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Report urges northern Ontario to focus on welcoming, retaining newcomers

A young new Canadian holds a flag as she takes part in a citizenship ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 17, 2019, to mark the 37th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A report by the Royal Bank says a slowdown of immigration to Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to derail what it says has been a major source of economic growth at least temporarily. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

TORONTO — Communities in northern Ontario should be inclusive and make newcomers feel welcome if they want to help bolster dwindling populations, a newly released report urges.

The Come North report, which is the product of two conferences held by the Northern Policy Institute last February, suggests the communities develop a “co-ordinated marketing plan” to attract immigrants and people from other parts of Canada.

Read more: Police charge northern Ontario ice hut owner following violation of COVID-19 restrictions

“Inclusive, welcoming communities that are devoid of racism and that provide opportunities for all members of society are critical to sustainable regions,” the report states.

Ryan Reynard, executive director of the Lake of the Woods Business Incentive Corporation, said luring new residents to the area is just half the battle.

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“People can be attracted to these communities, but it’s the welcoming that we need to keep them there,” Reynard said.

For instance, supports need to be in place to help integrate newcomers into the community, he said.

Previously, Reynard said, even if those services were available, communication was lacking between the organizations offering them and those trying to attract new residents.

Read more: Northern Ontario COVID-19 lockdown extended until at least Jan. 23

The report recommends immigration portals be rebranded as ‘welcoming’ portals to reflect a shift in focus from exclusively immigration to “retention, reconciliation and migration.”

The report also suggests groups combating racism, promoting immigration, and seeking to further reconciliation collaborate to make the strategy work.

“The marketing that is done is externally focused and has limited connection/utility to building pride of place or furthering reconciliation,” it says. “As a result, we fail to maximize our biggest asset: the one-to-one salesforce made up of the people of Ontario’s north.”

It says growing the population in northern Ontario is important because all 11 census districts in the region are reporting labour shortages and population decline or aging.

“Business owners are struggling to find employees, both skilled and unskilled workers,” Reynard said.

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COVID-19 has only made matters worse for business owners, he said.

The pandemic has also affected efforts to attract new residents to northern Ontario, he said.

“We’re trying to get that momentum back,” Reynard said.

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