Sudbury Star Editorial: What Northern Ontario needs from Ottawa – by Don MacDonald (Sudbury Star – August 17, 2016)

Voters in Northern Ontario were good to Justin Trudeau and federal Liberals, giving the party seven seats in its return to power in 2015, including the Sudbury area’s two ridings. So in a way, it’s no surprise that Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet are meeting in the Nickel City for a retreat, starting Saturday.

The cabinet has a lot on its plate, as all federal cabinets do. But given where they are meeting, let’s hope Trudeau and his ministers take some time to consider what Northern Ontario and Greater Sudbury could use from the federal Liberal government.

If the ministers spend any time on Sudbury’s roads, they will learn quickly they are a mess. The City of Greater Sudbury is spending less than half of what it should each year to maintain its roads; there is a backlog of hundreds of millions worth of work that needs to be done and little money to do it. It’s a backlog that grows every year.

Ottawa and the province are planning to spend billions on infrastructure. A specific program with significant dollars targeting repairs to existing infrastructure would be welcome in Sudbury and many other cities in Canada.

This weekend would be a good time for Trudeau and his cabinet to re-affirm their support for the Ring of Fire in northwestern Ontario. They could also gently but firmly (they are political cousins, after all) nudge their provincial counterparts to get moving on developing the region. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government seems content to study the issue rather than making any hard decisions.

FedNor could use a boost. Also known as the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, FedNor’s purpose and funding was diluted under the previous Conservative government. A reboot is in order, along with new funding.

Of course, FedNor is little more than a patronage tool unless there is an economic plan developed for the North by Northerners. To do that, Ottawa and Queen’s Park must get out of the way and let Northerners develop one. Again, Ottawa needs to nudge the province in that direction.

Northern Ontario is bleeding jobs and population, something the cabinet needs to acknowledge. Sudbury in the past has shown it is possible for a Northern community to rebuild a local economy. Northern Ontario, as a region, can do it also if its leaders can put aside their differences and work together (which would be a task in itself). At the right time, support and money from Ottawa and Queen’s Park can help Northern Ontario make such a plan work and lead to real change and prosperity.

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