Immigrant integration will be a focus for the Muskoka District in the coming years.
At the Muskoka District Council meeting on Monday, a proposal was put before council to develop a Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) for the region. LIPs are partnerships between municipal governments and the federal government aimed at encouraging successful immigrant integration into different communities.
With increasing immigration totals in Ontario and employment shortages throughout the Muskoka region, immigrant attraction and retention has become an area of focus for the district.
As highlighted by Councillor Nancy Alcock, immigrants have come to play a pivotal role in the Muskoka economy.
“If you will go around Huntsville, this (immigration) is what is keeping some of our businesses afloat,” Alcock said.
She went on to say that the current system for integrating immigrants needs to be organized to accomplish its goals.
“I have attended a number of events that have been put on for our new immigrants, but it’s fragmented at the moment. So, this is exactly what we need,” Alcock said.
Presently there is no reginally organized support for the successful integration of immigrants into Muskoka. In this way, Muskoka trails behind its regional peers. Neighbouring regions like Simcoe County and North Bay have had LIPs in operation for years.
District Chair Jeff Lehman acknowledged that there has been no coordinated effort from the District to help immigrants integrate into Muskoka. Lehman stated that due to the large increase in first-generation Canadians within the Muskoka region, this lack of coordination must change. According to Lehman, there was a 21 per cent increase in first-generation Canadians in Muskoka between 2016 and 2021.
Current statistics show that there are about 5,000 immigrants in Muskoka, but municipal staff believe that number is far below the true figure. Presently immigrants play a large role in the employment sector of Muskoka, principally the tourism and hospitality sectors.
A key element of retention is not only providing first-generation Canadians with employment but also ensuring that they feel part of the community and can make connections. Councillor Scott Morrison made this point by using the experience of his wife who works with several first-generation Canadians in Huntsville. Morrison states that these new individuals are sharing new foods with their coworkers as well as attending events together.
“These guys are telling their friends back home that they’ve gone to all these different places in Canada, and this is their favourite so far. They love it. They’re coming back next year and they’re bringing friends. If we bring this forward, it’s going to encourage more great people to come to our community and give us more diversity in the workplace,” Morrison said.
The focus on cultural integration and making immigrants feel welcome and comfortable in Muskoka was echoed by Councillor Brenda Rhodes.
“Integration into the community… where people can be connected is very, very important at a time where we’re seeing unkindness in the community. This is how we foster it and how we build those bridges with these people and get them to stay here in our community and continue to work opening businesses and be a part of our family here in our community,” Rhodes said.
The development of an LIP for Muskoka is an early step in recognizing how immigration will impact and change the demographics of Muskoka. But there are other concerns that any work into integrating immigrants must address. Councillor Dan Armour stated that there must be work done to ensure that health care in the region is prepared to handle the increased demand which an increase in immigration will bring.
“Our health care systems are struggling with more people. I know in Huntsville alone; we’re going to be between 7,000 and 8,000 people without family physicians next year. So, it’s something we need to keep in the back of our minds if we move forward,” Armour said.
Council voted to endorse the development of an LIP in Muskoka and directed staff to begin the process of studying its feasibility for the region.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!