Magnetic North conference begins in the Sault

The Magnetic North conference is underway in Sault Ste. Marie this week.

The conference, put on by the Northern Policy Institute, focuses on population retention and growth in the north. Part of the presentations focus on the challenges immigrants face when settling in northern communities.

The Magnetic North conference zeroes in on communities taking part in the Rural & Northern Immigration Pilot Project. Conference organizers said part of the focus is addressing an ongoing labour shortage.

“We now have a situation where we’ve got more jobs than people,” said Northern Policy Institute CEO Charles Cirtwill.

“We need to keep everyone who’s here, here. We need to be more welcoming to those folks and we have to be better at attracting and keeping new people.”

Cirtwill said skilled trades in particular continue to struggle to find workers.

“We’ve gone through two generations in Canada where parents have told their kids, don’t go into the skilled trades,” he said.

“It was short-sighted. It was naive, it didn’t understand what the trades were (and) it didn’t understand the skills and knowledge and expertise.”

Lead policy analyst Mercedes Labelle said with more skilled immigrants coming to northern Ontario, cities must be ready to welcome them.

“We want to make sure we have a baseline assessment of the level of ‘welcomingness’ in these communities and see what are immigrants facing in these communities, what are diverse groups, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities experiencing when they come to northern Ontario,” she said.

Labelle said while her research shows a generally welcoming attitude toward immigrants, there could be other factors that make it difficult to live in northern Ontario.

“If they don’t have adequate infrastructure or social programs or services in place, accessing services and even knowing that they’re available might be difficult as well," said Labelle.

"I know some people have difficulties with the climate.”

She recommends some type of education campaign on the benefits of immigration and diversity in a community. She also recommends adequate funding and accessibility to immigration services.