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Breaking the traditional model--a generational change.

The sustainability of the Northern Ontario economy is dependant upon how well we can transition the traditional use of our natural resources to an approach that exemplifies not only the quality of sustainability, but also value-added and diversification.

The terms sustainability and value-added are repeating concepts whenever the economy of Northern Ontario is discussed. The problem appears to be the inability of the many government programs and efforts of those that care in realizing that such a transition is a generational change, not something that happens "overnight".

While the difficult economic times continue for communities dependant upon the forest industry, mineral industry communities are faring a bit better. In either case, the related economies perform poorly when compared to our neighbours in the southern part of the province.

The Northeastern Superior Mayors Group (NESMG) is of the opinion that Northern Ontario has a bright future. That bright future starts with the recognition that we have to break our traditional view of our economy. The standard "boom and bust" cycle in Northern Ontario must be replaced with diversification combined with sustainability.

This past summer, the NESMG (communities of Chapleau, Wawa, Dubreuilville, White River, Hornepayne and Manitouwadge) took the bold step of contributing $20,000 each from their municipal coffers to make a difference. Moving without the financial aid of any senior level of government, the NESMG partnered with Laurentian University and INORD (Institute for Northern Ontario Research and Development) and engaged Dr. David Robinson to develop a plan for a generational change in the Superior East Region. The document entitled "Making Your Elephant Work for You" (read the forest industry is the size of an elephant) is a strategy that was developed after an agreement on seven basic concept[s.sup.1];

1. Develop an integrated plan to strengthen the economy and the communities.

2. Develop our own people.

3. Acquire our own "brains trust" to do the necessary research and to help develop strategies.


4. To find the funds needed, first for research and strategy development, then to implement the plans as adopted.

5. Present a common strategy to the Province of Ontario, to industry and to our own people.

6. Develop a long-range political lobbying campaign.

7. Develop links with other communities with similar concerns across the North.

The backbone of the strategy contains three main principles.

First, the approach must be systematic with many interrelated parts. Our communities will only be able to survive if they develop a genuinely "grand vision".

Second, the strategy must be long term. The "impossible" takes a little longer to complete. Lastly, the strategy must engage a large part, if not all of the population over a long period of time. The solution will not be a new program; it will be a new culture resulting from a generational change. To quote the application made to the Forest Communities Program, Natural Resources Canada:

"The strategy involves careful steps to develop people capable of adding value to the forest resources both before and after harvest, development of new training institutions, and expansion of a development corporation specifically to promote bio-products and non-timber forest products. It involves coordinated political action, improved access to land, and experimentation with new tenure regimes. It calls for forest inventories in the hands of the community itself, and it demands cultural change that only our community can undertake."

"Making Your Elephant Work for You" has had an immediate impact on the member communities. Very quickly the NESMG moved to apply to Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Forest Service under the Forest Communities Program to develop what is being called the Northeastern Superior Forest Community. The application is complex and takes into account the basics and principles of the "Elephant" strategy and applies them to the region. While it is somewhat premature to discuss the specific projects detailed in the application, it is safe to say they are unique in that each community in the group can be replicated in other areas of the province or country. This will require a generational change to become completely successful and an investment in the future. They are also sustainable, diversified and will add value to the economy of Superior East and Northern Ontario.

Our situation in Northern Ontario did not develop overnight and may best be described as occurring over several generations. Changing it will not occur in the short run, requiring that same generational change--there may not be any other choice.
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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