Skip to content

COLUMN: Welcoming communities key to Northern Ontario growth

In order to fill said vacancies, communities must prioritize attracting newcomers, as well as ensuring full labour market participation among the existing population

If you’ve ever been house hunting, you’ll know that at first glance, a house might look to be in great shape. However, after a great first impression, we can trust the home inspector to give us the full picture.

Why should we expect anything less when it comes to knowing about racism and discrimination in Northern Ontario?

Think about it. If you are told that the roof tiles are at their expiration date, you would want to fix them right away to avoid damage later down the road. Why can’t the same be said for addressing racism and discrimination?

If very few people want to move to your community due to concerns about safety and comfortability, that is going to cause economic and social problems – especially in Northern Ontario communities.

An aging population coupled with out-migration means there are not enough individuals in northern communities to fill current and future job vacancies.

In order to fill said vacancies, communities must prioritize attracting newcomers, as well as ensuring full labour market participation among the existing population.

Failing to take an active role in this process means communities will struggle to fill job vacancies, which can stall economic growth. This has spillover effects, too, as the tax base will shrink and place a higher burden on current residents to pay for local services.

So, let’s open the front door and see what’s inside.

In a 2022 survey by Northern Policy Institute (NPI) and Environics Research, it was mostly found that residents in Thunder Bay, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Greater Sudbury, and North Bay felt that their communities were welcoming, and that these welcoming efforts will continue to be the case in the next 10 years.

As well, most respondents in most communities, save for Thunder Bay (responses were split), indicated that relations between people of different racial backgrounds were generally good.

So far, the house looks to be in good shape. The neighborhood is great, too (it’s less crowded and more affordable than Southern Ontario, to boot!)

Nevertheless, there are a few items the inspector noticed.

Across all five communities, individual prejudice was found to be a bigger issue impacting visible minorities and Indigenous peoples compared to discrimination built into laws and institutions.

Furthermore, when compared to treatment of white people at work, school, public places and in dealing with police and the courts, the experiences of visible minorities and Indigenous peoples negatively differed.

Additionally, treatment of Indigenous peoples in these spaces was even more negative compared to visible minorities.

These are not insurmountable issues. But, they do require a targeted, multigenerational effort to mitigate. Initiatives can be large-scale such as the Timmins Diversity Awareness Project, the traveling Indigenous Ingenuity showcase hosted by Indigenous Tourism Ontario and Science North, or NPI’s Magnetic North initiative.

They can also be everyday actions that, as a collective, can make a difference: public education campaigns that discuss racism and discrimination, as well as provide resources; spotlighting best practices and implementing them where possible; assessing who is not at the decision-making table that should be and asking why they aren’t there; and, of course, annually measuring racism and discrimination.

This annual measurement helps to analyze, over time, the impact of actions and initiatives in tackling racism in Northern Ontario, as well as helps decision makers and community practitioners to create targeted strategies. As noted earlier, experiences between Indigenous peoples and visible minorities differ. Therefore, blanket approaches must be avoided.

These measurement efforts also help those looking to move to a community in Northern Ontario or already reside in one of these communities.

For the international student who is looking to study in Canada and wants to know the community is safe. For the First Nations woman who moved from a remote community and wants her voice heard. For all of us who live in Northern Ontario, who can use these results to keep everyone accountable for their actions and words.

Ensuring Northern Ontario communities are welcoming is key for future social and economic growth and not reading through the detailed home inspection report puts that at risk.