Ontario unwilling to answer north-south funding questions: economist

A prominent economist is calling on the provincial government to figure out whether northern Ontario is being subsidized by the south.

Northern Ontario gives more than it gets, according to some northerners, but the government hasn't crunched those numbers

The four-laning of Highway 69 is part of a strategic network improvement plan connecting southern and northern Ontario (via both the Highway 69 and Highway 11 corridors), as outlined in the MTO Highway 69 Corridor Action Plan. But divisions between the two areas of the province still exists when it comes to funding. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

A prominent economist is calling on the provincial government to figure out if northern Ontario is being subsidized by the south.

There has long been debate about whether the region contributes more to the province in taxes than it receives back in funding and Laurentian University economics professor David Robinson said the government seems unwilling to crunch those numbers.

"I've had two ministers tell me they would get it done and they haven't," Robinson said.

"So I think the evidence is either somebody's telling them it’s too costly and impossible — in which case they are incompetent — or they just don't want to release those numbers."

A spokesperson for the ministry of Northern Development and Mines said it is impossible to determine if northern Ontario pays more than it gets back from the government — partially because tax revenue can't be narrowed down to specific regions of Ontario.

The question of whether northern Ontario is getting its fair share was highlighted again recently with the final trek of the Northlander train, which will make its last journey north at the end of the week.

The province’s decision to wind down the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission has angered northerners who consider the area financially neglected and misunderstood by government leaders.

Economic 'donut hole'

But others say the region is wealthy when it comes to economic development funding and that new funds for the east and southwest are not as rich as the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund. And there are still parts of the province for which there are no grants to be had.

Bracebridge mayor Graydon Smith said his Muskoka town has northern challenges — but can't get Northern Ontario Heritage Fund dollars.

He said a local forestry business recently told him it was expanding, but was considering moving north to get government grants.

"To hear of a good news story and to hear that good news won't be happening in your area is very frustrating," Smith said.

The province recently created two new regional development funds — one for eastern Ontario and one for the southwest. Neither one covers Bracebridge.

"We are the hole in the donut, so to speak, of economic development funding in Ontario," Smith said.

The mayor said he is lobbying the province to move Muskoka back into the north, which is more lucrative than being in the southwest or east.