A grow­ing chal­lenge for North­ern On­tario

As young peo­ple leave and the North’s pop­u­la­tion ages, it could force busi­ness to ‘close and move else­where,’ states a new re­port

North Bay Nugget - - NEWS - Len Gil­lis

it’s not like it was 100 years ago. Peo­ple these days, es­pe­cially younger peo­ple, are leav­ing the North in droves to find work and a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion.

that’s one of the key find­ings in a new re­port re­leased this week by the North­ern Pol­icy in­sti­tute (NPI); the first of four re­ports au­thored by re­search an­a­lyst christina Zefi.

the re­port also re­vealed that as young peo­ple leave, baby boomers (born 1945 to 1965) are stay­ing put and North­ern On­tario is be­com­ing “dis­pro­por­tion­ately older.”

the re­port, re­leased on the NPI web­site www.north­ern­pol­icy.ca, says not enough young peo­ple are stay­ing to pro­vide tax rev­enue for lo­cal gov­ern­ments. it says a re­gional strat­egy is re­quired to bring more new peo­ple to the North.

Post­media asked Zefi what she be­lieves is the main rea­son young peo­ple in the 20-to-29 age cat­e­gory are leav­ing.

“With that age group, per­haps it could be dif­fer­ent job op­por­tu­ni­ties. Maybe they want jobs that are avail­able in other re­gions. i think mostly with that age group, it’s the ed­u­ca­tion as men­tioned in the re­port,” she says.

it is a prob­lem in ev­ery city and ev­ery ter­ri­to­rial district in North­ern On­tario.

“Since 1996, eight out of 11 of North­ern On­tario’s dis­tricts have ex­pe­ri­enced a large pop­u­la­tion de­cline,” says Zefi.

her re­port de­fines North­ern On­tario as a col­lec­tion of 11 cen­sus dis­tricts across a huge land­scape with lit­tle more than 780,000 peo­ple.

“in an­a­lyz­ing trends across these dis­tricts, one thing is clear: North­ern On­tario faces a num­ber of chal­lenges re­lated to pop­u­la­tion growth. Specif­i­cally, the North has a low birth rate, an ag­ing and de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion, and low in-mi­gra­tion rates that have caused the pop­u­la­tion to re­main stag­nant.”

One sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect of this is with the pop­u­la­tion ag­ing, more of those older peo­ple be­come de­pen­dent on the younger peo­ple who are still work­ing, Zefi says. but as the work­ing pop­u­la­tion num­bers go down, it puts a strain on lo­cal economies.

“Many ser­vices in North­ern On­tario, such as health care and pen­sions, are de­pen­dent on tax bases and are tax-fi­nanced. if the num­ber of depen­dents ex­ceeds the num­ber of peo­ple work­ing, de­liv­er­ing tax-de­pen­dent ser­vices to a rapidly de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion be­comes very chal­leng­ing,” the re­port says.

“if the num­ber of peo­ple will­ing and able to work con­tin­ues to de­cline, busi­nesses in North­ern On­tario will face an in­creas­ing short­age of work­ers, re­sult­ing in slow growth, low de­mand for goods and ser­vices, and a dis­in­cen­tive for pri­vate in­vest­ment – all of which could force busi­nesses to close and move else­where.”

the re­port also speaks about the de­pen­dency ra­tio. ide­ally, it says, the ra­tio should be be­tween 0.5 and 0.75, which trans­lates to two work­ing per­sons for ev­ery de­pen­dent per­son such as a child or a pen­sioner.

if this num­ber changes, for ex­am­ple, to two de­pen­dants for ev­ery work­ing per­son, the re­port says it would be un­sus­tain­able.

“by 2036, the de­pen­dency ra­tio is pro­jected to be too high in nine of North­ern On­tario’s 11 dis­tricts for their economies to be sus­tain­able, with the high­est ra­tios ex­pected to be in Parry Sound and Man­i­toulin. Only the greater Sud­bury and Kenora dis­tricts are pro­jected to have a de­pen­dency ra­tio within the range noted above, and then only just. com­par­a­tively, the prov­ince as a whole is ex­pected to have a de­pen­dency ra­tio of 0.67 in 2036,” states the re­port.

the other con­cern, Zefi says, is that if the out-mi­gra­tion trend con­tin­ues, not enough peo­ple will be left to do the jobs in North­ern On­tario.

“even if there is 100 per cent labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion in North­ern On­tario, there’s just not enough peo­ple to sup­port the de­mo­graphic shift that is go­ing to be hap­pen­ing. So we need to at­tract new peo­ple who are will­ing and able to work.”

Zefi says the re­port is the first in a se­ries look­ing into the de­mo­graphic changes and pop­u­la­tion de­cline.

“the sec­ond one is go­ing to talk about strengths and weak­nesses to mi­grat­ing to North­ern On­tario,” she says, adding that it would re­quire par­tic­i­pa­tion from North­ern mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and the prov­ince.

So, where do things go from here?

“hope­fully, they can see the demon­strated need for a North­ern New­comer Strat­egy,” says Zefi.

“My hope is that there can be some changes made up at the pro­vin­cial level in or­der to give North­ern On­tario the tools to en­cour­age mi­gra­tion to the re­gion, and also for mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers, i am hop­ing the fourth re­port will be a very ac­ces­si­ble and easy to di­gest so they can be im­ple­mented at the mu­nic­i­pal level, and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties can start work to en­cour­age mi­grants to move to their com­mu­ni­ties.”

Since no one can leg­is­late an up­ward change in the North­ern On­tario birth rate, the re­port says the next best thing is to find ways to at­tract mi­grants from other parts of canada and im­mi­grants from around the world.

the re­port also re­veals that im­mi­grants tend to be well-ed­u­cated and an­other study re­veals that many are over-rep­re­sented in fields of sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing.

“in­di­vid­u­als with these skills of­fer valu­able eco­nomic ben­e­fits to any com­mu­nity,” states the re­port.

in its con­clu­sion, the doc­u­ment also states that this is not a strictly North­ern On­tario is­sue.

“it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion is not unique to North­ern On­tario. as other parts of the world ex­pe­ri­ence pop­u­la­tion ag­ing, younger peo­ple are likely to mi­grate else­where to seek eco­nomic ad­vance­ment and fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity,” the re­port con­tin­ues.

“Such a shift presents op­por­tu­ni­ties for North­ern On­tario. For ex­am­ple, a North­ern New­comer Strat­egy could in­clude pro-ac­tive poli­cies and pro­grams to at­tract young mi­grants. in­deed, while at­tract­ing new­com­ers is a shortto medium-term so­lu­tion, it could have sig­nif­i­cant so­cioe­co­nomic ben­e­fits for On­tario’s north­ern re­gions.”

Sup­plied Photo

North­ern Pol­icy In­sti­tute re­search an­a­lyst Christina Zefi.

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