Northern ministry must speak for north–Armstrong

If the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines wants to consider itself the lead ministry for the north, it better start acting like it.
That’s the message that seemed to come out of Monday night’s public meeting at the Emo-La Vallee Community Centre with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Government Service Delivery.
Advisory council members Mike Lewis (Atikokan) and Larry Sanders (Sioux Lookout) attended the meeting, conveying the regrets of chairman Bob Michels, also from Atikokan, for being unable to attend the meeting.
About 90 minutes into the meeting, after hearing about various problems municipalities have had with area services boards and doctor recruitment, Rainy River Mayor Gord Armstrong summed up much of the feelings expressed there.
“When the ministry was set up, it was supposed to be an advocate of the north,” he said. “When did this change?
“Somewhere along the line, it got turned around,” he stressed. “The minister has been hob-nobbing in Toronto instead of being an advocate of the north.
“We need the MNDM to change its focus back to where it started,” Mayor Armstrong argued.
Many agreed one area where leadership seemed to be lacking was in the formation of area services boards. Emo Reeve Brian Reid said the lack of solid numbers, especially with the unorganized territories, has been very trying on district municipalities.
“I feel it’s extremely frustrating,” he said, noting it has been one stumbling block after another in trying to quantify the population in the unorganized areas and establish proper service rates for ASBs.
“If we had everybody organized, we’d be on a level playing field,” added Chapple Reeve Cecil Wilson.
“I agree,” echoed Mayor Armstrong. “It’s like grabbing at Jell-o. You can’t make any conclusions [without solid numbers] and the government is not willing to step out and force the issue.
“Somebody has to take the bull by the horns,” he charged.
Other problems with government solutions is they tend to be “tailor made for downtown Toronto,” said Gerd O’Sullivan, who works with home care at the Northwestern Health Unit.
But the current home care system will become defunct as of March 31, O’Sullivan said, which may force local residents to solicit home care services from as far away as Thunder Bay since the backup services designed to replace home care aren’t available here.
“We are unique in the north, unique to us, not Toronto,” Mayor Armstrong said. “We need someone to act as our advocate, not someone who’s telling us what to do.”
The advisory council is travelling across the north this winter to gather information on how northerns view the current state of provincial government services.
Meetings already were held in Red Lake and Hudson, with other stops slated for Blind River, Little Current, Hearst, New Liskeard, White River, Moose Factory, Sturgeon Falls, and Parry Sound.
Written briefs may be submitted up to March 7 to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, 435 James St. S., Suite 332, Thunder Bay, Ont., P7E 6S7 (attn: Dale Ashbee).
They also can be faxed to 1-807-475-1589, or e-mailed to mndmwebmaster@gov.on.ca
The advisory council must submit a draft report to the minister, summarizing its findings, by March 27.