The past two week’s have been a flurry of activity at the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce.  Bay Days, Armed Forces Day, MP Anthony Rota announcing the Rural & Northern Immigration Pilot Program and last Tuesday, Provincial Minister of Economic Development Job Creation and Trade, Todd Smith announcing the expansion of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program for trucking and personal support workers.  The latter two being announcements that are of importance to North Bay and District.

Many of our Northern Communities have seen a consistent trend of population decline for a variety of reasons over the past decade or so.  Declining birthrates, lengthy recession in resource-based industries, youth out migration and a multitude of other factors continue to plague Northern Ontario and many other rural areas across Canada, when it comes to population.  It is no secret that residents of many of these communities are stretched with respect to increases in property taxes however are reluctant and usually vocal, when it comes to cuts or reductions in service levels.

Immigration is one of the ways that these regions can look to bolster their populations, grow the economies of our communities and help reduce the impact of rising taxes.  The more taxpayers and businesses that we can attract to our area will result in economic growth and stability for our future.  We are a community that has been an immigration settlement area for the past 150 years and much of our population is only one or two generations removed from arriving as immigrants themselves.  As Northern Ontario grew in the latter part of the 1800’s and through to the 1950-60’s, many of our relatives came here to seek a better life, work and make this area home.

The new pilot program will roll out soon and there has been no shortage of inquiries by local and regional businesses that are interested in welcoming qualified immigrants.  After months and sometimes years of trying to attract trained and qualified employees in many fields, the announcements may possibly assist in helping businesses grow.  Details on the programs will be rolled out this Fall of 2019, but we do know that it will be a three to five-year pilot and approximately 250 individuals and families will, be eligible.   Permanent employment with an eligible business or confirmed equity/investment are expected to make up the pre-qualifications.

One of the most important details of the program that it seems has been missed by some, is that the assistance being offered under this program for expedited visa or permanent residency for an employee, and the position cannot or has not been able to be filled by a resident of Canada.  The common misconception which some social media postings have alluded to, is that of intolerance to the idea of immigration, to fill some of our labour market challenges.  If we are to succeed and grow as an area, we must embrace and welcome new Canadians because if we look closely enough, many of our parents and grandparents were also welcomed here, not so many years ago.

Peter Chirico is the President & CEO of the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce.