New thinking is needed if Northern Ontario is ever going to restructure and reinvigorate its economy, a new report from the Northern Policy Institute suggests. Author Charles Conteh, a Brock University professor, said in his study, Economic Zones of Northern Ontario: City-Regions and Industrial Corridors, that Northern communities must be given the tools to control their economic development.
He said the top-down approach of senior levels of government towards Northern Ontario hasn’t — and won’t — work. “Due to the significant diversity between communities in Northern Ontario, policies and planning aimed at addressing specific economic challenges are more valuable than one-size-fits-all, top-down programs,” Conteh said.
“Economic zones offer an opportunity for upper levels of government to frame a new kind of partnership guided by the priorities of communities.” Conteh said it’s a mistake to think of Northern Ontario as one or two regions, or as five urban-centred regions, because they do not reflect the reality of northern diversity.
Even approaches based on census districts do not allow for strategic thinking at the local level reflective of economic, demographic and geographic realities, he said. Instead, he argues Northern Ontario is made up of 11 distinct economic zones or clusters.
To be truly effective, local governance, economic development planning and government investment activities must recognize and allow for this diversity of communities, Conteh said. According to the report, economic development does not need rigid governance structures, but fluid platforms to address specific needs and explore shared opportunities.
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