Some 18 years after they were booted out of the official Northern Ontario region, the District of Muskoka is looking to find a way back in.
During this year’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa, representatives from the District told Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry Greg Rickford they would officially like to be re-designated as part of Northern Ontario to help access support through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund. In a PowerPoint presentation to the minister, the Muskoka representatives argued that the change would reflect the unique economic and labour market challenges that the region faces based on topography, geography, and population.
In 2004 the Northern Services Boards Act was amended to remove Muskoka from Northern Ontario designation.The district argued that the removal of that designation has had a negative impact on Muskoka’s economy, and re-establishing that designation would help assist with the creation of economic diversification, living wage jobs, affordable housing, transportation options and increased investment in infrastructure.
The District pointed out a number of factors which distinguish the region from other areas to the south. For example, in 2022 the median non-waterfront home cost was some $790,000, according to District stats, which is more than double the $337,000 the same house would have cost in 2018.
While 28% of the year-round population in Muskoka is over the age of 65 the provincial average is just 18%. This leads to greater pressures on healthcare, the District argued.
The median income in Muskoka is roughly $27,000, according to the District, as compared to $34,000 for the rest of the province. In addition 68% of residents have a yearly income of less than $40,000.
Last year Muskoka’s unemployment rate was 9.1% versus the provincial average of 8%.
The District also cited a number of other concerns such as the higher cost of infrastructure projects in the region and the lack of affordable housing.
During the presentations, the representative said putting Muskoka back into the northern designation will help get them access to provincial funding but without Northern designation Muskoka cannot address the challenges they’re facing and the economy and social well-being of the region will continue to decline.
Calls and emails to the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry were not returned.
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