Mi­gra­tion may well start with a sim­ple bill­board

The Woolwich Observer - - VENTURE - FIELD NOTES

DRIV­ING THROUGH HAMIL­TON RE­CENTLY, I saw a bill­board that made me do a dou­ble­take: it was pro­mot­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Wind­sor.

That’s odd, I thought, given Hamil­ton has one of the prov­ince’s great uni­ver­si­ties, McMaster. Would Hamil­to­ni­ans rather go to Wind­sor than McMaster?

But here’s the re­al­ity: McMaster is much harder to get into than Wind­sor. In fact, Wind­sor has tra­di­tion­ally been one of the eas­i­est On­tario uni­ver­si­ties to get into.

So, if a uni­ver­sity ap­pli­cant is turned down by McMaster, and look­ing to go elsewe­here, and Wind­sor is in their face, maybe they’ll give it a try.

Once they get there, maybe they’ll like it enough to stay.

When they grad­u­ate, maybe they’ll look for a job there.

As na­ture takes its course, maybe they’ll meet some­one else who likes it there, set­tle down, raise a fam­ily, buy a house, pay taxes, vol­un­teer in the com­mu­nity, and even­tu­ally be­come am­bas­sadors for the city to which they mi­grated.

All be­cause the Uni­ver­sity of Wind­sor bought a bill­board in what used to be

their home­town.

That kind of mi­gra­tion from mu­nic­i­pal­ity to mu­nic­i­pal­ity is very much on the mind of pro­fes­sion­als such as plan­ners – in­clud­ing ru­ral plan­ners – who try to fore­cast the need for roads, hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and other ser­vices.

But it’s big­ger than that. As the Ru­ral On­tario In­sti­tute says, On­tario’s de­mo­graphic struc­ture is such that more peo­ple are reach­ing re­tire­ment age, com­pared to the age group who are po­ten­tial labour mar­ket en­trants.

That means re­gions wish­ing to grow their work­force must at­tract im­mi­grants or mi­grants from other re­gions in Canada, as well as from abroad.

Not that it’s overly easy for im­mi­grants to move once they’re ar­rived in Canada. But it’s much eas­ier than get­ting here in the first place. So com­mu­ni­ties are ded­i­cat­ing at least some of their pro­mo­tional ef­forts on at­tract­ing im­mi­grants or mi­grants from other re­gions in Canada.

In the on­go­ing and some- times up­hill bat­tle to equip de­ci­sion mak­ers with facts, so that pol­icy and de­ci­sions can be based on re­search rather than emo­tion, the in­sti­tute is work­ing through a new set of fact sheets about ru­ral On­tario. The first of this new series deals with mi­gra­tion in and out of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in the prov­ince.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­sti­tute, mi­gra­tion into com­mu­ni­ties is very ac­tive. Most non-metro cen­sus di­vi­sions, which en­com­pass com­mu­ni­ties, are aug­ment­ing their pop­u­la­tions by at­tract­ing what they call in­mi­grants, com­pared to the num­ber of out-mi­grants.

Among those cen­sus di­vi­sions with a pos­i­tive net mi­gra­tion, the ma­jor con­trib­u­tor was the net in-mi­gra­tion of in­di­vid­u­als 45-64 years old.

This age group in­cludes the more-ex­pe­ri­enced mem­bers of the work­force, plus early re­tirees.

That’s good for the short term, if your com­mu­nity needs in­vest­ment and sta­bil­ity.

But for the longer term, there’s a prob­lem. Among the non-metro (ru­ral) cen­sus di­vi­sions with peo­ple mov­ing out, the loss of young adults 18-24 years old was the ma­jor con­trib­u­tor.

The big­gest prob­lems are in the north. There, across all age groups, net mi­gra­tion con­trib­uted to a pop­u­la­tion loss of 0.5 per cent or more per year in the cen­sus dis­tricts of Sud­bury, Cochrane, Rainy River and Timiskam­ing. Rel­a­tively close to home, Huron also took a big hit.

But it’s not all bad news. At the other end of the spec­trum, net mi­gra­tion across all age groups rep­re­sented a pop­u­la­tion growth 0.5 per cent or more per year in the cen­sus dis­trict of Ox­ford, as well as Hal­ibur­ton, Northum­ber­land, Muskoka and Kawartha Lakes.

Ef­forts like those of the Ru­ral On­tario In­sti­tute, to give mean­ing be­hind the light of ru­ral On­tario, must be sup­ported, on­go­ing and in­ten­si­fied. Some mi­gra­tion to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties will hap­pen nat­u­rally, as home buy­ers seek af­ford­able hous­ing. But will that off­set the op­por­tu­ni­ties young peo­ple seek in metro ar­eas?

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