Northern communities need a population influx

Manitoulin Island to be commended on their outstanding work

To the Expositor:

Ask anyone in White River what they need in their community and they will say ‘people.’ Ask residents in Elliot Lake what is needed in that community and they will say ‘people.’ The same goes for Wawa, Hearst and many other communities in Northern Ontario. White River has to limit its restaurant hours because owners there do not have the staff to remain open and the staff have to work overtime just to keep up. Large apartment buildings in Elliot Lake are all but empty. Hearst cannot get enough staff to look after seniors in that community. I know this because I spent the better part of this year travelling around the riding of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing knocking on doors and speaking to people.

I wonder if many people in this area know that White River needs over 100 people right now to fill the needs of business. I wonder how many people know that hundreds of apartments in Elliot Lake sit empty. In Hearst there is an immediate need for staff at nursing homes, they will even pay for schooling. Now, given the needs of refugees, I wonder if Northern Ontario could not play a part in solving the residential and economic crisis. We have the jobs and the accommodations right here.

Hon, John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said, “We have a responsibility to significantly expand our refugee targets and give more victims of war a safe haven in Canada. People from coast to coast to coast and representatives from all orders of government have stepped up to help address the Syrian refugee crisis. We will be looking for close collaboration in the days to come to help make a home for the victims of this tragedy.”

The ongoing conflict in Syria has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. According to the United Nations, 13.5 million people inside Syria need urgent help, including 6.5 million who are internally displaced. It is estimated that well over 250,000 people have died in the conflict, with hundreds of thousands more wounded. More than 4.5 million Syrians have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and in Europe.

At this point, church groups are sponsoring families in Northern Ontario, including Manitoulin Island.  The numbers are small. What if we looked at this on a larger scale? Refugees are fleeing unimaginable atrocities. We all know that living and working in Northern Ontario is incredibly rewarding. We know our winters are harsh. So what? We dress warmly and we deal with it. I was born and raised in southern Ontario but I moved to Espanola from Bermuda! I cannot think of living anywhere else. If you were to ask my children what season they like best, all of them would say winter because there is more to do here in the cold months.

Although I have experienced some concern, the majority is supportive. For example, I would commend the people of Manitoulin in particular for the outstanding work they are doing. This weekend alone there was an avalanche of household goods and cash donations that arrived at the Spirit of Giving shower held in the Little Current United Church Hall. In a mere two hours most of the household items for five families were gathered, including bedding, dishes, clothing and furniture. Manitoulin Island communities have shown the way for other communities in the North. Christmas baking, coffee, hot chocolate and cider supplied by members of the community helped to make this event a social occasion.

I am not ignorant of the obstacles that the country and Northern areas would face when bringing refugees in to this country and Northern communities. Just like anyone else entering this country, refugees will face a reliable and robust screening process. Let us not let our insecurities about religion and culture prevent us from doing the right thing. As with so many other current issues, if Northern Ontario is at the table, we could all benefit.

Heather Wilson