Rickford announces new program to increase economic development

Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The provincial government announced the launch of the new and improved Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) programs to help increase economic development and promote job creation in the north.

The announcement was made on Feb. 11 and included the introduction of four new programs that will target existing and emerging markets, support more projects in small rural communities, address the skilled labour shortage and make it easier for more people and businesses to apply.

The announcement was made by Greg Rickford, Ontario Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs alongside other members of parliament and John Guerard, NOHFC executive director.

The Premiere of Ontario, Doug Ford, also made an appearance at the virtual announcement and said this funding is about supporting people in the north in various ways.

“No matter if it’s economic development or if it’s healthcare, for the first time in probably 15 years, the north has a very loud voice at the cabinet table,” Ford said.

Some attending the virtual meeting were those from the tourism sector, eagerly awaiting to see if the new NOHFC could help them, which Rickford addressed.

“All businesses will have equitable access,” Rickford said. “That’s why we’ve modernised this. We’ve listened, we understand the gaps, but we also know that this new program can’t solve all that ails of the seasonal tourist industry.”

Rickford said a consultation with seasonal tourist camp operators is on the horizon to look into how they can work with the federal government on innovations around the vaccinations once they are well underway on both sides of the border.

Rickford added that they are looking at possible solutions for people to be able to use a viable vaccination passport, or something of that nature to prove vaccination and hopefully allow people to cross the border soon.

The following new programs were implemented on Feb. 11 and will replace the NOHFC’s existing programs:

The Community Enhancement Program will see upgrades and repairs to recreational facilities, community centres and broadband infrastructure. All communities in the north from non-profits, indigenous communities, local service boards, are eligible for this stream.

The Cultural Supports Program will promote and showcase Northern Ontario’s culture, geography, and talent through the production of films and television series by supporting events such as conferences and festivals.

The Invest North Program will boost economic growth and attract more investment to the north by supporting business development and expansion as well as research and commercialization of new technologies. This program is designed to support businesses throughout the entire business lifecycle.

The People and Talent Program aims to attract, develop and retain a strong northern workforce by supporting a broader range of internships, apprenticeships and providing more opportunities for indigenous people to gain job experience

Each program has its own set of criteria and allocated funding.

The NOHFC paused its applications in November 2020 due to high demand. Rickford said it was time to modernise the program.

“Making dreams of a new community recreational centre or a business expansion a reality, that’s why one of our main goals was to make the application process as easy as possible,” Rickford said.

Rickford said this new program will support more projects in rural and northern communities, target existing and emerging industry sectors, provide more work opportunities for indigenous people and address the skilled labour shortage across the north. He adds that it will also be easier for more communities and businesses to apply for funding.

“We’re ready to take on the next wave of emerging industries and technology advancements and opportunities that will fundamentally change the way we do business in the future,” Rickford said.

Rickford said that they have seen great work with the old version of the program and are looking forward to seeing the same results with the improved version.