Tuesday, 20 December 2016 20:26

Brockville, Look to GTA, not India

Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay

Municipal councils in Canada’s smaller centres do not appear to be at the forefront in analyzing demographic and diversity trends affecting their communities. They ought to be looking for immigrants closer to home, rather than overseas.

I see it in discussions with municipal politicians from my perch in Northern Ontario, and in a recent Brockville Recorder and Times news article about attracting immigrant entrepreneurs.  The municipality secured a provincial government grant to commission a study on the topic, one in which I am particularly interested.

The population of Canada is rising steadily and is more than 36 million people. Approximately 300,000 immigrants are now arriving annually.

Generally, newcomers to Canada do not emigrate to smaller centres, but to the larger ones, with Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver taking the majority. What is becoming more prevalent, however, is secondary migration to smaller centres.

Immigrant-owned businesses

In North Bay, population 54,000, where I live, there are more than 70 first generation immigrant-owned businesses. This is a relatively recent occurrence. Temiskaming Shores, population 10,500, is 90 minutes north of North Bay and it has more than 20 first generation immigrant-owned businesses. There, too, this is a recent occurrence.

The Brockville story that caught the attention of New Canadian Media noted the municipality of 22,000 people could attract immigrant entrepreneurs already in Canada. It was based on a study that contained a number of recommendations to make the municipality more receptive to immigrants.

I completed a study for the Far Northeast Training Board that will be released in January that covers some of the issues that Brockville council was discussing. I interviewed 36 immigrant business owners in 11 municipalities in Northeastern Ontario, the smallest with only 400 people and the largest the City of Timmins, population 43,000.

It supports the conclusion of the Brockville study that you don’t have to recruit internationally for immigrant entrepreneurs — they are already here. I expect to report on it in this space when it is officially released in January.

Moving within Canada

But for now, I can tell you that it shows two-thirds of the immigrant entrepreneurs in the study area were born in India, but did not come to Northern Ontario from there. They came from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Dissatisfied with the high cost of GTA home ownership, high cost to purchase a business, and the congestion of the big city, they looked for alternatives and found them in Northern Ontario. They are just as likely to find them in Brockville, just a few hours down Highway 401, and in other smaller Ontario centres.

For municipal councils and economic development organizations, this is terrific news.  Many smaller centre business owners want to sell their business and retire. Demographers have seen this coming for years, as more baby boomers retire.

In many cases their children have moved to a larger centre, or they are not interested in continuing the family business. In our region, we are seeing immigrant entrepreneurs moving north to fill the void.

Caught up in detail

The municipal council in Brockville, according to the newspaper report, was receptive to the study but reluctant to allocate funds in its budget to make Brockville a more welcoming community for immigrants. That is typical of what I hear in Northern Ontario as well.

Municipal councils, in my experience, spend far too much time on the mundane day-to-day issues that should be the purview of municipal staff members, and far too little time looking at the long-term future of their communities. The large cities in Canada, however, understand the value of putting policies, procedures, and people in place to ensure they are doing all they can to attract and retain immigrants.

Many of the smaller ones still haven’t figured it out. Studies such as the one presented this month in Brockville and next month in the Far Northeast Training Board catchment area of a large chunk of Northeastern Ontario should serve as a wakeup call.

While municipal councils in smaller centres spend months poring over budgets, their population may be in decline and they are doing little to reverse the trend. They are preoccupied with minutiae.

Now they know it is far easier to recruit people from the GTA than from India. But it will take municipal will to make things happen on a larger scale.

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca). He was the founding executive director the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now the chair of the board of directors.

Published in Policy
Friday, 27 November 2015 17:07

Canada Must Resettle Refugees In Small Towns

By Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

If you got all your news from our national TV networks and CBC Radio, you would think that all the refugees are arriving in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal. That is not the case.

What the national media is largely missing is the fact that Syrian refugees will also be heading to small and mid-sized centres across Canada.

A few thousand refugees arriving in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver will hardly be noticed, but a family or two arriving in a small centre has the potential to transform that municipality in an extremely positive fashion.

Energizing and transforming Northern Ontario

In North Bay Ontario, where I live, Mayor Al McDonald’s leadership has created a groundswell of support for Syrian refugees. 

With coordination provided by the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, almost $50,000 has been raised and volunteer committees have been formed to ease the transition for two large Syrian refugee families coming to our city. There is a possibility of two more families being sponsored by church groups.

In nearby West Nipissing, more individuals are fundraising to sponsor a family. Up the highway in Temiskaming Shores there is yet another group. The same is happening further north in Englehart and Timmins. The populations of these centres are 54,000, 14,000, 10,400, 1,500 and 43,000, respectively.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A family or two arriving in a small centre has the potential to transform that municipality.[/quote]

Add large Syrian families in to the mix (we’re talking six to 10 children) and they will be noticed. Based on the incredible community support I have witnessed in North Bay, despite the naysayers, these families will be welcomed, supported, mentored and nurtured. While North Bay and Timmins have mosques, these families could well be the first Muslims in the smaller communities.

That can be transformational for the communities. 

Northern Ontario has a challenge with baby boomer retirements, low birth rate and a youth diaspora. Without sustained immigration, jobs will go unfilled and communities will slowly decline.

I had lunch with a prominent immigrant entrepreneur recently and he said we should be bringing 2,000 families to North Bay, not two, or four. I told him we don’t have the capacity to successfully integrate 2,000 at once, but I got his point. Northern Ontario needs people, and Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have too many. 

Resettlement strategies in these communities are vital

Federal and provincial governments have to get their heads around a strategy to settle refugees and immigrants in the smaller centres across Canada. To keep settling newcomers in the big cities when the jobs are elsewhere makes no sense.

Mayors in smaller centres have to embrace immigration and lobby for more resources to support successful integration. I see them doing that in New Brunswick, which demographically bears a lot of similarities to Northern Ontario.

Manitoba’s smaller centres have had successful immigration strategies for years but the remainder of the country needs to wake up. Manitoba normally receives about 1,500 refugees a year, the highest per capita of any province, and is prepared to double that number to up to 3,000 Syrian refugees.

The Syrian refugees coming to Northern Ontario are through the blended sponsorship program supported by the Mennonite Central Committee based in St. Catharines. Private sponsors pay 60 per cent of the cost for the family’s first year in Canada and the federal government pays 40 per cent.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]These families could well be the first Muslims in the smaller communities.[/quote]

The most vulnerable are at the top of the list, so we are not expecting professionals and skilled trades people who can walk right in to an available job. However, the children can learn English quickly, catch up in school and contribute to society in reasonably short order. Success breeds success, and more families could follow.

Chris Friesen, director of settlement services for the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia, has been on the national news regularly as the Syrian refugee situation unfolds. Normally he says all the right things, except for one evening when he was commenting about B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s wishes to have Syrian refugees settled across B.C.—not just in Vancouver and its suburbs.

Friesen said that won’t work because all the necessary services such as language classes, specialized medical care and trauma counselling are not available. In my view, he is just plain wrong.

Those services do exist in smaller centres; where they don’t, they can be accessed remotely. I saw one piece about a refugee waiting seven months to get in to a language class. In North Bay and other smaller centres, we can get them in class in a day.

Volunteers will arrange one-on-one intensive language tutoring and enrol refugees in online Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) training supported by the federal government.

For Friesen to say smaller communities can’t do it is wrong, and good for Premier Clark for telling him so. It’s time for other premiers and mayors to speak out and create support in all provinces for spreading the load of refugee settlement and integration across their entire provinces.

Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, and Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative and the Timmins Local Immigration Partnership.

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Published in Commentary

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