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4 Posts with tag "north"

Who Will be the Northern Minister(s)?

On Thursday October 20th, Premier McGuinty will unveil his new cabinet and until then there will be much speculation as to which of his Northern MPPS will get in.  As we all know, prior to the election, Rick Bartolucci was Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing while Michael Gravelle was Minister of Northern Development and Mines and Forestry.  Having two cabinet ministers from the North did not do much for Liberal fortunes in the North and their seven seats have shrunk to four.  Of the four current MPPS, who will make it into cabinet?

One possibility is that given the minority government situation and the beating taken from Northern voters, the Premier will take the safe route and opt for the status quo and retain Gravelle and Bartolucci in their current posts.  However, this is a new government and the Premier may opt for fresh faces. 

The Premier has a choice of Bill Mauro (Thunder Bay-Atikokan), Michael Gravelle (Thunder Bay-Superior North), Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury) and David Orazietti (Sault Ste. Marie).  Given that the number of Liberal MPPS has shrunk from 71 to 53, there will likely be a smaller cabinet - count on closer to 20-22 cabinet ministers rather than the previous 28.  This will also be a signal of the coming "austerity" due to the deficit and the slowing economy.   This means that there may probably only be one "northern minister" this time and it will most likely be Northern Development Mines and Forestry though there is always the possibility that it could be Natural Resources. 

A look through the recent roles of the four Liberal MPPS would suggest that if it comes down to only one choice, David Orazietti is probably best poised to enter cabinet.  He seems to have the biggest recent list of legislative assistantships and chairmanships - comparable to Bartolucci in the late 1990s. He is young and the Premier may be looking for fresh blood after both Gravelle and Bartolucci.  He has served as Parliamentary Assistant to both the Minister of Natural Resources and Northern Development and Mines making him familiar with both portfolios.  As well, of the four northern Liberal MPPs, he won by the largest margin - approximately 7,000 votes over the second place finisher - compared to about 2600 for Gravelle, 450 for Mauro and 500 for Bartolucci. Given the relative youth and energy of Orazietti and the slimmer cabinet, the Premier may even decide to be innovative and combine the Northern Development and Natural Resource portfolios into one under Orazietti

Where does this leave the other three MPPs?  Well, they are all "team players" and no doubt will happily abide with whatever decision the premier makes.  How the electorate in Sudbury or Thunder Bay will feel is another matter.  However, given that northern cabinet ministers have recently come from Sudbury or Thunder Bay, rotating the position to someone from Sault Ste. Marie will likely also be seen as "fair" at least by government supporters.  We shall see what Thursday brings.


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Election Eve: Looking Ahead at Post-Election

The time has comes to take stock of the implications for the North of the potential outcomes of the October 6th provincial election. According to the polls, it is a close race and the possibility of a minority government is high.  At the same time, polls do not always fully predict the outcome and much depends on the concentration of party support across the various ridings, as well as the actual voter turnout.  What can we expect the morning after?

Whatever party forms the government, expect to see the donning of sackcloth and ashes as it suddenly becomes apparent that the economy is on the verge of recession, the stock markets have dropped 20 percent and the province’s coffers are bare as a result of a massive deficit.  All those rosy revenue forecasts that were going to see the budget balanced by 2017 will now go out the window.  Expect to see announcements of government expenditure cuts, freezes and restructuring as well as the discussion of temporary “revenue enhancements.” A Liberal or NDP backed government will likely favor revenue enhancements over expenditure cuts while a Conservative government is more likely to favor cuts or restructuring. 

Should the Liberals win another majority, it will be interpreted as a vindication for their program of policies, especially their job creation strategy focused on Green Energy.  As for the North, it means the Far North Act will stay in place.  For northern Ontario, a Liberal majority win will put it in an odd situation.  If the North returns Liberal members and there is a Liberal majority, it means that any future complaints about the government’s economic policies towards the North especially with respect to energy, the forest sector and natural resource development will be taken with a grain of salt and Northerners dismissed as simply habitual complainers.  On the other hand, not returning Liberal members to a Liberal majority after the substantial investments that the Liberals have made in the North’s knowledge economy, research and health sectors and road construction will be seen as adolescent ingratitude.  With a Liberal majority, the North could be in a political no-win situation.

If there is a Conservative or Liberal minority, the situation becomes much more fluid for the North.  Either will likely be short-lived as given the differences between the parties, a formal alliance or coalition that might provide stable government is unlikely.  For the North, a minority government will provide it with more opportunities to get its points across as every party will now be much more sensitive to opinions even from smaller and more remote regions. A minority government, because of its inherent fragility, is much more open to debate and compromise.  The parties need to work together and that forces a degree of consultation and accommodation that takes multiple points of view into account.  On the other hand, a minority government may be less able to take concrete action especially given the fiscal situation.  Moreover, a minority government could place a halt to the public investment in research and knowledge economy jobs that has been driving the northern economic transition.  The Ontario minority government of the 1980s saw the creation of Northern Health Travel grants and the Heritage Fund. On the other hand, there was not a looming 250 billion dollar provincial debt in the 1980s and an international sovereign debt crisis.

