Give Back Muskoka Northern Ontario Status And Create Jobs

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In 2000, the Ontario Conservatives included Muskoka as part of Ontario's Designated North. It made sense on so many levels. Muskoka and Parry Sound share similar physical, cultural and economic features not to mention the same MP and MPP!

By being part of Northern Ontario, a region has access to Northern Ontario Heritage Funds (NOHF) which are vital to economic development, in particular the development of the film and television industry in Northern Ontario. Simply put, the fund compensates producers with additional tax benefits and other credits on the production money they spend in Northern Ontario. 

Peterson's Liberal Government in 1988 created NOHF to assist with economic development in the north, the idea being that it would place the northern communities on a more equal playing field with Southern Ontario. Of course, with all the press about the uber wealthy having cottages on the Muskoka Lakes it would appear that businesses and the residents of Muskoka don't need any economic assistance. Nothing could be further from the truth! 

The wealthy cottagers are the minority. What the media rarely covers is the fact that Parry Sound/Muskoka has one of the fastest growing needs for social assistance in the province. Rents and other expenses are equal to the larger cities but the average family income is  $40,000 and under. Much of the workforce is seasonal. Muskoka is about 10 times the size of Toronto and a great deal of the taxes collected go towards road maintenance. 

In addition to assistance with economic development from NOHF, low income earners in communities designated as Northern Ontario receive some relief to offset the high cost of energy. And because winters are way more brutal, residents in Northern Ontario can have studded tires for extra safety.   If you have ever driven north on either Highways 11 or the 400, you would know that there is a distinct physical boundary that separates southern Ontario from the north. It is defined by an increase in granite, the pine trees and the abundance of lakes. For over a century Muskoka, lead by the town of Gravenhurst has been "the gateway to Northern Ontario". 

To this day Parry Sound/Muskoka remains a single electoral district, both provincially and federally, plus it remains a single entity for other Ministries like Health.  Yet in 2004, when the Liberals were voted back into government, they severed the region designating Parry Sound as Northern Ontario and Muskoka as part of Central Ontario. Even though the two regions share the same high unemployment, needs for social services and hardships caused by weather, in the eyes of the Provincial government Muskoka doesn't need any help. 

In particular, film companies wanting the Northern Ontario tax credits who are looking to invest in the area by hiring locals, renting locations and spending thousands of dollars building sets can do so only in the District of Parry Sound and not in Muskoka. This means, any of the unique features that are found only in Gravenhurst, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Port Carling and Bala like the steamship Segwun, the Key to Bala, the falls of Bracebridge, the Gravenhurst Opera House or the Port Carling locks along with the classic architecture throughout are off limits. A producer cannot hire a person from Muskoka, even an extra, without being penalized. And so the idea of hiring apprentices and building a specialized skilled local labour force will never happen in Muskoka thanks to the Ontario Liberals. 

I am a screenwriter and producer living in Rosseau.  I continuously hear from producers, directors, art directors and location managers how frustrating it is that they can't shoot next door in Muskoka even though it has the quintessential look! Muskoka is still recognized as Northern Ontario by the Federal government who supports economic growth in the region through its FEDNOR programme. It is time the province of Ontario correct this wrong  and RETURN NORTHERN ONTARIO STATUS TO MUSKOKA.   



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