Positive reaction in northern Ontario to federal immigration pilot project

The announcement of a new pilot project to attract more newcomers to the rural communities has been well received in northern Ontario. The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program was announced by the Federal Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen Thursday morning.

Federal government believes immigration will help reduce economic and demographic challenges in rural Canada

On Thursday, federal immigration, refugees and citizenship Ahmed Hussen, announced the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot as Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre and Cambrian College president Bill Best look on. (Martha Dillman/CBC)

The announcement of a new federal pilot project to attract more newcomers to work in rural communities has been well received by many in northern Ontario.

The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program was announced by the Federal Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen Thursday morning in Sudbury.

The five-year pilot program is aimed at attracting more skilled immigrants to places like the City of Greater Sudbury. It's styled after the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program that was launched in 2017 and is considered successful in helping to fill the labour gaps in that region.

Hussen says immigration is an important tool to help reduce the economic and demographic challenges faced by rural and northern communities. 

Northern Ontario has been dealing with a declining workforce in the past years, even in cities like Sudbury.

"From personal support workers to technically skilled positions, overall the feedback that we've been getting from local businesses is that they're having a challenge to attract skilled labour to Sudbury," said Neil Milner, a director on the Board of Sudbury's Chamber of Commerce and the Chair of the Immigration Task Force. 

Challenges in Northern Ontario

"The Chamber is happy that the government is responding to the needs of the local businesses to help them be successful," he said, "This is something the businesses in Sudbury have been saying they need."

The President and CEO of the Northern Policy Initiative, Charles Cirtwill agrees.

"The big challenge for Northern Ontario is a lot of immigration policy in the country has been focused on high-end jobs, we're all off looking for the next rocket scientist or digital engineer," said Cirtwell.

We have many communities where oddly enough it's not that hard to attract doctors but finding nurses or technicians is a real challenge,- Charles Cirtwill

He's been advocating for an immigration program like this for years. 

"The simple fact is if you look in Sudbury... you're going to find very different gaps in the labour market and most of those are in the medium-skilled or soft-skilled areas," he said. 

Many of the jobs that need to be filled in Northern Ontario are not high profile jobs, they're jobs in trades, management, tourism and even healthcare, said Cirtwill.

"We have many communities where oddly enough it's not that hard to attract doctors but finding nurses or technicians is a real challenge." 

He says the great thing about this program is that it allows communities to target the people they need for specific jobs.

"The fact that they're going to allow this five year pilot to target those areas of opportunity so that people who are coming into the community will immediately be able to find jobs, settle in the community, bring their families, I think is going to be a much more robust approach," said Cirtwill.

"The beautiful part about this exercise from my perspective is this gives those communities that really haven't had a fighting chance against places like Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal," Cirtwill said.

One of the challenges of previous immigration programs has been retaining the workers after the job is done, he said. 

According to the pilot, it will be up to the communities to help newcomers and their families feel welcome. One criteria to apply for the program is the ability of the community to settle new immigrants through relationships with immigrant-serving organizations. Communities must also offer opportunities to connect newcomers to the community at large.

"This is your window of opportunity... it's going to require communities to step up to the plate, demonstrate passion and convince these people to stay," said Cirtwill. 


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