Northern Ontario Policy
A Northern Way
(Cette politique sera bientôt traduite)
(My campaign is releasing separate statements for rural, agriculture, and northern policy visions because I believe that the Ontario Liberal Party should do that in the next election platform)
Northern Ontario is not merely a geographical expanse; it represents our province's future. In collaboration with local communities, Indigenous partners, and other local and business stakeholders, we will unleash the potential of Northern Ontario. Listening to local leaders and local riding associations for policy direction helps a government know what needs to get done and how to do it.
Northern Ontario must be at the table at Queen's Park. I commit to running candidates who are local advocates in each northern riding. I commit to nominating them as early as possible, equipping them with regionally developed policy positions and having the leader and caucus stay connected to northern communities to demonstrate that the Ontario Liberal Party is committed to being relevant in Northern Ontario.
We need to consider our policies through a long term community lens. So when we think about policies for smaller and remote communities, we need to consider their effect on the long term viability of those communities. When we assess spending on things like education, health care services or transportation links, we should weigh the short term costs of the policy against the long term economic potential and social capital that a community offers.
We should also apply a long term community lens to decisions about whether provincial services should be concentrated in regional centres, to which people need to travel and plan stays, but is more efficient for service delivery, or be more dispersed, which may be better for communities.
No way forward without reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples
When it comes to building a strong society and strong economy, there’s no way forward without reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and respect for treaties. That is only the start of a relationship as full partners. A trusting relationship must be built proactively by the Ontario government and the Premier must take the lead. A Premier in waiting must begin relationship building. Consultation shouldn’t wait for disputes to arise. A necessary first step for the Ontario Government, as both a major employer and financier of projects, is to follow through with Call to Action 92 from Truth and Reconciliation Commission to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources.
Reconciliation also means providing Indigenous communities with the access to education, training, loans and other services they have requested, so that they can become active and full partners in the economic life of the North. My government will make this a priority.
- Ensure Safe Driving Including Widening Highways 11 and 17
- Restore Ontario Northlander bus and train service
- Build on Existing Programs to Deliver Reliable and Affordable High Speed Internet
Safety on Highway 11 and Highway 17, and linked roads, especially in winter, always comes up in the conversations I have in the North. Although maintained by the province, these highways are, in many places, not at the same standards as the highways in the South. In many places, they are two-laned and without much of a shoulder or rumble strips. People are afraid to drive on them in bad weather (imagine coming into a tight curve, with snow banks on either side, facing an oncoming transport) because they see so many accidents and there is often no alternative route if there is a collision or road work.
Highways 11 and 17 are critical pieces of provincial infrastructure and they should be treated like that. I plan to extend the Thunder Bay to Nipigon Highway 11/17 widening project by eventually adding extra lanes (either 1 or 2 as appropriate) all the way east to North Bay and west to the Manitoba border. I will also ensure long haul truck drivers are properly trained to drive in winter conditions and properly licensed.
Likewise, I would restore not only the Ontario Northlander train service, but also bus service. Restoring these services has a high upfront cost, but certain routes would be justified by the long term economic potential and social capital provided by communities, and the long term benefit of connecting northern communities to the South.
Connectivity is not just roads and railways. Reliable high speed internet is crucial to support essential, everyday services including digital healthcare, government services, remote work, or online education. As outlined in my Rural policy, I will build on existing programs to ensure that businesses, schools and healthcare providers have the tools they require.
Climate change is bringing with it more and more extreme weather events – fires, floods, tornados, etc. – and more damage to property and infrastructure. The Ford government is dropping the ball on preparing for extreme weather events that will only become more common as climate change accelerates. In 2022, the Auditor General found that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry did not have the resources to adequately plan and prepare for emergencies such as fires and floods. For instance, it lacked resources to conduct mitigation and preparedness activities such as reviewing and updating hazard risk assessments, updating technical guides and bulletins, conducting practice tests of the emergency response plans, and conducting after-action reviews. We know that the government's response to helping Eastern Ontario recover from the 2022 derechos was slow. The Ontario Government’s response to forest fires, both natural and human-related, was shown this year to be insufficient.
I will ensure that the Ministry has the resources it needs to protect Ontarians.
- Increase the financial incentive to practise in the North
- Provide more support to communities battling the epidemic of addiction, mental illness and homelessness
- Extend OHIP to cover telemedicine
Access to healthcare is a significant problem in Northern Ontario. Although there are many proposals in my health care policy to address the issue, the problem is more acute in the North. There are simply not enough health care professionals who practise in the North. For example, Wawa has two doctors covering the work of seven.
The most important action we can take to relieve the capacity problem in the North is to increase the financial incentive to practise there. We need to implement this at a provincial level to ensure that northern communities are not bidding against each other to attract health care professionals, something I heard about during my travels. We also need to encourage students from the North, aligned with their communities, to choose healthcare professions. We need to expand the number of positions available in Northern medical education facilities and support the students financially. Student loan forgiveness programs and increased compensation packages can encourage a steady flow of talent to these communities.
Northern communities are struggling to deal with the epidemic of addictions and homelessness. We can’t leave it up to municipalities to deal with these problems on their own. The fact that people are shuffled between communities says that these are province-wide problems, and the Province needs to step up and fund the necessary services. As much as possible, we should help people struggling with addictions in their home communities where they are more likely to have support from family and friends.
In the short run, we need to make it easier for those in remote communities to access the healthcare system by immediately extending OHIP to cover telemedicine services, including a wider range of mental healthcare providers including psychologists, nurses, therapists, social workers and other essential mental healthcare providers.
An important overarching goal for Indigenous health care is to overcome intergenerational trauma. The provincial government must do its part, working together with other levels of government, to achieve this long term goal.
The lack of housing is just as much of a problem in the North as it is in the South. Builders are not active where the increased cost (materials, skilled labour, financing) has outpaced residents’ ability to afford rent or a mortgage. In particular, temporary residents, like students or people in cities seeking services, are having the most trouble finding affordable places to live.
Two things which can be done are: 1) Incentivize smaller, more affordable dwellings and 2) build seniors residences in the communities they live in, so they can downsize and leave behind increased housing supply for families. See more about my ideas for housing here.
From the forests that supply the lumber or pulp and paper industries, to mineral-rich lands that power manufacturing and technological opportunities, the North gives its residents a wellspring of opportunity and growth, which can also power Ontario’s economic resilience. But it is more than that. The region's breathtaking natural landscapes and diverse ecosystems remind us of our duty to safeguard our environment for generations to come. Distinctive Indigenous and settler communities remind us of a northern way of life that should be cherished.
Yet, with its expansive geography comes unique challenges - challenges that require innovative policies, strategic investments, and unwavering commitment. We must be resolute in fostering connectivity by improving the region’s infrastructure, understanding the effects of climate change and expanding healthcare access and housing affordability across Northern Ontario.