Consultations slated on north’s economy

The federal government has announced a series of regional consultations to outline problems and provide ways to boost the economy in Northern Ontario.
The president of the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce is pleased Ottawa is interested in the needs of the north, but wonders why these consultations are needed when similar federally-sponsored groups already are meeting to discuss the same issues.
Last Thursday, local MP Robert Nault announced FedNor was launching a Northern Ontario Citizen Engagement Forum.
The forum would include a series of regional consultations throughout the north, culminating in a four-day meeting in Sault Ste. Marie on Nov. 14-17.
From these consultations, Ottawa plans to create an action plan for economic development in the north.
“Having local residents involved in a public consultation process in order to build a more diversified economy in the north is extremely important,” Nault said in a release.
“This strategy will further improve the quality of life of northerners by building a more sustainable and diverse economy,” he added.
Andy Mitchell, secretary of state for Rural Development and FedNor, said the chief aim is to have local feedback on the status of the Northern Ontario economy.
“There has been a lot of discussion that has come out of the results of the census based on the 2001 count that outlined the outward migration of people in Northern Ontario, particularly of youth,” Mitchell said yesterday.
The forum will focus on access to capital, access to innovative business environment, access to infrastructure including telecommunications, and access to a higher quality of life in health, education, and life-long learning.
“At the end of the day, we want to be able to create an economy and give youth particularly in Northern Ontario a viable choice where they want to have a future,” Mitchell noted.
If given the choice for career opportunities, Mitchell said he believed local youths would choose to remain here.
But NOACC president Tannis Drysdale of Fort Frances was a bit surprised by last week’s announcement.
“I think it is very positive that the federal government is engaged in Northern economic development,” she said yesterday.
“[But] the Northwestern Ontario Canadian Rural Partnership Council met on the exact same topics and I am wondering if they are not trying to re-invent the wheel,” she added.
Drysdale also wondered who exactly would be attending these meetings since NOACC—the largest business group in Northwestern Ontario—has not been contacted.
Drysdale said NOACC is eager to participate in consultations on specific policy initiatives, such as opportunity bonds and growth bonds which the provincial government is designing legislation and requesting information from stakeholders.
“It’s the general broader consultations on policies that may not appear for three to five years that make you ask when does the consultation process end and action begin?” she remarked.
Still, Drysdale applauded the lead FedNor has taken in developing the economy in this region and all of the programs it currently is running.
“It is important that the FedNor action plan be created by and for northerners, but northerners have the right to ask the government to move forward,” she said.