Sudbury·THE ISSUES PEOPLE

Middle class voters in northern Ontario interested in child care, tax cuts

Much of this federal election campaign has focused on the middle class. And one unlikely place you'll find them is in the small northern Ontario town of Echo Bay.

Small town outside Sault Ste. Marie is growing with young families and commuters

Some daycare operators say it will be very difficult to re-open in phase 2 of the province's post-pandemic economic plans without government funding. (Erik White/CBC)

Erin Hemsworth walks through the halls of Echo Bay Central School pointing out how everything is about to change.

"This is my office, this will become a classroom. This is our current staffroom and this will become another classroom," says the principal of the school in the small town outside of Sault Ste. Marie.

Renovations are underway right now that will add a new classroom and an expanded daycare centre. New classrooms were also added last year and two years before that. 

"Right now our growth pattern is adding another classroom every second year," says Hemsworth, who has seen the school population climb by 40 kids to 229 since she became principal last year.

"It's big. We're bursting at the seams."

Erin Hemsworth became principal at Echo Bay Central School last year and the student population has gone up by 40 since then. (Erik White/CBC)

Echo Bay stands out when most small towns in northern Ontario are getting smaller and older.

The 2016 census lists the population at 1,600, up about 10 per cent from the last count in 2011, but it could be rising even faster than that now.

Young families have been moving to town for a bit of country living that's just a short drive from work in Sault Ste. Marie.

In Echo Bay, many of those moving in are moving back. 

"There was never a doubt in my mind," says Adam Chevis, a 33-year-old town councillor who grew up in Echo Bay but lived away for many years.

"I certainly knew I'd come back."

Chevis says many of the kids he grew up with have also moved back to Echo Bay and their kids are now hanging out together. 

"I think it'd be hard not to notice the influx of young families and young people in our community," says Chevis, who works at Ontario Lottery and Gaming in Sault Ste. Marie. 

"You walk through the streets and there's basketball nets and the tennis courts are full."

Adam Chevis, 33, grew up in Echo Bay, has recently moved back and now sits on town council. (Erik White/CBC)

There is also now a waiting list for town recreational programs like summer camp and soccer, as well for daycare. 

The additions to the school will add an infant day care centre, which is good news for the many young parents in the area.

"That's a stressful thing as a new mom to be going back to work and not knowing if you have a spot," says Tanya Towell, who also grew up here.

"I always knew that if I had children, I'd want to raise them in Echo Bay," says the 35-year-old mother of two young daughters, who is expecting her third child. 

The occupational therapist says she's hoping to see the next federal government make it easier to find daycare.

She says she's currently paying about $90 per day and in the past has paid the "frustrating bill" of keeping her kids in daycare during her maternity leave just to hold onto their spot. 

"You go from shopping to see which one you want, to which one you can get into," says Towell. 

"You get kind of desperate and you don't want to feel that way, sending your kid off for the first time."

Luke Caccamo, 39, of Echo Bay, is happy to see politicians focusing on middle class voters like him. (Erik White/CBC)

Luke Caccamo is happy to hear politicians talking about the middle class, which he believes includes him.

The 39-year-old father of two moved to Echo Bay seven years ago and commutes into the city for his information technology job.

"My joke is it's 26 minutes to work and 27 in heavy traffic," Caccamo says.

He's interested in some of the tax breaks being pitched to middle class voters for everything from home improvement to public transit.

"To be honest with you, it's nice low-hanging fruit sitting out there for us," says Caccamo.

"It's a good way to get people involved. So whether or not it's actually a taxbreak or we're paying elsewhere, I still think it's a great thing."

The other big issue for him in this election campaign is rural internet service, which in Echo Bay he calls "on the edge of being unacceptable" but still much better than some of the other nearby communities outside the Sault. 

But who exactly is included in the middle class? Hear what some voters in Sudbury had to say about that: 

In our latest installment of The Issues People, we check in with people in the middle class. Party leaders keep talking about them, but who are they? And will they vote for a party that caters to them? CBC reporter Erik White put those questions to voters at the farmer's market in Sudbury recently. 6:14

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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