The idea of regional government [Northern Ontario] – Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal Editorial (November 19, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

WHAT does a former Winnipeg mayor-turned Toronto MPP know about Northwestern Ontario? Quite a lot, it seems. Glen Murray, running to replace Premier Dalton McGuinty, is pitching an idea that officials in this region have been seeking in some form for decades — regional government.

Parsing Murray’s plan will take time but area leaders were quick to endorse its thrust: Give Northerners control over their own resources, energy, transportation, infrastructure, employment and training, and regional planning. Northerners could set their own resource tax rates and energy prices and they’d get a proportional share of provincial tax revenues.

This is where the proposal needs detail. A Northern government would be formed with a corresponding reduction of the power and budget held by Queen’s Park, Murray said. Just what power would remain in Toronto and how much real autonomy for setting policy would come here? Queen’s Park will not let go completely the hand that holds the lion’s share of Ontario resource wealth.

Murray’s idea is well worth detailed consideration. At the same time, northerners should not be too quick to simply abandon the south and its seat of government. This region has relied heavily on provincial funds and programs and must consider carefully what might be given up to finally achieve more control over our destiny.

Murray appears to have done some homework on this file. He reiterated the many attempts made “to try and make the North work . . . None of them have been sufficient.”

Northern leaders would nod in agreement. One policy and program after another has been trotted out by every provincial party in government and still the North’s economy does not match either its natural wealth or its potential.

Will regional government do it? How soon can Northerners fashion enough ideas into new, unique policies to usher in the era we’re all still waiting for? The new mining boom will surely be a catalyst, but balancing the interests of industry, municipalities, First Nations and, yes, Queen’s Park, will test such a fundamental new form of government.

The idea is not new. Among its more detailed examinations came in a 2006 paper in Canadian Public Policy that may have given Murray the inclination to propose it now.

The paper explored three options for doing government differently here: union with Manitoba (recall that Murray was Winnipeg’s mayor), provincial status and regional government. That third option was seen as the easiest and probably most realistic provided that Queen’s Park is willing to surrender powers like Crown land management and allow a regional power authority.

Murray appears to be on board with that. It now falls to the other leadership candidates to top his idea or prove that it won’t work. That will be a tough sell here in the Northwest which can and must control its own destiny.