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Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro to chair cabinet committee
Premier Kathleen Wynne is delivering on her campaign promise to create a Northern Cabinet Committee but Kenora-Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell argued the Liberal-only committee is symbolic of this province’s inherently sick democracy.
“It’s not acceptable for the Premier to decide that instead of doing something that would represent the democratic will of Northern Ontario, to set up a very exclusive committee made up of only a couple of people belonging to one particular party,” Campbell said. “That goes completely against the spirit of the Northern communities, which would have representatives of all stripes.”
Campbell responded to Wynne’s first speech from the throne with a verbal assault on Ontario’s electoral system on Feb. 27, claiming the interests of regions outside the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are subjugated to an agenda that inherently favours urban voters in general and those in the provincial capital in specific.
“We have a system that encourages catering to narrow regional interests and oftentimes, that leads to one part of the province imposing its will on another part —areas where they don’t live, areas where they don’t work, areas where they will probably never visit because they have louder voices, because they have better resources and because the electoral system discriminates based on population,” she said. “This isn’t just the case for Northwestern Ontario. It’s the case for Northeastern Ontario, Central Ontario, rural Ontario. We’re trapped in this relationship with Toronto, Mississauga, and the rest of the GTA in the Northwest and most of us would like out of this relationship. We’d like autonomy but we don’t have the clout or the power to be in control of our own destiny.”
Campbell raised the issue of Northwestern Ontario joining Manitoba, where the Kenora-Rainy River Riding would transfer to seven seats and increased influence on the legislative agenda. Even those residing in small towns and First Nations hundreds of kilometres on either side of Thunder Bay are lumped in with its two ridings, she pointed out, while the population of the region’s largest city ensures its MPPs better represent urban interests.
“What happens when we only have one riding to represent the diverse issues we have and concerns, we have bills like the Far North Act and the Species At Risk Act where there are some narrow interests that are influencing the agenda. We need some balance.”
Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro will chair the Northern Cabinet Committee, made up of the Ministers of Aboriginal Affairs, Economic Development and Trade, Transportation, Transportation, Natural Resources and Northern Development and Mines. He dismissed Campbell’s
“There’s a clear and consistent attempt, not just from Northern Ontario but from Central Ontario and Eastern Ontario to make it seem that Northern Southeastern and other voices haven’t been heard,” he said. “They’re going to criticize us and I’d be delighted to stand anywhere with Sarah Campbell or any opposition member and talk about the incredible results we’ve achieved for Northern Ontario but this narrative they’re looking to form in the minds of people in Northwestern Ontario is absolutely ridiculous.”
Cabinet Committees are the brainchild of former Premier Dalton McGuinty, designed to give backbench MPPs more say in developing legislation. Over the last nine years, the structure has allowed Mauro the opportunity to help develop Northern development and housing strategies. He pointed out opposition members outnumber the Liberals in many standing committees in this minority as he accused Campbell of trying to make the Northern Committee into a political issue.
“The legislature on a daily basis allows you to represent the interests of your constituents. It allows you to have input into the drafting of legislation through your comments. Legislation is referred to standing committees on a regular basis… To minimize the effect of the Northern Cabinet as if they (the opposition) don’t get to be involved is really a stretch.”
By Jon Thompson