BY JON THOMPSON
Presented with two pages of options for prioritizing economic development in Northwestern Ontario, one priority emerged before the surveys were counted: regional political autonomy.
Of the 17 suggested points presented at the Northwestern Ontario Regional Conference, speaker after speaker approached the microphone to recommend others vote for “Devolution of Government Decision Making to Northwestern Ontario.”
Under devolution, the province suggested it would examine existing models for regional decision-making, including how those models would apply to the region.
Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) president and Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield saw a pattern emerge among the 17 suggestions, dividing them into land use planning and economic development. He suggested to the forum that once the region has the tools to chart its own development, all else will fall into place.
“The way we’ve been doing it (development) for years hasn’t necessarily been working anymore,” Canfield said, citing efficient resource development in Manitoba and Saskatchewan as exemplary relationships between dense population centres and communities dependent on resource extraction. “They’re smaller jurisdictions, maybe that’s the key. Maybe we reduce the size of the jurisdiction – and I don’t mean being a separate province. I mean having a planning act for northwestern Ontario so we can go through these issues a lot quicker and we don’t have to go through red tape, red tape, red tape.”
Although NOMA’s conversations with Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Harvey Yesno have yielded an interest in building relationships between the Treaty 9 and 5 First Nations of the Far North and northwestern municipalities, Canfield insisted all communities in the region need to maintain independence.
“I think we want to sit down with the province and we want to sit down with the First Nations. Everyone has their own autonomy,” Canfield said. “I think we have to sit down – NOMA, NOACC (Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce), and NODN (Northwestern Ontario Development Network) with the government as Team Northwest – the common voice – and say let’s take a look at the common recipe that will be more beneficial for northwestern Ontario and for Ontario as a whole, and for Canada as a whole.”