KIRKLAND LAKE, ON: Northern College has released an in-depth economic study outlining key barriers to economic expansion and recovery in Northern Ontario following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 24-page study, entitled Coming Back From Covid: A Plan to Rebuild Northern Ontario, was created in partnership with The StrategyCorp Institute of Public Policy and Economy, and was designed to provide an overview of past, current and future economic issues being faced by Ontario’s north.
“As a College, it is key to our continued operation to have a robust and current understanding of the economic status of our catchment region, the job market and any ongoing issues being faced by members of our communities,” stated Dr. Audrey J. Penner, Northern College President & CEO. “This understanding allows us to work even more closely with employers and members of government to ensure that Northern College continues to meet the needs of its learners and industry partners in order to create a skilled and stable workforce.”
The thorough study combines historic trends to shore up more current statistics with the goal of creating a robust picture of the employment and population issues that have become prevalent throughout Northern Ontario.
Tracing employment trends as far back as 1986, the document outlines an overall decline in both population and employee numbers. In 1986, Northern Ontario accounted for 6.2 per cent of Ontario’s population; by 2016, that number had dropped to 4 per cent.
“Even more dire, future population projections for the District from Ontario’s Ministry of Finance project that over the next 20 years, the area will continue to lose people in almost every age category, except those aged 65 and over,” states the study, using Timiskaming District as a case study. “Ultimately, Timiskaming District’s population is expected to decline from roughly 32,500 to 28,900 people over this time-period, while the percentage of elderly people increases from 22.6 per cent to 31.6 per cent.”
The research project expands its focus to outline the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and what is required for the region to recover from this unprecedented health and socio-economic event.
“Despite the resilience of the resource sector, the North saw its unemployment rate rise from 5.1 per cent January 2020 to 9.3 per cent by May. The participation rate dropped by 5.6 per cent and some 18,900 people found themselves out of work. Though certainly worrisome, this story was not necessarily different from what the rest of Ontario was experiencing,” outlines the document. “The divergence would appear in the recovery from the pandemic. According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Ontario Economic Report, employment growth in every region of Southern Ontario was at least double the growth in Northeastern Ontario during the pandemic recovery period.”
“Making matters worse, Northeastern Ontario’s expected 0.1 per cent population growth was the lowest out of all regions, including non-GTA regions like London that was set to experience 1.2 per cent growth,” the study added.
Northern College commissioned the study to help address the growing concerns voiced by industry partners, not-for-profit organizations, economic and employment service providers, along with municipal partners.
“It is our hope that this study and its findings make their way onto the desk of every minister both provincially and federally,” stated Dr. Penner. “We are sending out a flare that something needs to be done. While we are familiar with the history of Ontario’s north and the influence it has on the well-being of so many, it is our intention that by advocating as loudly and consistently as possible, we can create the kind of change that will see a continued prosperous future for this region.”
“Our communities and the region of Northeastern Ontario are home to 90 per cent of the active mining operations in the province, and soon, those operations will be facing an unprecedented job shortage if more attention is not paid to the northern reaches of the province. This research lays the foundation and the direction for that to take place,” added Penner.
For more information please read our full Covid-19 Recovery Plan.