continue to play an important role in the region.
Politis added that the need for lobbying is serious, more serious than many Northerners might realize because of the caribous protection issue.
MILLS WILL SHUT DOWN
“Make no mistake. There will be communities with mills that will shut down. You cannot take half of the forest away and have an economy that depends on forest industries not suffer,” said Politis.
He said there is also a domino effect in that some communities rely on lumber while others rely on supplies of wood chips.
“When those sawmills shut down, the chip supply shuts down along with them,” he warned.
Politis also said there is a serious disconnect between the provincial politicians, who all seem like good caring people, and their party policies that totally ignore the human factor when policies are put into place.
Timmins city council member Mike Doody said he understood the need to speak as a region, but he did not immediately seem to endorse the idea of spending money on a lobbyist, saying it could take a lot of time and money.
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