Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Politics of Regional Development Initiatives in Northern Ontario
Hall, Heather Mary
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The objective of this dissertation is to unearth the multi-scalar political geographies of regional development using an empirically intensive, single-region, case study approach focussing on Northern Ontario. This research focuses on Northern Ontario because it provides a unique setting to understand the political strategizing and contestation of regional development. Northern Ontario has had a long history of federal and provincial regional development initiatives from region specific policies, reports, and studies to regional development institutions. In fact, up until recently it was the only sub-provincial region in Canada with a federally appointed regional development institution. In Northern Ontario there is also a deep sense of territorial grievance and discontent that has generated a number of organizations and movements to mobilize regional interests in the quest for greater autonomy over decision-making and economic development. The main objective of unpacking the multi-scalar political geographies of regional development in Northern Ontario translates into the following questions: 1) How and why have federal regional development initiatives in Northern Ontario changed since the 1960s? 2) How and why have provincial regional development initiatives in Northern Ontario changed since the 1960s? and 3) What are the regional responses? Answers to these questions underscore the messy and complex nature and politics of regional development. More pointedly, this thesis clearly demonstrates that regional development is not just about finding economic solutions to regional challenges but that these initiatives are also deeply political. To explore the politics of regional development, I draw on insights from Canadian political economy, new regional geography, state theory, and new regionalism literature. By viewing regional development through these frameworks, I expose the nuanced nature of regional development so that ultimately, we may learn to adopt more effective regional policy innovations for Northern Ontario and other peripheral regions in Canada. This research makes several important contributions. Empirically, it provides a rich history of federal and provincial regional development initiatives in Northern Ontario since the 1960s. Theoretically, it contributes to debates on the conceptualization of regions and regional development including the politicization of boundaries and the paradox of regional development institutions.