It’s an ongoing challenge in Northwestern Ontario; how to attract and retain workers to the region and also house them.
Those were some of the topics on the mind of Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu, who addressed the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce’s’ Leader Luncheon on Wednesday at the Italian Cultural Centre.
Hajdu, who also serves as the Minister of Indigenous Services and the Minister responsible for FedNor, told reporters that the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program was put in as a way to bring specific newcomers to the region that have a specific set of skills.
“[The program has] been hugely beneficial to employees [and] employers since it’s been in place. Certainly, we have heard a lot of advocacy to make the program permanent and expand the numbers. [That’s] certainly the work that [MP Marcus Powlowski] and I are doing is to advocate for the permanence of that project,” Hajdu said.
Hajdu noted that one of the concerns with making the program permanent is keeping workers in Thunder Bay and the surrounding region.
“We didn’t want to see, you know, [the project evolve into a way] that people [come into Canada], get their experience and then move to another area. What employers are saying is that [these workers] are becoming integrated, not just into their own business and their own business community, but into the community at large. I have met a number of the members of the community that have come through the program and they love it here and they want to stay here.”
More people coming to Thunder Bay brings growing calls for more housing, which Hajdu admits needs to be an all-hands-on deck approach.
“[Our government] has an ambitious immigration plan to help our Canadian companies continue to grow, to help ensure that we have the right blend of people to do the things we need to do,” Hajdu said. “We have also invested money into our National Housing Strategy but we will need provinces, territories, municipalities, and yes even the public and private sector to help us figure out what [more housing] looks like and we will be there as a strong partner.
Chamber president Charla Robinson said that the pilot project as seen as many as 300 people come through.
“It has been a huge benefit to local employers to bring folks from away, to get them settled in a job here in [the] community, and help them towards a path towards permanent residency,” Robinson said. “We are certainly hopeful that that program will continue because Thunder Bay needs those folks to be coming here and settling here to address our labour issues and to allow us to grow.”
The rural and northern immigration pilot is set to expire in February 2024. To date, the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission has recommended nearly 400 candidates for permanent residence under pilot program.