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Provincial dollars to fund Northern Policy Institute

Marg Scott did her happy dance earlier this week. On Friday she repeated it again, reacting to news the province will fund a Northern Policy Institute with $5 million from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.
Lakehead University president Brian Stevenson. (Leith Dunick,
Marg Scott did her happy dance earlier this week.

On Friday she repeated it again, reacting to news the province will fund a Northern Policy Institute with $5 million from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.

Scott, the executive director of the North Superior Workforce Planning Board, said such an institution provides the region with its own voice and a chance to shape its own future.

“It gives Northerners an opportunity to craft their own policies, to craft their own designs in terms of what impacts us on a daily basis, so the economy, social issues, family, jobs the workforce,” Scott said, after the province unveiled the final draft of the much anticipated Growth Plan for Northern Ontario.

Scott, whose organization suggested the idea following a study four years ago, said too often decisions for the region are being made by people with little true knowledge of the issues.

“Policies are crafted in southern Ontario, but they don’t necessarily take the realities of us living in Northern Ontario into consideration. So who better to design policies that can influence us on a daily basis, than us?”

She pointed to the mining sector as one industry the policy institute could have an impact.

“We’re in the process of consulting with 43 companies on labour needs. So once we get the results of that, that kind of information could help craft a labour-market strategy.”

There’s no reason the government won’t listen, she said. After all, she added, they are committing a significant amount of money. 

“I can’t speak for the government, because I’m not the government, but I can assure you that I would think that a $5-million investment is a very serious consideration. And quite frankly I think all of the people who have pulled up their sleeves and have worked on this project to date are convinced we wouldn’t be asking for it otherwise,” Scott said.

One person who doesn’t have to be sold on the idea is Lakehead University president Brian Stevenson. Both Stevenson and Dominic Giroux, his Laurentian University counterpart in Sudbury, have been tasked by the province to help guide implementation of the growth plan.

Stevenson said he’s working toward an evidenced-based institute that will develop policies for the North.

He’s convinced it can be successful, if done the right way.

“I think if you build an institute that is broadly representative of the views of Northerners, I think that any government would have to listen. So it’s very important to set up the institute in a way that it is non-partisan, that it is evidence-based and that it is able to communicate to governments the aspirations and desires of Northerners,” Stevenson said.

Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, who called the growth plan a true guide to let government know where money is needed, said the policy institute was among the top demands he heard while consultations for the plan were going on.

“We view this as an important measure,” he said. “It’s why, quite frankly, we wanted to make it one of our marquee initiatives and why we’re so pleased we have support from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to actually implement it and get it up and running.”

Gravelle said the institute will also be able to link into other similar organizations in places like Newfoundland and Finland, who face many of the same issues as Northern Ontarians do.

He added the government is committed to listening.

“We put it in place because we want to hear from Northerners. The truth is the growth plan itself is probably the best example of us not just listening to Northerners, but asking Northerners to tell us what needed to be in a growth plan for Northern Ontario.”

Not surprisingly an opposition critic had little good to say about the idea.

Conservative MPP Randy Hillier said with scores of “damaging” Liberal policies already in place, it’s tough to understand how a northern think-tank will help those who live in the region.

“Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals raised energy prices, flubbed the Mining Act reforms, cut off 50 per cent of the North from all development with Bill 191 (the Far North Act) and decimated the forest industry. What’s left for a policy institute to do?” said Hillier, the MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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