Northern Ontario needs more than great views for immigrants to stay

Magnetic North: Northern Ontario Population Growth forum was a two-day conference held on June 22 and 23 to discuss population growth and had a systemic racism and anti-discrimination panel.

This is the second year the conference was held with its first one in February 2020. This year’s conference was different in that it talked about population growth, in a broader sense, not just focusing on immigration pathways.

Stacey Parks, Northwestern Local Immigration Partnership Coordinator, said it is no surprise for anyone who has been looking at immigration trends over the last few years to see that there is a population core problem in Canada – specifically, in northern Ontario.

Parks adds that northern Ontario has been particularly hard hit by outward migration and an aging population.

“We need folks to want to be in and live in our communities so that we do have a tax base for industry, roads, resources and municipal busing. But it’s a catch 22 because people don’t necessarily want to go to places that don’t already have other systems,” Parks said.

“We need to make sure that there’s a spotlight shot on us and that decisions are made not just thinking about large urban centers across the province or the country,” Parks added. “We’re relevant and we have different needs.”

Parks noted that the conference helps to bring together stakeholders to help figure out a way to work together to have a more cohesive population strategy for northern Ontario.

Parks said the perks of northern Ontario need to be highlighted more to bring more people to the region such as the jobs, how much those jobs pay, career opportunities, opportunities for advancement, exciting things that are happening in the area, cost of living, and the time saved from the commute.

A portion of the conference was dedicated to discussion about racism and discrimination. A group of panelists across northern Ontario came together to discuss how racism and prejudice is a deterrent to immigrant groups from coming to or staying in northern Ontario.

Hediyeh Karimian, co-founder of ULU, echoed some of the benefits that Parks touched on, but added that if there are not the right supports for immigrants it can be very challenging to seek opportunities in a smaller community.

Rimaz Abakar, an associate of Black Northern Consulting added that systemic barriers that are embedded on those systems make it difficult and challenging for BIPOC or Indigenous people to access those opportunities.

“Having a good job is one great step but having the ability to grow and prosper in that job and feel comfortable, to stay, is a different conversation altogether. I think that’s something in the north we need to work on,” Abakar said.

The panel also touched on their experience with micro aggressions, accessibility to transportation, housing for families, getting healthcare without being discriminated against and lack of cultural resources.

Parks said there is currently research being done looking at those who have chosen to leave or that are in the process of leaving, so trying to get an idea of, is there a certain type of demographic that is more likely to leave? And if so, why are they leaving?

“One reason why people go to a place is for a job. Sometimes people go to a place for love, some people go for money but that is not always enough to keep them to make them stay,” Parks said.

Parks said getting the answers to questions about why people are staying or leaving are crucial and so are intake questions in order to find out what their hobbies and interests are to better help immigrants find their way in a new community.

“None of us want to be in a place where we don’t see ourselves or we don’t feel welcomed, or we don’t feel like we’re included, and our interests aren’t reflected where we live. Try to tap into that early and plug those people into the existing programming that’s happening within the community so that they can start making friends and getting to know their surroundings,” Parks said.

Compared to southern Ontario or other parts of Canada, immigration numbers have been low in northern Ontario, but Parks said the region is moving in the right direction.

“There’s still more to be done. I think it’s really important that we have a pan northern strategy, and that we’re talking about it with each other because we’re stronger together. It’s not about Sudbury competing with Temiskaming Shores, what’s good for one community should really be good for the other.”

Parks said getting on the same page is key to making a greater impact and getting their message to the federal and provincial levels of government.

Parks said the goal moving forward to further develop their population growth to hopefully continue to influence policy at the federal level.