Where do we lie amid Northern designation
March 15, 2012
To the Editor:
Recently a private members bill suggesting the creation a new committee, the Northern Committee, was presented at Queen’s Park by John Vanthof, the MPP for Timiskaming-Cochrane. Its goal is to address northern issues and finally give northern Ontario a say in Toronto. The committee’s membership is solely made up of northern MPP’s, save for one, the member from Parry Sound-Muskoka. It’s not the purpose of this letter to argue the sides of Mr. Norm Miller or Mr. Vanthof, but rather discuss the issue.
At first we must look at the historical and “legal” reasons for Parry Sound’s inclusion in northern Ontario: by definition it is the Territorial District of Parry Sound, territorial districts only exist in northern Ontario, whereas southern Ontario has two-tier governance in the form of counties and regional municipalities (Muskoka included). The only exception to that rule in northern Ontario is the existence of the Regional Municipality of Greater Sudbury. So by that measure, perhaps a district can exist in southern Ontario?
Similarities in employment criteria may also link Parry Sound District with northern Ontario: isolation of some communities, commuting distances, job opportunities, etc. However, there is a different history of what industries have taken hold in Parry Sound, contrasting the rest of Northern Ontario. Sure most of our communities got a start with forestry, but that dried up and the shift to agriculture being the dominant base took form. In addition to this, northern Ontario has always been heavily dependent of mining, something Parry Sound District has only dabbled in, and most certainly has never been the mainstay of the local economy.
Demographics separate Parry Sound District from the rest of the Northeastern Ontario pack as well. Only one municipality in the whole district adheres to the French Language Services Act, (Callander shares a common border with largely francophone communities and boundaries are rather porous, which suggests they have little to do with population shifts). The rest of Northeastern Ontario’s districts fully incorporate the legislation, citing a much larger francophone presence there, than here in Parry Sound District.
When comparing the population statistics of Parry Sound to the rest of northern Ontario, it was one of only a few districts with a growing population in the 2011 Census, and was one of the highest (Almaguin actually having the highest growth rate overall).
To look at how the district stacks up with southern Ontario, a direct comparison between Parry Sound District and the County of Haliburton shows some striking figures. The District’s population outstrips the County’s by 25,000, albeit over twice the size in square kilometres. However when comparing Almaguin with Haliburton which are of comparable sizes, Almaguin alone has a higher population by 5,000.
Perhaps the four-laning of Hwy’s 11 and 69/400 on either side of the District, extending a style of highway commonly seen in southern Ontario, led Mr. Vanthof to exclude Parry Sound District from the northern committee. Or perhaps the inclusion of the district in the tourism region of Explorer’s Edge, partnered with Muskoka and Algonquin Park (two areas that have been associated-with/included-in southern Ontario for sometime) was another reason for Parry Sound being left out of the new committee.
There has always been great debate over the whereabouts of the boundary between northern and southern Ontario. Is it the Severn River where Muskoka and Simcoe come to meet? Is it at Novar where Muskoka (a district [regional] municipality) ends and Parry Sound (a district) starts? Or is it the French River (and to extension Lake Nipissing and the Mattawa River), where the term ‘South of the French’ comes from. Even townships are laid out differently on either side of the French River.
If one pulls out a map of Ontario it is easily recognizable that the French River, Lake Nipissing and the Mattawa River make a nice bottleneck, where Ontario is at its narrowest between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River. Perhaps it is this clearly visible chokepoint that led Mr. Vanthof to draw his line. I believe that Mr. Vanthof’s exclusion of Parry Sound District from the Northern Committee has opened up an avenue to discuss Parry Sound’s, and Almaguin’s, future. Is it governance, geography, population, income, or a combination of all of these that decides what part of Ontario Parry Sound District is lumped into? With many things considered, it is starting to look different from its northern counterparts, and perhaps now is the time we have a healthy and mature discussion of what end of the province we reside.
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