Lakehead University president Brian Stevenson on Friday unveils more details about the Northern Policy Institute.
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Nearly 18 months after first being announced, the Minister of Northern Development and Mines has finally released details on the much-anticipated Northern Policy Institute.
Intended to act as an independent guide for development in the North, drafting polices and designs specifically to this region, the non-profit, non-partisan NPI was officially unveiled on Friday at a joint media conference in Thunder Bay and Sudbury.
The two centres are expected to house the organization first mentioned in March 2011 as a key feature of the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario.
Lakehead University President Brian Stevenson, who will be acting as an advisor for the NPI along with Laurentian University President Dominic Giroux, said his role will be to set up the institute in Thunder Bay and establish bylaws allowing NPI to select its 10 founding board of directors.
"The biggest thing is to establish an institute that is going to look at policies that support job creation and economic development from a northern perspective,” Stevenson said. “It would be able to establish policies that northerners are going to accept and respond to. For me the critical issue is that it is made-in-the-North policy options.”
Although initially started by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, any policies drafted by the NPI would go to the ministry that best suits it, he said.
Stevenson said they will likely have the board picked by November or December, adding NPI's success will be gauged by the policies it creates, noting it’s too soon into the process to determine what those policies might be.
The province kicked in a contribution of $5 million spread out over the next five years but little information about how the institute would operate was made public.
MPP Bill Mauro (Lib, Thunder Bay – Atikokan), parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines said even though they have provided $5 million, the institute can continue to request for additional funding to both the provincial and federal governments.
But even though they are receiving funding from the government, it doesn’t mean they are tied to any political agenda. The intent of the NPI is to keep arm’s length from any political party, even if the government were to change parties, he said.
“The NPI or something like it was the request by many northern leaders, community organizations and today is us delivering on that request,” Mauro said.
“I don’t think it has taken a long time. There’s a lot of work that goes into establishing something like this. It’s going to be housed at Lakehead University but it’s going to be independent and bring ideas with a pan northern voice. They will bring it forward and we will advocate it on their behalf.”
Mauro said any recommendation brought up by the NPI wouldn’t be binding to government.
Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president Harold Wilson voiced his frustration earlier this month at the amount of time it was taking for the government to announce the next step for the NPI.
Having waited so long, he said he was happy today had come.
“This is the next step we have been looking forward to,” Wilson said. “We know there’s a framework being put together now and this is an opportunity to work with Stevenson. Now we can start working on those details. This is to help advocates be it the Thunder Bay Chamber, Northwestern Ontario Chambers or NOMA.”
Les Louttit, deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said he would like a representative on the board of directors in order to advocate for First Nation communities.
He added that it’s important that First Nation interests are also looked after.
Meanwhile, Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson accused the announcement of being more smoke-and-mirrors from the governing Liberals.
“As per usual, this government is putting politics ahead of people,” said Bisson in a release issued on Friday. “What the North needs now is real action, and real investment in the future. We don’t need more studies about what the North needs.”
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This is not money well spent, he added.
“The $5 million McGuinty is spending on this political game could have been invested in preserving the ONTC, improving healthcare or otherwise directly improving life in the North,” said he. “The original Northern Growth Plan called for investment in integrated transportation, and yet we are days away from losing the Northlander train, and the ONTC isn’t far being.”