Latest Policy Bytes

The North is growing, in places

April 28, 2015 - The response to my April column about recent successes for young people here in our region was met with a mix of relief and skepticism.  Relief that here at last we had some good news; skepticism that the news wasn’t all that good since it reflected more hitting bottom than getting better. In fact, I think one commentator used the phrase “rock bottom.” If this is “rock bottom” I will take it.

Weathering Winter Roads – What is the Best Route?

April 7, 2015 - Recently, the use of winter roads and access trails have become increasingly unreliable as temperatures rise and weather patterns become unpredictable. Many First Nations communities in Northern Ontario are vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change, since they depend on consistent cold weather during winter to sustain their economic, social, and traditional ways of life. Community members here and across all of northern Canada, as well as scientists, describe climate change as gradual in the region until 10 years ago, when weather patterns began to change significantly. According to the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER), “seasonal precipitation, the number of frost-free days, and the frequency of severe weather-related events have all been in greater flux. Predictions about global warming, even at such high latitudes, forecast dramatic increases up to eight degrees in average temperature through the rest of the century, which will further degrade winter transportation.”[i]

The Grass Isn't Always Greener

April 1, 2015 - In both Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario 17-34 year olds are leaving in droves. My question is, do they know how good they have it here at home?

Ontario School Closures: A “Dollars and Sense” Alternative – Community Hub Schools

March 4, 2015 - Smaller communities in Northern Ontario are accustomed to receiving the Queen’s Park ‘shock treatment.’ It happened again on January 28, 2015 when Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals stated that $1 billion out of the $22.5 billion education budget could be saved by “closing about 600 half-empty schools.” A day later the Minister backtracked, saying that her primary concern was underutilized Toronto schools, not those in rural or remote communities.

Preserving Co-op Housing: Proposing Concrete Action

February 10, 2015 - In Ontario, “more than 7,000 households are slated to lose their rental top-ups.”[i] Over the years, both the provincial and federal governments have created programs to support the development of non-profit geared to income housing co-operatives. Rent to geared income (RGI) housing is subsidized housing. “The rent is based directly on the tenant’s income, usually 30% of the gross monthly household income. If you receive social assistance, the rent charges are based on the rent benefit set by the Ontario government, rather than 30% of the gross monthly income.”[ii] RGI subsidies are most often available in publicly owned social housing, but are also available in co-operative, non-profit and private housing. Subsidies have been provided to co-ops through agreements to pay the mortgage, and most were established in the 1990s for 20 or 30 year terms. These subsidies expire when each co-op building’s mortgage expires. When the federal government entered into this arrangement it was the most cost effective avenue to take: they could create affordable housing that works without actually having to run it. It was clear that this arrangement would come to an end one day, the question is – is anyone prepared for what comes next?

Public Transportation Not Just an Urban Concern

January 20, 2015 - Public Transportation is generally viewed as an “urban” issue[1]. However, Northern Ontario largely consists of small communities, with only five cities (Greater Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins) having a population above 30,000[2]. Travel, regardless of the size of the community, is an essential aspect of life. Individuals must travel to access various activities such as:

Filling in the Gaps: The Meno Ya Win Classroom

January 5, 2015 - Jenny Pert-Wesley, a teacher in Sioux Lookout, has a wall of pictures in her classroom. She can point to any picture and tell a story of a student’s struggles and successes and like any teacher, she beams with pride.