The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
SEVEN Ontario Liberals who want to lead the party came to a weekend debate in Thunder Bay, mainly to say how they’d do the North differently. Each of them had some proposal for a new degree of autonomy here. Each of them recognized that their party, and the others, have failed to tend to the North enough over the years and promised that, if selected to replace outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty, things up here will be different.
We say “up here” because all of the candidates are from deep in southern Ontario and, naturally, have not had a lot to do with the North until now.
Now, they are turning their backs, to one degree or another, on what their government has done concerning Northern Ontario in order to convince Northerners that a Liberal party under their leadership will do things better. It will provide the North with more decision-making, a bigger share in its own resources and more attention to lingering issues of social inequality. Despite this region’s long sense of alienation from Queen’s Park, each of them suddenly understands the North. And yet all of them have been cabinet ministers, some as recently as October. What’s changed?
Their personal aspirations. Whereas they used to be concerned with their own ridings and their particular cabinet responsibilities, now they must think of Ontario as a whole. Now, the North matters. It matters because there are issues here that have gone unresolved, if not been ignored, for far too long. It matters because, once examined, issues here really are considerably different than those in the rest of Ontario and deserve different considerations and require different answers.
The Northwest in particular really matters, of course, because the new mining boom here will be the economic salvation of a province that is undergoing a painful reduction in services largely in order to pay for this very Liberal government’s own spending habits dating from the day it first took office.
The most significant difference among all of these candidates’ increased interest in the North is how far they are willing to extend the Queen’s Park leash. Glen Murray would agree to a regional government whereas Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne want no such separation within Ontario. Everyone agreed to give First Nations more attention but we have heard that for as long as anyone can remember.
Northern mayors and reeves know they’ve finally got a big stick in the mining boom and they intend making the most of it. The Liberals need those allies and each of these candidates knows their municipal cousins are watching. Pan-northern support will be coveted by the candidate who can secure it.
Meanwhile, all candidates are preparing for debates in Ottawa, Ajax and Toronto, where they will promise equally close attention to those areas, before purporting to speak for all Ontarians at a Toronto convention in January.