THIS ARTICLE IS INTENDED TO PROMOTE OR AT LEAST STIMULATE THE POSSIBILITY A NEW SEPARATE PROVINCE OF NORTHERN ONTARIO WITHIN CONFEDERATION.
The Province of Ontario is divided along geographic, economic and political lines not to mention a vast north south population disparity. Many residents of the north have consistently voiced the opinion that those living outside the "Golden Horseshoe Region" along the Highway 401 corridor are treated
like second class citizens. To support the reality of the statement consider the political divide with the strength of the opposition NDP party in the northern part of the province indicating a dissatisfaction with traditional major parties.
Another aspect of the disparity is the sad case of the collapse of the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake that claimed the lives of two local women. The subsequent rescue attempt brings to light the differences with treating disasters in Northern Ontario compared to similar events in the more populated and better disaster-accident equipped south. Would a similar catastrophic event anywhere along the 401 corridor have the same results? Would the search for bodies have been called off requiring a citizen protest to complete the rescue-recovery mission in any of the more populated regions of Ontario, or anywhere else in the country for that matter?
All political parties claim to know the needs and wants of the people living north of the French River to the shores of James Bay stretching east from Mattawa west to the Manitoba border. Every party leader and the back room builder of political brands claim researched knowledge of those needs often offering meaningless lip service to the people living in the north. That supposed knowledge is mostly based on political ideals.
There are also hundreds if not thousands of municipal politicians and public servants dependent on the generosity of Queen's Park to fulfill their obligation to the local electorate and maintain good paying jobs. Whether a municipal equipment operator, the fellow trimming trees or the administrator working for the towns, villages, or even working for one of the five major Northern Ontario cities, everyone must be subservient to their Queen's Park masters. All must follow the rules laid out by the majority of people living south of our region in order to obtain funding for improvement programs or even upgrading and maintenance needs.
In the last century when manufacturing jobs in southern, southwestern, or even eastern Ontario were the backbone of the economy the north was considered a less important part of the province from a political standpoint. The north has always had a strong lumber and woods manufacturing base together with the lucrative mining sector feeding provincial, federal and municipal coffers. Those base industries provided enough income to keep the majority of elected members relatively quiet about planning in the north. The development of four lane highways has to compete for funding with subway expansion and southern Ontario highway expansion although a great deal of the funding for those projects comes from resource operations in the north.
In the 1960’s a forward looking minister of the Davis PC government noticed serious discontent beginning to surface due to the north being virtually ignored. The Honorable Allan Lawrence suggested the solution might be to establish a Department of Mines division named Northern Affairs offering residents of the north a direct contact with all government agencies. The new department was staffed with senior, respected civil servants from all other departments given the strength to challenge the workings of established government departments agencies and boards controlling the way the province operated in the north. The new department it was envisioned could not be circumvented by the bureaucracy controlled by the powerful Toronto based ministries. The officers selected from among the ranks of the province’s civil service were of course steeped in the civil service tradition to follow orders without question so soon succumbed to opposition from management officials in almost every other provincial department. The experiment faltered to be replaced by a new idea that the other department’s would condone. The department's role changed even more when the government changed and the NDP came into power. The NDP was and is a citizen based party with a reputation for meeting the needs of people through contact with constituency offices. Many of the NDP offices were in the same towns and villages as Northern Affairs offices. The problem was especially exasperating in ridings with an elected NDP member. The department went through many changes since being established in 1970.
Eventually when ministries replaced government departments the Ministry of Northern Development become the ministry to serve northerners. To validate the new ministry a large building was erected in Sudbury to house the ever increasing staff. The role changed and expanded to include administration of a well funded Northern Heritage Fund and becoming the coordinating ministry for most northern projects and programs. Once the Ministry of Northern Development was heavily funded the borders of its mandate were expanded to include Muskoka in the central part of the province effectively diluting Northern Ontario of the original proposed northern department. The change was supported since Northern Ontario population of less than a million people is in a province of almost 13 million give or take a million. However now an exciting future for resource industries and rapid expansion of education facilities, retail super stores and a different brand or culture of citizens, the need to recognize the North's potential is quickly beginning to surface.
