Thursday April 12th, Mayor Christian Provenzano hosted Mayor Steve Black (Timmins), Mayor Brian Bigger (Sudbury), Mayor Al McDonald (North Bay), and Mayor Keith Hobbs (Thunder Bay) for a Northern Ontario Urban Mayors (NOLUM) and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) meeting.
The meeting was held to discuss common issues experienced by large urban cities in the North, such as population decline, the opioid crisis, the need for economic development to support tourism and job growth, as well as investment in our businesses.
Mayor Provenzano made a presentation about demographic challenges related to age structure and the pace of natural increase and immigration to the North.
The mayors also heard from Dr. David Marsh, Professor of Clinical Services at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and member of the Ministry of Health’s Opioid Emergency Task Force, Aimee Dimatteo, Director General of FEDNOR, and Marc Leroux, Manager of the Mineral Sector Analysis and Promotions Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.
The meeting also highlighted important common issues for the upcoming provincial election, such as infrastructure, hydro rates, and the Ring of Fire.
While Timmins, Sudbury, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay differ in terms of population and specific needs or issues that are unique to their area, as explained by Mayor Bigger, “When we come together, we are talking about the pan-Northern Ontario challenges and opportunities.”
And the hot topic of the day was most definitely the precarious demographic issues faced by the Northern hubs.
Provincial population projections released by the Ontario Ministry of Finance in 2017 indicate Ontario’s population is expected to grow during the period of 2016 to 2041, but Northern Ontario is projected to see an overall decrease from 797,000 to 782,000.
In terms of provincial population share, the Northeast is expected to drop from 4.3% to 3% and Northwest from 1.8% to 1.3%.
According to the report, Ontario Population Projections Update, 2016-2041, migration is the most important factor contributing to population for Ontario growth as a whole and the North only receives a small share of international migration.
Census results (25% sample data) indicate that Greater Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Thunder Bay, and Timmins combined received only 2,285 immigrants between 2011 to 2016, while Ontario received a total of 472,170 immigrants during the same period.
Large urban areas currently receive the majority share of international migration to Ontario, indicating the need for a policy change.
Some of you may be thinking, why does this matter?
Well, whether you support immigration or not, if you live in Northern Ontario, this issue should resonate with you.
As summarized best by Mayor McDonald, “Why does this matter? One, governments tend to fund where people are, so we will see even more of a decrease in funding in the North. Two, if our businesses can’t find the skilled people they need, they will start moving South. Three, our sustainability long-term is hinging on immigration.
What we have now is a declining birth rate, an increasing death rate, both due to an aging population, and virtually no immigration.”
NOLUM are calling for remedial action from the Federal and Provincial governments to address the unbalanced immigration situation in Ontario, which ultimately disadvantages Northern Ontario.
And there are specific government agencies being called upon.
Mayor Black told SaultOnline, “We have a continued frustration with the funding level in Fednor. They just put out their Northern Ontario Growth and Prosperity Plan but we want to see more than plans. We want them to increase the budget to the $100 million dollar mark that NOHFC did, and as well look at pilot projects like the one in Atlantic Canada.”
NOLUM recommends that the Federal and provincial governments partner to implement a similar program to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. This program sees the Federal government, and New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and PEI help employers in the region hire job candidates who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents by expediting the immigration process.
These candidates help to fill jobs that employers have trouble filling locally.
This furthers the issues for Northern Ontario, as the four Atlantic provinces indicated received 12,075 more immigrants between 2011 and 2016 in comparison to the 2006 and 2010 period, while the Northern cities involved in NOLUM experienced a net increase of only 205 immigrants during that same period.
“There is a demonstrated need for a similar program to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot to be launched in Northern Ontario. Introducing a program to streamline the immigration process is a tangible way the Federal and Provincial governments can help ensure a more balanced population spread across Ontario, while addressing the current and projected demographic challenges,” the Sault’s mayor shared.
In closing, all five mayors have committed to seeking the support of their respective City Councils in regards to the implementation of a program similar to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.
More information on census results and population projections for the province can be found here.
More information on the Atlantic Canada Immigration Pilot can be found here.
Statistics in this story were provided by the City of Sault Ste. Marie, as found in reports released by the Ontario Ministry of Finance.