Column: Boosting North helps all Ontario

By Elaine Della-Mattia, Sault Star

Adam Shoalts pulls his canoe along a shallow river during an expedition to Northern Ontario. Handout/Welland Tribune/Postmedia Network

Adam Shoalts pulls his canoe along a shallow river during an expedition to Northern Ontario. Handout/Welland Tribune/Postmedia Network

City council in Sault Ste. Marie gets it.

Now it's time to see if other Northern Ontario municipalities get on board and work together to lobby the province for some help.

Sault Ward 1 Coun. Paul Christian knows his resolution will be a tough climb ahead.

But he's right when he says that all the large urban centres should easily get on board and create a compelling case to the Ontario government.

City council passed his resolution Monday, calling on the province to take actions through tax reductions, tax exemptions, incentives or other relocation initiatives to help grow the Northern Ontario population and relieve the crisis that's existing the southern part of the province.

He's hoping the province will see that by creating incentives for businesses, institutions and government departments in Northern Ontario, that there is value for the entire province.

After all, Christian points out, the net out-migration of young people and skilled labour will negatively impact the long-term economic viability and general social conditions of the North.

While the Greater Toronto Area is experiencing unprecedented growth and sky-rocketing real estate values and it has become a very expensive place to live, the North has surplus infrastructure, affordable homes, good business opportunities and much more at just a fraction of the price.

The resolution, passed unanimously by city council last week, will be forwarded to the Premier's office, to the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and the Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayor's group.

First, this is a resolution that can certainly continue to unify the north. All the urban centres in Northern Ontario are feeling the same pains – outmigration of youth, a shortage of skilled workers, economic hardships and tax revenue declines.

Second, the old saying, there is strength in numbers, certainly holds true here. If the large urban mayors are able to rally around this issue and present some concrete ideas to the Ontario government, the timing is perfect.

With a general election just one year away, each party will be listening to what municipalities have to say and the concept could be one that is incorporated into a Northern Ontario platform by one, or all of the political parties in their campaign.

Third, this wouldn't be a handout to Northern Ontario. It would be about strengthening the north – and the province – as a whole. It would also provide some relief to the pressures that municipalities in the GTA currently have.

As was pointed out at last week's council meeting, Sault Ste. Marie has the OLG headquarters as a result of decentralizing government under the former Premier David Peterson era. Perhaps it is time to launch a similar initiative that will encourage young workers, skilled labourers or entrepreneurs to move to Northern Ontario.

At first blush, it may appear that the Association of Municipalities of Ontario may not get on board with such an initiative, but that assumption shouldn't be made too quickly. The southern municipalities are also feeling the pressures of the growth with infrastructure and other resources bursting at the seams.

It will be up to Mayor Christian Provenzano to push this idea with his Northern counterparts and build momentum, and perhaps a policy paper that can launch dialogue with the province.

Other organizations like the Ontario Chamber of Commerce or economic development agencies can also be brought on board for input.

This is a prime example of how thinking outside the box can help not only Sault Ste. Marie, but Northern Ontario and the province in its entirety.  

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