THE CURRENT BOOM IN MINING EXPANSION
There is a shifting of worldwide assets going on in the financial world with a host of foreign corporations positioned to amalgamate and change to capitalize on the future of Northern Ontario’s resource extraction. The information flow might begin with the DeBeers Victoria Diamond Mine in lowlands of James Bay purported to be the best diamond mine in the world. The fact according to a recent media report that US billionaire Warren Buffet is interested in the possibilities surrounding the DeBeers site gives the development a great deal of creditability as a future major source of provincial revenue from diamonds. A recent media report relates to the American Cliffs Natural Resources Ring of Fire. The unparallel chromite metal hardener and other valuable mineral deposits north of Thunder Bay is giving the mining industry super status in the world of high finance. Plans include a proposed smelting operation under consideration for the Sudbury region. Encountering political and First Nation land problems at present the development is as extensive and lucrative as the Alberta Oil Sands making it another major Northern Ontario development waiting to begin possibly as early as 2017. More recent media articles following the progress of the Ring of Fire project proposes a more clouded future for the program or alternatively the people intent on moving the project forward taking a different tact. Various Northern Ontario Chambers of Commerce are currently trying to amalgamate northern professionals and the business community into a body that could publicize the possibly $50 billion dollar R of F development benefitting the north to some degree, but essentially setting the stage for trying to convince the provincial government to promote the development. Most of the vast numbers
of people in the south of the province are not aware the resources in the north are the prime source of future economic health. However major financing enterprises and both senior levels of government are well aware of the potential.
In another aspect of efforts to stimulate the R of F potential a proposed new rail line and/or an all weather road is a prospect creating a direct link from the isolated site over 500 kms north of Thunderbay to a new proposed Chromite processing smelter near the town of Capreol in the Regional City of Greater Sudbury. The R of F proposed project needs environmental group and First Nation support. Several First Nation communities in the region are affected by the proposed expansion that will undoubtedly benefit the entire province and the country. One aspect of the project that is mentioned but not seriously considered is the potential for developing stainless steel manufacturing facilities in the southern part of the province. Such a movement would compensate for the loss of manufacturing occurring due to the recent shift to foreign countries. Shipping Canada’s abundant supply of natural resources south of the border or offshore to Europe, Asia or South American nations for manufacturing is not in the best interest of Canadians. A serious movement for a separate province of Northern Ontario would undoubtedly force politicians and the next generation of job seekers to support the movement or conversely pressure the government to establish new Canadian manufacturing facilities based on the north's resources.
Added to those two recognized future mammoth mining developments is the current merger of Xstrata (formerly Falconbridge Nickel) and Glencore’s Sudbury integrated Nickel Operations. The firm predicts the reopening of two former mines considered valuable again in the Sudbury Nickel basin. Glencore’s list of operating mines in the basin makes the case even more feasible for consideration of exploring the idea a financially stable new province.
Then there is one of the most exciting new mining development set to begin in the former Victoria Mine that was closed in the 1920’s after a near disastrous mine collapse. Recent exploration according to the one report indicates the reopened mine and surrounding ore deposits could possible match the original ore body that Inco and more recently Vale mined for more than a century. Two reasons surface for serious consideration of establishing a province of Northern Ontario to take advantage of the new found Northern Ontario prosperity. The first being that the minerals extracted in the future are currently destined to be processed mainly out of the province. With the southern part of the present province structure losing the resource rich north as a source of funding there would be a higher likelihood of Ontario developing processing facilities for Northern Ontario resources in the province. The second reason for the Northern Ontario province status is that the huge amount of revenue generated by the new developments will probably be swallowed up by the Toronto based Province of Ontario administration and Northern Ontario will not realize its rightful share of the prosperity. The strength of a preponderance of most elected legislature members from other parts of the province means politics will dictate that those other heavily populated regions will absorb the new found government funding to expand and pay down past debt. For that reason Northern Ontario must attract dynamic young political people intent on protecting and projecting the future resource income to benefit the north. The present appears to be the right time to begin a movement to establish a separate Province of Northern Ontario within the confederation of Canada. The need to accelerate the current slow steady growth of all sectors of development in Northern Ontario is the reason for proposing a new provincial designation for Northern Ontario.
Another reason for considering a separate province points to growth already underway. Fifty years ago a northern university was a fledgling idea that has since become a large campus with an ever spiraling curriculum beginning to be recognized across Canada. From an institute that many considered on the border of substandard from a university standpoint, Laurentian University with its expanded campuses and reputation for promoting bilingual learning projects and programs is now considered a learning institute for not only Canadian but foreign students to consider. The recent launching of the Northern Medical School and downtown Sudbury School of Architecture make it a fast growing facility. The choice of many students graduating from a large group of local high schools and community colleges including the prestigious French Language College Boreal find Laurentian University is becoming a major learning institute to attend keeping our youth in the north.
The amalgamation of outlying communities into the City of Greater Sudbury reportedly changed the character of the nickel city from an almost frontier mining town into a cosmopolitan city. From the beginning with a 65% population of French-Canadian ancestry throughout Northern Ontario a determination to preserve the language and culture of the highly visible francophone character was a foregone conclusion. Most people living in other parts of the country and the world depict Northern Ontario primarily as a wilderness area with great hunting, fishing and outdoor experiences. Although those things are found in Northern Ontario and promoted in other parts of the country, the growth of culture and community along with a burgeoning retail sector in all the major centers is drawing people to the north. The retail development trend in recent years stabilized the drift of northern residents travelling to the large cultural and shopping centers in the south. With the described issues as a basis, moving forward would undoubtedly accelerate the growth potential of Northern Ontario and establish a fairer share of the financial wealth the area generates for the province. The acceleration could be sufficient for the region to attain status considered equal to some provinces already enjoying provincial status.
