According to Charles Cirtwill, the North needs to get better at telling its own story.
“We have a lot of cultural and other experiences here that aren't available elsewhere. We need to start talking about how great life in our communities can be,” he said.
This February, the Northwest Community Futures Network and the City of Temiskaming Shores are hosting two planning conferences in northern communities in partnership with NPI and the Northwestern Ontario Immigration Partnership.
The conferences, called Come North, will be held in two locations in northeastern and northwestern Ontario. Their purpose is to create a population growth strategy by exploring the experiences of new arrivals in the region.
The first session will be held from Feb. 11 to 13 at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites hotel in New Liskeard, and the second session will be held from Feb. 18 to 20 at Delta Hotels by Marriott in Thunder Bay.
Everyone is welcome to join the conversation.
This includes First Nations reps, economic development officers, tourist groups, local immigration partnerships, school boards, colleges and universities, private sector companies, grassroots organizations, sports and music clubs, recent immigrants, and more.
The events are free to attend, but spots are limited. Participants are encouraged to take advantage of the transportation subsidies available.
Cirtwill hopes that these planning sessions will serve as a starting point to break the ice when it comes to collaboration and co-operation across silos.
“These sessions are about whether our communities are welcoming,” he said. “How can different organizations work together to share resources and attract more people to the North?”
The events will cover a lot of ground. A series of breakout sessions have been designed to determine how easy it is to fill out paperwork, how people are locating local groups and organizations (like church groups, rotary clubs, etc.), funding, marketing, and how to draw investors into the region.
In the end, organizers will use the information to develop an action plan.
Two major challenges Cirtwill would like to see addressed are First Nations engagement and getting the federal government to acknowledge that the economy in Northern Ontario is a bit different than in the rest of the province.
“We are having a very hard time getting First Nations engaged in the economy in a way that they want to be,” he said. “We are having a hard time helping them see their future in our towns and that's a problem.”
“The second thing that we're having a problem with is getting the policymakers in Ottawa and Toronto to understand our needs. In many cases, we don't need software engineers in Greenstone. We need mining engineers and heavy equipment operators.”
The conference also hopes to engage more grassroots organizations in the conversation about immigration.
“New arrivals want to get their kids into hockey and swimming and violin lessons. These groups are absolutely critical in terms of a community being welcoming. We'd love to see a few more of those groups step up and attend.”