A map of Ontario showing the location of Chatham-Kent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Chatham-Kent is faced with a population crisis - declining numbers saddled with the same municipal financial burden, Mayor Randy Hope said Tuesday.
The mayor emphasized, however, that Chatham-Kent is not the only rural municipality in southwestern Ontario being challenged to cope with its finances with fewer people to help pay the bills.
Hope made the comments Monday morning at a conference at John D. Bradley Convention Centre in Chatham attended by more than 50 municipal workers from across southwestern Ontario. The conference will focus on newcomer portals over two days. Those in attendance will compare notes on ways to attract and retain newcomers.
Hope said immigration is one way of helping to increase the local population. He said adding at least 100 new immigrants a year to the local population would go a long way toward helping the crisis situation.
"When most new immigrants think of Canada, they think of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver,'' he told the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration municipal immigration information online conference.
Hope was critical of recent cutbacks in the federal Immigration department claiming it makes it more difficult and time-consuming for newcomers wanting to come to Canada and to Chatham-Kent.
According to census figures, 10.1% of Chatham-Kent's population was immigrants in 2006. The latest figures will be released in the spring of 2013.
The mayor stressed the importance of selling Chatham-Kent and other southwestern Ontario communities to immigrants and newcomers.
He said among Chatham-Kent's assets is a four-year supply of housing.
"We could drop 50,000 people into Chatham-Kent today and not have to spend a dime on infrastructure,'' he said. "Our job is to sell ourselves.''
"We live in the banana belt of Canada, grow food for the world and have a safe community,'' he said. "Chatham-Kent is often dubbed a little Venice. We have a lot to offer immigrants.''
The mayor noted that 76,000 Chinese students study abroad each year.
Hope said the conference provides a great opportunity to showcase Chatham-Kent and show how proactively the community is working to attract and retain newcomers.
Don Shropshire, the municipality's CAO, said Chatham-Kent's population situation is not unique.
"But we do have to find ways to make Chatham-Kent the economic powerhouse it once was,'' he said.
Audrey Ansell, the municipality's coordinator of youth retention and immigration, said two-way learning and knowledge-sharing is a key component of the conference.
"Youth retention and immigration will then bring that learning to Chatham-Kent to enhance what the community does to attract and retain newcomers,'' she said.
Ansell, a native of Ireland, said she came to Chatham-Kent knowing it was a safe community and a great place to raise a family. She said she also had family members living in the area.