Northern Ontario consists of hundreds of small municipalities with little influence on the way the province funds programs and projects. The north will need major political and administrative modernization in the near future. There are organizations such as the Federation of Northern Municipalities and a few lesser type associations that have limited input into the workings of theprovince. Most meetings with municipal representatives from the north are limited by the fact that the province usually invites attendance so municipalities can vent complaints, concerns and suggestions for change. However the preponderance of needs for the spending of government funds comes from the heavily populated communities. Small northern municipalities are usually offered far less provincial funding even though the region generates and has the potential to continue building the wealth needed for the province to remain one of the political engines directing Canadian growth and stability.
Northern Ontario has a land area larger than most other provinces and a resource base just as great if not greater than Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, or Quebec. The economic resource potential far surpasses some other provinces. The region should be recognized as more than a less than significant area of small cities and small municipalities that can be ignored in the future. Reviewing the traditional dependency on the Queen’s Park ministries to accelerate the future development of the region is an implement for change.
Muskoka designated as part of Northern Ontario to take advantage of the Ontario Government decision to increase funding to the north through the Northern Development Heritage Fund is not right. The region is actually more closely aligned with the Golden Horseshoe. Muskoka has less economic potential than the north except as a cottage and recreation area for the growing masses in the south of the province. If a new provincial designation for the north were ever to occur Muskoka might be hard pressed to remain part of a new Province of Northern Ontario.
NEED FOR NATIVE INCLUSION IN A NORTHERN PROVINCE
A proposal or even a dream creating a separate province for the north would not be possible without including the large number of First Nation communities of Northern Ontario. Negotiations to include native leaders would possibly be the real motivation for considering provincial status for Northern Ontario. First Nation communities in general have a monumental future task in convincing the Federal Government to honor the treaty rights interpretation and other jurisdictional items currently on the agenda. If convinced that support for a separate province of Northern Ontario was a consideration both sides would probably benefit. Those in communities adjacent to First Nation Reserves advocating the status change could pick up a significant ally while First Nations would have a strong major tool for negotiating their own cause.
The benefit to northern municipalities would be obvious as most resource expansion previously mentioned is situated on or near some isolated and poverty stricken First Nation communities in dire need of the sort of funding that could be derived from a separate province. The plan could facilitate obtaining the wealth and control necessary to fund a more centralize government for the north. A modern northern province would undoubtedly create the ability to open new avenues of negotiation solving what appears to be the future for all levels of government concerning long term negotiations with First Nations organizations. Media coverage points to the plight of northern reserves that must be resolved. It is undoubtedly essential for government to find the resources, jobs and funding to change the situation. Funding will be the most essential part of bringing underprivileged First Nation communities into the modern age. Training, schooling, upgrading conditions while fostering the idea of a future with potential for those living in third world conditions is and will be more of a priority in the near future. A Northern Ontario organization maybe along the lines of FONOM designed to deal with a cross section of northern municipalities and native reserve leaders might be good starting point for a movement towards a separate province. Such an organization might lead to a new atmosphere of cooperation bringing the First Nations communities and hundreds of small municipalities together for a common cause. The proposed committee could create a new type of bonding between people that have lived together mostly harmoniously for centuries. If successful the united group would need to eventually meet with politicians from the five large cities in Northern Ontario to form the structure needed take advantage of the possibilities presented by the projected future economic expansion in Northern Ontario. The resulting organization with representation from small municipal and First Nation communities integrated with major city interests could be the format needed to negotiate with the province and federal government.
SERVICES AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Many services now provided by the province such as policing, courts, natural resource management, environment planning and control, plus a multitude of other traditional services would need to be redesigned and downsized using the service structure operations already in place in the province and those maybe more successfully structured in other provinces and territories. Of course like all new ideas the present political parties would initially oppose the idea for fear of losing support in other areas of the province. However as the idea gained support from the people in all the small and medium sized municipalities and First Nation communities of Northern Ontario vigorously solicited by an organization for the plan, larger cities would undoubtedly follow suit and new or reconstructed political parties could emerge. The idea of a rapidly developing Northern Ontario is exemplified by the recent rush by corporate “big box” stores to establish in Northern Ontario. The rapid growth of those retail entities signify a confidence that people in the north might need to realize with a forward looking plan for the resource rich region.