Dr. Bob Rosehart posed the following question to a group of people here last Thursday evening: “What three things could the government do to change the economy of Northwestern Ontario?”
Appointed by Premier Dalton McGuinty to look at the economy of Northwestern Ontario, and to report back to the province by December of this year, Dr. Rosehart’s job is no easy task.
Back in 1986, Dr. Rosehart, then president of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, headed up a similar task group to look at the economy of Northern Ontario focusing on single-industry communities.
Today, following his retirement from Wilfred Laurier University, Dr. Rosehart is facing the back to the future dilemma.
In 1986, his recommendations included the construction of a northern medical school, improving highways, diversification of the economies of the north, and creating centres of excellence.
The medical school became a reality only a few years ago, beginning to answer the needs for doctors across Northern Ontario. Meanwhile, roads and passing lanes have been constructed on the Trans-Canada across Northern Ontario.
And using the base of industries in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, centres of excellence have been built.
The strength of the forest industry in Northwestern Ontario, which was so vibrant back in 1986, has seen the loss of thousands of jobs of late. Kenora, Red Rock, Nipigon, Marathon, and Ignace have watched their mills shut down.
The number of workers remaining in successful mills has declined as technology and innovation have required fewer personnel.
Mining exploration appears to be strong, but no major mines have sprung up since the Marathon boom. Pockets of mining activity have surged, particularly in Balmertown, Red Lake, and at the Musselwhite operation north of Thunder Bay.
While here last week, Dr. Rosehart addressed several potential solutions. One was the issue of developing a different pricing structure in Northwestern Ontario for electricity where a surplus exists.
A second was bringing true broadband technology to every community and household to allow citizens to take full advantage of the information era to create jobs and do work in communities that provide a different quality of life and lifestyle.
A third was placing the forests and minerals into the hands of communities that would use those assets to encourage development and create a different revenue source.
One of the questions Dr. Rosehart tossed out was what role the federal government plays in Fort Frances and the district, followed by: “Do you see a role for the federal government to play in the community?”
Back in 1986, his report urged communities to be much more proactive, lobbying senior levels of government for change. Today that lobbying need is no less important.
Should you have some ideas for Dr. Rosehart, you can send them along to his research assistant, Megan Chochla, whose e-mail address is Megan.email@example.com
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