Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario
What Northern Ontarians told us
Throughout the engagement period, Northern Ontarians have emphasised a desire for increased collaboration among individuals, businesses, communities, organizations and various levels of government to address regional community and business needs. More specifically, participants stated the need for a more collaborative and open process that would allow them to share their ideas and best practices; combine resources and join forces towards building a stronger and more diversified Northern Ontario.
What we heard- Communities
Repeatedly, Northern Ontarians expressed their widespread concern regarding the quality, and in some instances, the lack of infrastructure in some parts of the region. Northern Ontarians see potential in regional infrastructure projects, such as roads leading to the Ring of Fire or infrastructure relating to the National Mid Canada Corridor, were seen as having transformative potential.
Access to broadband was brought up repeatedly as a missing link to business opportunities, personal and corporate communications and professional advancement. Additionally, stakeholders stated that having access to reliable internet could enable more Northern Ontarians to access basic services such as education, training and health, without having to leave their communities. The absence of broadband was also identified as a key factor preventing isolated communities from having access to the rest of the region and the world. Overall, we were told that the ability to use a safe, secure, affordable and quality internet connection is a prerequisite to significant economic development.
During our engagement, we also heard stakeholders voice their concerns regarding the need to improve the existing transportation infrastructure in many rural communities across the north. Various transportation issues such as the impact of climate change on winter roads as well as expensive and oftentimes unreliable transportation systems prevent many residents from accessing basic necessities. Furthermore, business leaders described how an inadequate transportation system in some parts of the region significantly impacts their ability to move their products to market, resulting in a barrier to growth. Rail, air and road access was repeatedly mentioned as a prerequisite for a more connected Northern Ontario.
Representatives from First Nations and small communities situated along the southern border of the Far North, voiced strong support for connecting remote First Nations communities to provincial road and energy transmission corridors. Stakeholders expressed concern about climate change and its impact on winter road access, especially considering 25 Indigenous northern communities are diesel dependent. In addition, to reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions, reducing diesel dependency by connecting communities to the transmission corridor is essential to accommodate more housing units, commercial buildings and business operations. The construction of and access to the grid is also expected to generate new employment and business opportunities for communities and businesses, specifically owning and operating new energy generation projects including transmission corridors (Wataynikaneyap Power, Supercom Industries), micro-grids, run-of-the-river/hydro and biomass cogeneration.
Diversification and self-sufficiency:
During our engagement, we heard stakeholders associate a diversified economy with a strong economy. More specifically, we heard about single industry towns that are struggling to create growth opportunities and employment. Add to this a growing trend to urbanization and they find themselves even more at risk. Some fear that without a properly executed transition and diversification strategy, many of these communities may cease to exist. As a result, many respondents emphasised the need for these communities to focus on emerging sectors and the tourism industry to help them diversify their employment and economic base beyond resource extraction and processing. For Indigenous Peoples, community diversification was synonymous with self-determination and the ability for their communities to gain more control.
We heard about challenges and change but we also heard about choosing to live in Northern Ontario and the appeal of its unique lifestyle advantages. In comparison to large urban centres, housing in Northern Ontario is more affordable, work commutes are shorter, a variety of outdoor activities are available and there is an abundance of clean water and fresh air. Many stakeholders identified the need for all levels of government to promote a positive image of Northern Ontario to target and attract businesses and individuals who place a greater importance on shared lifestyle choices.
Rural and remote communities:
There is a perception that while the larger cities in Northern Ontario have reasonable infrastructure, amenities, services and opportunities for businesses to grow, smaller communities in Northern Ontario continue to experience a decline in infrastructure and services including, transportation, health care, available housing, broadband and education. Without the basic infrastructure, such as housing, it remains difficult to attract and retain people to these more rural and remote communities, let alone actively participate in an innovative economy.
Timely and effective support:
A number of stakeholders identified the high level of administration in the application process along with the lack of coordination between governments as a deterrent to applying for, and benefiting from, available government programs. The problems mentioned include: the amount of paperwork involved in completing an application, not having the time or expertise to complete the application process, insufficient knowledge on the availability of government programs or where to find them as well as the lack of flexibility in program parameters. Some stakeholders expressed an interest in having funds flow directly to municipalities so that they can decide what their priorities are. Also, stakeholders noted that the government needs to take some of the risk when providing assistance and that its risk threshold was too low. Stakeholders also noted that funding should be extended over a longer period when dealing with longer-term projects.
"A connected North is a strong North; One that can rely on inter-community support and discussion when making decisions, and ensuring equal opportunity for population retention, employment opportunities, education, health and new initiatives through the availability of a modern technology network."
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