Are there any wild cards in all of this?  Is there a possible Conservative majority?  Not really likely based on the polls but then nobody saw Bob Rae’s NDP victory coming in 1990 either.  A Conservative majority would help create an environment that would boost private sector job creation in the North but it would also be accompanied by public sector austerity that would hurt the North disproportionately given its dependence on government spending for job creation.  The North’s dependence on public sector funds for job creation has grown in the wake of the forest sector crisis. 

Of course, nobody is forecasting an NDP government this time, but who knows?  An NDP majority government may have campaigned on “Respect for the North” but once in power would also face the same constraints as any other government.  There will be respect for the North when necessary but the most respect would flow towards the greatest mass of voters – and they are in the South, not in the North. As for the NDP economic strategy, what short term benefits it creates will come at the expense of the long-term competitiveness of the Ontario economy.

As a sign of where the priorities really lie, consider the fact that in all of the main party platforms, there was no real mention of new institutions for the North or any real policy of decentralization or devolution of decision-making when it comes to northern resource development.   On the other hand, there seems to be no real demand in the North for new institutions either.  Northerners seem to be quite happy in their role as an economic dependency punctuated by bouts of adolescent outrage.  They will be dealt with accordingly no matter who forms the government.  As for new decentralized decision making institutions for the North? Their day will come when the growing aboriginal population in the region reaches a critical mass and articulates a compelling case for a new deal.  When that day comes, it will be a call that no provincial government will be able to ignore.

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Why Premier McGuinty is Not in Thunder Bay Today

Today is the NOMA provincial party leaders debate in Thunder Bay between Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath.  Premier McGuinty has declined to attend.  The premier apparently has a previous engagement and furthermore probably believes that as the premier for all Ontario, debates should be held with the entire province rather than a single region as the stage.  The outrage in the North has been palpable but in simple cost-benefit terms, if I were the premier, I would have made the same decision. I probably also would have added that the debate seemed exclusionary and elitist given that according to my last look it required a 95 dollar conference admission fee.  But then what do I know, I'm an economist, not a political advisor. (By the way, the charge of elitism can be deflected by the fact the debate is being webcast on the NOMA site.  NOMA stands for Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. Web Coverage is also available on Netnewsledger.).

For Dalton McGuinty, coming to Northern Ontario for a regional debate is fraught with high costs and little in the way of benefits.  This is a region - that usually tends to vote Liberal or NDP anyway.  It generally is not an arena for rational and open debate with a reasonable chance that you can change someone's mind, but a highly partisan political herd environment.  In some ridings, the tradition is to vote Liberal and when you want to punish the Liberals you vote NDP.  Given the anger over what many see as a weak response to the forest sector crisis by the provincial Liberal government, the desire to publicly punish is high.  Having Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath pummel the premier on forestry job losses when they have not had that much to say about forestry policy themselves is probably not how the premier wants to spend his day.

The debate is also being held in a region that is relatively marginal compared to the vote rich GTA.  It is difficult to see the premier turning down a similar chance to debate the other two leaders in Toronto on the issue of the GTA as Ontario's economic driver.  The media is clustered in Toronto as are the voters.  In the case of the Northern debate, not too many people in Toronto will be paying attention to the debate anyway unless he makes a major gaffe that is trumpeted in the evening newscasts. 

The result of the political calculus?  Coming to the Northern debate has high costs and very low benefits.  Given the very small number of seats at stake particularly in the Northwest where the debate will receive the greatest coverage, he is willing to take his chances. 


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New Vision for Northern Ontario

Next week is the Think North II Summit designed to bring together decision makers and opinion leaders in yet another consultation emanating from the one Northern Growth plan to rule them all that was forged and tempered in the fires of Queen's Park by the Ontario government.  According to the recent update from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, The Think North II Summit is "an opportunity for northerners to be actively engaged in shaping the framework for regional economic planning areas in Northern Ontario" and will feature hands-on workshops on "crafting a vision for regional economic development planning in Northern Ontario" as well as create "strategies for collaboration."  There will even be the obligatory S.W.O.T. analysis to identify the strategies, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the "change" represented by regional economic planning.  The "threat" of change is a particularly amusing concept given that this entire process continues a process of consultation that has been ongoing for decades with not much change.  To date, the major obstacles to change in the North have been the policies of the provincial government itself which have hampered the ability of the region to take charge of its own development. Never mind regional economic planning, a regional government for the North with power over economic and resource matters is decades overdue.  

A close inspection of the agenda also shows that there is still no mention of the other "Northern Plan" that was recently introduced by the Quebec government.  Can we learn something from Quebec?  The Ontario government apparently thinks not.  An interesting workshop of the Summit is the one called Vision 2021 which is described as: "The year is 2021.  The Regional Economic Development Planning Areas are functioning well and Northern Ontario communities are prospering.  Describe what is happening in northern communities".  It would appear that the Northern Growth Plan is already a success!  Time travel to 2021 has occurred and the report back is that the North is prospering.  I had always suspected that the Ring of Fire was really an inter-dimensional time portal administered by Stargate Command.

Vision for the North requires more concrete action and less planning.  If you don't want to take my word for it, visit the following post on Stan Sudol's Republic of Mining which advocates a "Mining Marshall Plan" for Ontario's North.  The Marshall Plan was designed to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.  That we need a Marshall Plan for the North suggests we need to be rebuilt after decades of less than satisfactory provincial economic and development policies.

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