Sudbury Accent: Northern Ontario being strangled [Part 1 of 5] – by Stan Sudol (Sudbury Star – June 2, 2018)

On June 7, the people of Ontario will be going to the polls in one of the most pivotal elections in the province’s history. While Northern Ontario – north of the French and Mattawa rivers, as I have never recognized the Parry Sound and Muskoka ridings as being part of the North – encompasses roughly 90 per cent of the province’s land mass, its population has been steadily declining to slightly over five per cent of Ontario’s total.

Unfortunately, our impact on provincial policies is almost negligible.

A buck a beer, cheaper gas, tax breaks combined with unaffordable infrastructure and social commitments, twinning the trans-Canada in Northern Ontario, buying back Hydro One and jumping on a bulldozer to start building the road into the Ring of Fire are part of a bevy of mostly worthy but unsustainable promises Conservative Doug Ford, Liberal Kathleen Wynne and NDP Andrea Horwath have made.

However, I seldom hear any actual policy initiatives to grow the economy and create wealth so we can afford all these election initiatives and perhaps, just perhaps, put a little money on our provincial debt, which has more than doubled during the past 15 years under the McGuinty/Wynne Liberal era, from about $138 billion in 2003-04 to $325 billion today and growing. By the way, this is the largest sub-national debt in the world and twice as large as California, which has a population of almost 40 million. We are paying roughly $1 billion a month to service that debt. That will surely rise when interest rates, which are at historic lows, eventually start going up.

Needless to say, in last Sunday’s final leader’s debate to a wide Ontario audience, there was not one mention about Northern Ontario or policies that could significantly increase this region’s prosperity with positive impacts on the south.

If I could borrow a lyric from Timmins-born international music star Shania Twain, “that don’t impress me much!”

First, I need to mention some geographic context for our largely uninformed fellow Ontarians who live in the south. Northern Ontario is astonishingly huge. Northwestern Ontario encompasses 526,417 square kilometres with a population of about 231,000 people. (All population stats are from 2016.) Northeastern Ontario has 280,290 square kilometres with a population of roughly 505,625. In contrast, the size of southern Ontario is 140,000 square kilometres and holds the vast majority of the approximate 14 million people who call this province home. Spain’s 50 million people have to make due with 505,370 square kilometres, just a bit smaller that northwestern Ontario alone.

The population of First Nations who belong to Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) – both on and off reserve – across the entire north is about 45,000 people. NAN is an Aboriginal political organization representing 49 First Nation communities that encompass James Bay Treaty No. 9 and the Ontario’s portion of Treaty No. 5 territories.

Many of the communities are isolated and only accessible by air or winter roads, which are becoming less useful because of shorter seasons due to global warming. In the northwest, most of these FNs are near some of the most promising mineral rich geology on the planet.

A recent National Post article highlighted the perennial issue of Northern Ontario separation.

As usual, the southern media view political separation in a somewhat amusing and simplified manner and rarely look beyond the declining resources issue and investigate the enormous opposition to well-paying, middle-class jobs in forestry and mining by well-funded media-savvy environmental movements who lobby to turn much of the north into provincial parks. A few years ago at a Northwestern Ontario Prospectors Association conference in Thunder Bay, I remember a popular button slogan that stated, “Develop the North and Park the South!”

While I am very sympathetic to the idea of a separate province that would be much larger or comparable in size to Canada’s three territories and the much smaller Atlantic jurisdictions, the political reality would make this very difficult – though the separation of the Northwest Territories (44,600 people) and Nunavut (36,000 people) and their tiny populations, does give some hope. Sudbury, the largest city in Northern Ontario, has 165,000 inhabitants.

And I do want to point out that historically, the good citizens of the north were never allowed to vote on the issue of joining southern Ontario and still feel it was a massive resource grab by southern politicians — a provincial version of “manifest destiny.” One can easily understand the resentment and bitterness at being treated as a resource colony or a preserved green summer playground for southerners, still to this very day.

In the not widely seen premier’s northern policy debate held in Parry Sound, Conservative Doug Ford did strike a resonating cord by repeating the term “fanatical environmentalists” and variations on that term. It is an issue that resonates with all northerners and is the most divisive issue between the north and the two Queen’s Park ministries that have an enormous, and I may say “largely negative” impact on the region’s economy — the Ministry Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

In addition, Ford highlighted the NDP candidate for Lanark-Frontenac and Kingston, Ramsey Hart, who worked for Mining Watch Canada – an organization that has never supported mineral development anywhere in the world.

And the 2010 Liberal Far North Act – promoted by the environmental movement – which mandated half of the far north to be set aside as parks was bitterly, bitterly opposed by most of the First Nations and non-Aboriginals throughout Northern Ontario and has been a major impediment to resource development.

The legislation intends to protect 225,000 square kilometres of boreal forest – significantly larger than all of southern Ontario – from development. An unintended consequence of all this “green ideology” is continued FNs poverty and an epidemic of child suicides unmatched anywhere else in the world.

A quick tangent on my background might be in order to give a bit of relevancy to my strong opinions and policy proposals. I previously worked in a number of ministries in Queen’s Park in the late 1990s and early 2000s – always in the bureaucracy, not in the political staff as a communications consultant – that included the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat and ministries of Northern Development and Mines and Finance, just to name a few.

I am originally from Sudbury and worked in the summer of 1980 underground at Inco’s Frood-Stobie Mine and a few years before at the company’s Clarabelle Mill for a year. Like many of my generation, I moved south to Toronto, but have always followed northern issues and politics. As the old saying goes, “you can take the boy out of the North, but you can’t take the North out of the boy.”

That “political chip on my shoulder” is based on decades of dealing with the North’s substandard roads and services and seeing my region’s vast resource potential being held back by “fanatical southern environmentalists and feckless politicians” – overrun by “politically correct green/carbon politics” that is only impoverishing the people – especially the marginalized First nations of the Far North.

And all for what?

Ontario contributes an insignificant 0.48 per cent of global carbon emissions. The entire country emits roughly 1.8 per cent. You could wipe Canada off the map and there would be an absolutely insignificant impact on reducing global carbon emissions.

I am not suggesting we do nothing; however, the economic impact of our actions must be in relation to our very tiny global contributions and they must not strangle the economy, diminish our ability to pay for our social services like health care and education, threaten our high standard of living or deficit finance ourselves into financial insolvency. This is also a message for the green zealots in the prime minister’s office, as well.

To date, the economic damage done by our carbon reducing schemes – Green Energy Act and Far North Act – and the continued opposition to northern resource development in the name of green ideology is far, far out of proportion to our global emissions.

The best example of how “out-of-control” and “drunk on power” the Ministry of Environment and Climate change has become is their requirement that during the construction of new mines, the owners must estimate the amount of carbon emissions that will be produced from their portable toilets. I am not kidding. Fifteen years of Liberal over regulation and carbon obsession has come down to measuring the amount of gas produced by construction workers on northern mine sites. It is to weep.

Since the none of the leader’s debates really covered the needs of Northern Ontario in a substantive way – I understand the time limits of television – I have decided to present a somewhat brief out line of some of the more important policy issues that the new premier might consider in helping this extraordinary region meet its enormous economic potential. I thank in advance the many people who shared their terrific ideas with me and please forgive me for not being able to include all of your very worthy ideas due to time and space.

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant, freelance mining columnist and owner/editor of

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For Part 2 of 5: