John Gallagher listens to a presentation at Think North Tuesday morning.
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The region needs more autonomy if Northwestern Ontario wants to get its economy going, says Kenora’s mayor.
David Canfield, who is also the vice-president of NOMA and sits on an advisory committee for the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario, said he’s tired hearing provincial governments from all parties deliver empty promises for the region.
"If we could drive the policy, if the policies could be made in Northwestern Ontario for Northwestern Ontario I guarantee our economy would booming," Canfield said Tuesday morning during the second day of the Think North II conference in at the Victoria Inn.
"Get Queen’s Park out of our face. Let us drive the policies not people driving policies that know very little or nothing about us."
Canfield said he was encouraged by Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle’s announcement of an independent, non-profit Northern Policy Institute. But if it’s just window-dressing, Canfield said he and other Northwestern Ontario leaders will be disappointed.
"If that’s what it’s going to do, we support it 100 per cent. If it’s not well then we’re going to have a problem and we’re going to have to take a different approach to it."
Canfield said he’s been hearing from everyone at the two-day conference that more autonomy is needed for the region to succeed and he hopes the government is listening.
"We’re all saying the same thing. I have yet to hear one person who’s said any different."
One problem is that Northwestern Ontario MPPs are outnumbered by their southern counterparts 104 to 3. When the auto industry in southern Ontario was on the verge of collapse, billions of dollars were handed out almost overnight by the province.
When the forestry industry collapsed in Northwestern Ontario, $1 billion was announced, but much of that still hasn’t been spent, Canfield said.
"I doubt if half of it has been accessed because it’s almost impossible to access.”
John Gallagher is an international consultant who has overseen economic development projects from Bosnia and Herzegovina to his native Ireland. He said part of what’s necessary in the growth plan now is people, ideas and action.
"This might sound quite simple but it starts with the people and ends with the people. You need a group of passionate and committed people that are united, that have a common purpose and are willing to work together as long and hard as it takes and deliver for their people,” Gallagher said.
“It’s as simple as that. We can speak about models and theories but if you don’t have people that are committed you’re not going to achieve anything."
The conference wraps up Tuesday afternoon before a similar conference for Northeastern Ontario starts Wednesday in Sudbury.
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