A trip to the nation's capital was meant to give a better snapshot of realities for social service providers in northern Ontario.
The chief administrative officer for the Kenora District Services Board joined his counterparts from the Thunder Bay and Cochrane districts in Ottawa on a lobbying trip to meet with senior federal officials this week. The trip also included Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board CAO Brian Marks and Mayor Michelle Boileau, who is also the CDSSAB chair.
Henry Wall said board officials, along with a few northern mayors, met with ministries that included infrastructure, mental health and addictions, public procurement, housing and children, family and social development.
Wall said part of the trip to advocate for the Northern Ontario included sharing the reality that sometimes isn’t captured by Statistics Canada or other data from which federal programs get their information.
“We've seen some concerning decisions being made when it comes to funding for housing through the National Housing Strategy, in particular to the rapid housing initiative," he said.
“With the exception of the City of Greater Sudbury, no community in Northern Ontario actually gets a set allocation and really no municipality [from the north] was successful under the first couple of rounds of the rapid housing initiative.”
He said incomplete information means the need isn't communicated or isn't known, and northern and rural communities miss out.
“It drives investment allocations and the north really [is] disadvantaged in that so many of our municipalities and communities are relatively small,” he said.
“So what that means is that they're actually rolled up as part of larger communities and the truth or the reality about the community isn't actually communicated through data.”
Wall said part of the effort for this trip was demonstrating the need for support and putting a plan forward, and not just saying here are issues or problems.
“By empowering our communities, we can help ourselves,” he said.
“We don't always need to look to other levels of government to come and show us how things need to be done. We know what needs to be done. We just need the appropriate resources in comparison to large urban centres in Canada to be able to do the same.”
Wall said there needs to be a different way to fund and support rural remote communities across the country.
“The lottery system of granting systems doesn't work.” he said. “A lot of smaller communities just don't even have the capacity to put in these business plans, especially if there's a very small chance of it being successful.”
Wall said this reality puts smaller rural and northern towns at a disadvantage over the long term from urban centres, which have the staff and capacity in putting proposals together.
“For us in north, often this is what we have to do off the side of our desk or into the evenings or on weekends to put these things together,” he said. “It was just a really good opportunity to have an in-depth conversation about what is needed.”
Wall said he didn’t return with any cheques in hand, but they were optimistic.
“I think the message was very well received,” he said. “I think it was a good trip.”