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OPINION: Is your community welcoming?

Welcoming means being accepting and supportive of new arrivals from everywhere, and anywhere, else.
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Charles Cirtwill, president-CEO, Northern Policy Institute

Population decline and aging is a real problem across the globe. It is bad here in Ontario’s northern regions and getting worse. Morden, Man., and other rural communities have reversed similar trends by being opening and welcoming to new arrivals. Is your community welcoming enough to reverse the aging trend?

Welcoming means being accepting and supportive of new arrivals from everywhere, and anywhere, else. Whether that is from remote First Nations, neighbouring rural communities, adjacent urban centres, other parts of the province, the country, or the world. It means being open to those of different faiths, orientations, genders, perspectives and capacities (physical or otherwise).

Make no mistake, being welcoming includes being welcoming to those already living in your communities who still feel like, or are treated as, outsiders. Social and economic challenges keep far too many of our neighbours from full participation in our communities. That includes a much too high proportion of people of Indigenous descent. These problems need to continue to be addressed on an urgent basis.

Welcoming also means going out and actively seeking new people to join your community. Supporting them as they prepare to transition, during their move, and after they have settled. Checking up on them and involving them in the community. Helping them to grow along with you. So that, in the end, “you” includes “them.” To do that effectively, we need a plan. 

In February 2020, Ontario’s northern regions will play host to two events intended to set the foundations for such a plan. The initiative is called Come North and registration is open now at www.comenorth.ca. In the northeast, we will gather in Temiskaming Shores on Feb. 11-13. In the northwest, we will come together in Thunder Bay on Feb. 18-20. If the goal of your community is to grow, you should be there. You will learn what can be achieved through welcoming practices.

This is not something we can afford to leave just to the “experts.” Everyone has a role. Community-minded individuals, neighbourhood groups, faith groups, sports associations, service groups. You should all be there. You have a role. Don’t let others define what that role could or should be. You are the experts when it comes to what you can do and where you can best contribute. Help others understand your capacity and learn from them about theirs. 

Federal, provincial, Indigenous, municipal and private sector leaders should be there. Funding agencies, postsecondary institutions, schools, hospitals, health-care providers, social service agencies, and job developers. If you want to help, you should be there.

Your community already has a plan? Great! Come and share it with the rest of Ontario’s North. If we think of population growth as a zero-sum competition where there can be only one winner, we all lose. The more we work together, share resources, make exploring our communities easy and familiar, the more likely we are to succeed. Better still, the more we can accomplish at the least total expense. None of us have limitless resources; working together we can do and achieve more than working alone.

Are you an immigration expert with decades of experience and painful lessons to share? Marvelous! Come help your neighbours and friends avoid the potholes and pitfalls. Building on previous successes and scaling up solutions that work, that’s a recipe for success. Not just for one northern community, but for all of them.

Are you a new arrival? Were you once one? Are you thinking of becoming one? You, too, should be at these events. Help our communities improve by helping us understand what works or does not work from your perspective. What do you know now that you wish you had known then? What do you wish you could learn, but are having a tough time discovering? What can you do to help the person after you succeed faster and with less effort?

The conferences are designed around information sharing, planning and coordination. You will come away with a better understanding of what resources are available to help your community attract, support, and retain new arrivals.

Come committed to learn and then to act. Collectively and collaboratively, as a community. See you there!




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