Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce President Harold Wilson.
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The province has kept Northern Policy Institute details close to its chest and that has the Chamber of Commerce’s president worried for future development in the region.
The Ontario government announced the creation of the policy institute along with the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario back in March of last year. The government handed over $5 million from the Northern Heritage Fund Corporation to jump-start it.
The Northern Policy Institute is intended to act as an independent guide for development in the North by drafting polices and designs specifically to this region.
Lakehead University President Brian Stevenson and Laurentian University President Dominic Giroux agreed to help guide implementation of the growth plan. The university presidents presented a report to the province, although, little information about the policy has been made public.
Stevenson said he could not comment on the issue when contacted by tbnewswatch.com on Thursday, saying it was a provincial issue.
Harold Wilson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the province hasn’t been open with how things have been going and he and many others are frustrated with not knowing what’s going on.
He added that he has heard rumours since March that something was about to be released, but so far not even a draft has been released.
“I would hate to see them propose something or worse to announce something that hadn’t had a chance to be vetted or discussed with people in Northwestern Ontario,” Wilson said.
“I don’t know what think right now. I would hate to think that they are just going to roll something out saying ‘here’s a done deal’ and if we object to it, it looks like we’re never happy. No one has had a chance to see this thing for a long time. It is vexing that it has taken this long.”
Wilson is involved with a joint task force that’s involved in regional economic development and he said it relies heavily on a northern policy. Wilson asked about the report filed by Stevenson and Giroux as well as general updates but the answer he keeps getting is that the policy is coming soon, he said.
Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle said Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci will be releasing more details about the policy institute soon.
Bartolucci took over the Northern Development Mines from Gravelle following the October provincial election.
Gravelle said Bartolucci wanted to look over the policy institute before giving out any information about but didn’t think that delayed anything from being released.
“It remains a firm commitment of the government to move forward with a not-for-profit, independent Northern Policy Institute,” Gravelle said. “Without me saying anything too inappropriate, I think you can expect something very soon from Minister Bartolucci. The challenge is to put together a structure that really will work for the North.”
MPP Gilles Bisson (NDP, Timmins – James Bay) called the situation with the policy institute the “announcement that never happens.”
He said the government wanted some good news prior to the October election because they felt vulnerable in the North.
He said the idea of having an policy institute is a good one but the way the Liberal government has dealt with it has been “lackluster”.
“Here we are more than a year after they announced it and we’re still, as far as I know, not up and running,” Gilles said. “I think they are trying to fix their political image in Northern Ontario. I think the Liberals have a lot to answer for when it comes to how they handled a number of key files.”
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