All politicians should vow to take care of our own

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Pradip Rodrigues

Last week all the politically correct Ontario politicians piled onto Ontario PC leader Doug Ford for a statement he made during the northern debate. The ensuing furor must have puzzled northern Ontarian because what Ford said made perfect sense. To solve the economic and perennial unemployment problems in northern communities, he said the government would have to exhaust every option for employing locals before relying on immigrants to fill jobs in these communities.

He also spoke of his openness to an northern Ontario immigration program, but believed in first taking care of ‘our own ‘. Rival politicians seized the ‘our own’ to mean white and non-immigrant. This is simply taking the words out of context.

To hear a politician say that is refreshing and honest because that is just the sentiment held by a wide section of society.

But Premier Kathleen Wynne said Ford would have to explain exactly what he meant by the comment, which she said was “very disturbing.”

To me what is disturbing is listening to politicians endlessly suggest immigration as a panacea to every problem in this country. They would look at the population decline in Northern Ontario and suggest immigrants take their place. That is a lazy solution because the issue is dealing with the issue causing this precipitous population decline in the first place. Now dealing with that is really hard work that could outlast the time politicians spend in office, furthermore they may not be able to take credit for it during their election terms. However what would prove better is re-settling immigrants and refugees into small communities, funnel millions of dollars in settlement funding to help them while ignoring the unemployed workers and young people languishing in these communities. Little or no funding to help the locals find their feet in the new economy. This is the sort of thing that stirs resentments which then leads to urban liberals to call them racists for protesting.

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Politicians have shrewdly figured out that by shoveling more immigration, more refugees and more foreign students into small communities in Canada and touting all the great skills and entrepreneurship they bring with them, they kill two birds with one stone. They bolster their immigrant-friendly credentials which proves helpful during elections and of course it gives the illusion that they are solving economic problems.

There is one serious flaw in this approach because businesses find it simpler and cheaper to hire a foreign student or new immigrant with skills rather than invest in Canadian workers and equip them with the skills they require for their businesses. And this is a problem afflicting local Canadians as well as immigrants with tenure right here in the GTA as well as anywhere across this great land.
What PC leader Doug Ford suggested was the sanest idea to tackle the economic woes facing Northern Ontario and for that matter vast swaths of central Ontario as well.

Population decline has been happening because of lack of economic opportunities. Companies choose regions to set up shop based on decently sized markets and the availability of skilled labor. Helping young as well as unemployed people in these communities to acquire skills would give businesses the kind of labor force they need. There would not be such reliance on immigrant workers if politicians with vision could rejuvenate these towns and give young people the incentive to settle down and help these communities not just to survive but to thrive. These days many young Northern Ontarians can be found living in the GTA and elsewhere in Canada while their ageing parents are dying along with their moribund towns.

Parachuting immigrants with the hope that they will magically transform these communities is not practical nor desirable. First of all, new immigrants prefer living in regions that have the kind of infrastructure and facilities for their young families, so they will be reluctant to move there. Entrepreneurs or small businessmen who typically go into these small towns, buy up gas bars, convenience stores and motels tend to employ their own families and friends from the ethnic community rather than employ local unemployed people in town.

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One time I stayed at a motel run by a South Asian family in a small town that was predominantly white but that fact was not reflected in the workforce the owner employed- they were all members of his family and ethnically similar friends. The place was rundown and I mentioned some damage in the room and he told me his cousin who ran a motel in another town would send his man (another South Asian) the following week to fix the damage. Needless to say, the owner had never employed any of the many skilled handymen in town. How does attracting immigrant businessmen to the small town really help this community economically? That is a question for liberal economists who might be able to spin a heartwarming tale here. Immigrant businessmen often find it economically advantageous to employ or exploit new immigrants and foreign students who I suppose make better and more hard working employees. I have heard anecdotal evidence to this effect where small South Asian businessmen in small towns seek out workers from places like Toronto or ‘back home’.

This is not to deny the often positive economic effects of immigration, but to tout it as a panacea for all that ills our workforce and economy isn’t enough. There is often more emphasis on helping newcomers and immigrants, millions of dollars are set aside for such programs to help them acquire skills and equip them for the Canadian workforce, all this while Canadian youth and unemployed languish in misery. This is especially true in small town Canada. I rarely hear politicians discuss new initiatives and programs for Canadians who’ve been left behind by technology and a rapidly changing economy. There are such programs but politicians don’t get mileage from promoting a program for Canadians like they do when they make funding announcements for ethnic seniors, refugees and new Canadians. You can bet that the press will cover such announcements with much enthusiasm. The problems that plague Northern Ontario is a human catastrophe that can only be solved by investing in these people before bringing in legions of immigrants to the rescue.

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This would simply be a prescription for social disaster because without integrating new immigrants into the social fabric of these small and often tight-knit communities would simply mean new ethnic enclaves and in time two separate societies with all the tensions and resentments that is evident in most multicultural regions in Canada and the US.

All this leads back to the investing ‘in our own’ comment made by PC leader Rob Ford. It would give those with atrophying bodies and minds the tools and more importantly the hope they so badly need. When host communities don’t feel economically and socially vulnerable, they are less likely to turn xenophobic in their outlook and consequently can be counted upon to welcome new immigrants into their communities without seeing them as a threat to their economic well-being and their way of life. If PC leader Rob Ford were to explain this piece of the puzzle more eloquently, then perhaps our Premier Kathleen Wynne and others would not have sleepless nights as a result of such talk they find so disturbing. -CINEWS

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