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Mayor optimistic about Sault's prospects for attracting immigrants

'We're ready to go, whenever they need us to apply' - Mayor Provenzano says of expected federal pilot program for fast-tracking immigration to selected communities
20161202 Mayor Christian Provenzano Silhouette KA
Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Christian Provenzano says attracting more immigrants is 'one of the keys to our future' - Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

Nine months after Mayor Provenzano launched a campaign to attract more immigrants to Sault Ste. Marie, city officials are quietly preparing to apply to an expected federal immigration pilot program that would fast-track as many as 3,000 immigrants annually to selected Canadian cities.

Last April, Provenzano persuaded fellow mayors in Sudbury, North Bay, Timmins and Thunder Bay to press the federal and Ontario governments for a northern Ontario pilot similar to one in Atlantic Canada.

In that initiative, the federal government and provincial governments of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador agreed to expedite the hiring process for candidates who aren't Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

Provenzano met in August with federal immigration minister Ahmed Hussen, but it quickly became apparent that no pilot would be considered for one region of a single province.

Instead, Hussen is believed to be putting the finishing touches on a pilot program for communities across Canada, the mayor told the December board meeting of Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp.

"I'm confident that whatever the criteria are to get unto the pilot, Sault Ste. Marie would fit the criteria," Provenzano said.

"We'll have to go through a process to get into the pilot....If we were a qualified community to participate in the pilot, there would be immigrants that would come in every year that would be allocated amongst the communities that would be participating."

"I've already got people looking at that, working on that.... We will have a team that will make a submission that we should be included. I've already got people looking at that."

"We don't know that all the criteria are going to be, but we're internally making our own case to participate in the pilot."

"Once we understand what it looks like, we'll make that submission."

"This is one of the keys to our future. We've got Algoma [Steel Inc.] that's going to be hiring hundreds and hundreds of people."

"I was hopeful that they would have announced the program by now. I don't have any confirmation of what it looks like. But I expect they'll announce the program early in the year,"

"We're ready to go, whenever they need us to apply."

"If we're included, it will be something that happens next year, which will be positive. We have a very strong case to make," the mayor said.

A report on population projections released in 2017 by Ontario's finance ministry showed an expected population decline of 15,000 residents in northern Ontario by 2041, at a time when the province's overall population is expected to grow.

A resolution passed last year by Sault Ste. Marie City Council quoted federal census data as showing Greater Sudbury, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Timmins receiving 2,285 immigrants from 2011 to 2016, while Ontario got 472,170 immigrants during the same period.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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