Not-so-remote North.

Author:Cirtwill, Charles
Position::Think Tank

Near the end of 2016, Charles Sousa, Ontario's finance minister, gave a talk in Thunder Bay. As far as standard talks go, it was a pretty good one. Something happened, however, during the question and answer period that I found quite unsettling. It wasn't something Sousa did--it was something several leading members of the Thunder Bay community did.

In a series of questions and extended comments, our community leaders effectively portrayed Thunder Bay, the northwest, and Northern Ontario generally as remote, inaccessible, and rife with challenges. The primary theme was that "You can't get there from here." That was followed with "We are awash in challenges that we simply can't address on our own." If you were someone considering investing or moving here, you ; would likely have run screaming from the room, left with the indelible impression that Northern Ontario is basically on the far side of the moon. As a newcomer (I have lived in Thunder Bay a little over three years), I can tell you with no hesitancy whatsoever that my experience is entirely different than what was described.

I can get from Toronto to Thunder Bay by plane quicker than someone from Toronto can drive to their cottage in Muskoka. A flight from Timmins to downtown Toronto is roughly comparable to how long many people spend on a GO train from Barrie to Toronto every day. North Bay, Sudbury, and the myriad smaller communities around them are well within effective distance for close economic ties to Ottawa and Toronto. By that I mean: shopping, working, and entertaining.

The finest bed and breakfast I have ever stayed at is located in Temiskaming Shores. Some of Ontario's best high schools, based on testing done by the province, are located in our backyards. Thunder Bay's foodie scene, Sudbury's design community, Kenora's cultural industry (especially their brewers) are second to none. World-leading artists live in our rural and remote communities. Northern Ontario has been a leader in distance education for more than four decades. I have met progressive Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders who have transformed the lives of their friends and neighbours. Using, in most cases, just the resources available to them locally, with limited help from "outside."

Don't get me wrong. We have our challenges. No community is...

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