A report funded by the federal government says that although Ontario is already the most populated province in Canada, it will need a lot more people in its northern regions over the next two decades just to maintain a healthy workforce.
“If we wished to maintain our historical, healthy, ratio of dependents to workers, Ontario’s northern regions would need to retain everyone who is currently here and attract some 8,100 additional people every year for the next 20 years,” states the report, Come North – Population Growth in Ontario’s Northern Regions Conference Report.
“In order to just limit the fall in our ratio of dependents to working-age people to match the expected Ontario level by 2041, Northern Ontario needs some 1,700 new people a year for the next 20 years. That’s 34,000 new northerners to slow our decline, 162,000 to halt it.”
The report was funded by Ottawa through the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor), a program of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
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In its pages are the thoughts and conclusions of more than 300 people, representing almost 100 organizations, who hashed out a plan for population growth in northern Ontario over six days in February last year.
The fear in northern Ontario is the trend towards a drop in working-age adults as a percentage of the population.
The hope is immigration will be the solution.
Certainly, immigration has greatly helped the rest of Ontario stave off labour shortages. In 1996, northern Ontario actually had a more robust workforce than the rest of the province, with more working-age adults per capita. Two decades later, the situation was reversed.
Action on immigration has already been taken through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program’s Regional Immigration Pilot, as well as the federally-operated Rural & Northern Immigration Pilot, which includes a number of Ontario communities.
But the report urges governments to go further.
Northern Ontario Might Not Have Enough Workers In 15 Years
“By 2016, the province, through international immigration and national domestic migration, had surpassed all of Ontario’s northern regions,” states the report. “Nevertheless, the province’s own ratio continues to slip and will hit a concerning level by 2036 of roughly 1.5 dependents for every worker.”
Northern Ontario communities are hoping to do more to both encourage immigration to the region and to stem the tide of out-migration as well.
“We continue to hear persistent reports from employers of challenges in finding needed employees with in-demand skills. Immigration to northern communities remains well below historical levels and emigration continues to be a challenge,” notes the report. “International students, who represent a significant growth factor in our reported population levels do not tend to remain after graduation.
Employers in Northern Ontario Struggling To Fill Jobs
“There is a clear consensus across Ontario’s north that more needs to be done to attract and retain the people we need to sustain our communities.”
In its action plan, the report lists both short-term and medium-to-long-term recommendations.
In the short term, the report recommends:
- increased collaboration and enhanced targeting of existing marketing efforts to maximize impact and stretch scarce dollars. Among the ways to do that are: tourism advertising to international students; post-secondary information for tourists; settlement information for travelers, and; community information for Indigenous populations;
- improved Interconnectivity and consistency of messaging and information across online platforms, including social media;
- fewer restrictions by provincial and federal governments on pre-arrival service and supports for international students;
- greater access to the existing services, especially in rural and remote communities;
- the introduction of new residents, tourists, students and investors to local cuisine and of local residents to the cuisine of the new arrivals;
- the recruitment of young people to organizing committees to increase marketing reach and effectiveness at low or no cost.
- regular and public reporting of core measures.
- improved access to programs and services through cross-program education efforts and an online asset map tool, and;
- increased education and training, especially in rural settings, on funding programs and how to apply to them.
Smarter, Online Marketing Seen As Important Tool
In the medium-to-long-term, the report calls for:
- tools that can be shared and re-used, particularly basic marketing materials, multi-language videos and high-quality online interactive experiences;
- investment in interactive engagement and consistency of messaging;
- free or subsidized legal advice available by phone for international immigrants;
- a single point of contact for anyone considering a move to a region or a community;
- an expansion of the mandate of Professions North/Nord (PNN) to include the skilled trades to bridge service gaps;
- improved access to affordable housing;
- an inventory of assets chat would include space available for alternative uses and purposes, such as Legion halls, kitchen facilities and training centres, green space, and faith-based space that can be shared;
- the sale of “micro-experiences” which could build links between tourism and business expansion;
- junkets for international students during the summer or on weekends to get them beyond the narrow confines of the walking distance to their institutions and into more rural communities;
- training on basic data skills targeted to individual users who might feel overwhelmed using larger databases such as those provided by Statistics Canada to allow them to develop and then update in-house key measures for their organizations;
- flexible report generation on a common platform where organizations can save their own research and simply run it as often as they need;
- new training programs at college and university tied to identified systemic gaps, and;
- the creation of a pool of people to assist other communities in drafting grant applications and funding requests.
The northern Ontario report’s thrust dovetails perfectly with Ottawa’s commitment to boost immigration to Canada.
Ottawa Committed To Higher Immigration Levels
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Minister Marco Mendicino has already announced that Canada will be dramatically increasing immigration to boost its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic over the next few years.
Under the new plan, Canada wants to welcome more than 1.2 million newcomers between 2021 and 2023. There are to be 401,000 new permanent residents to Canada in 2021, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023.
“Immigration is essential to getting us through the pandemic, but also to our short-term economic recovery and our long-term economic growth,” the minister has said. “Canadians have seen how newcomers are playing an outsized role in our hospitals and care homes and helping us to keep food on the table.
“As we look to recovery, newcomers create jobs not just by giving our businesses the skills they need to thrive, but also by starting businesses themselves,” he said. “Our plan will help to address some of our most acute labour shortages and to grow our population to keep Canada competitive on the world stage.”