With youth out-migration a proven problem for Northern Ontario, youth employment is a key issue facing the four local candidates in the Oct. 14 federal election.
Statistics show the 15-29 age group in Fort Frances decreased by 19.2 percent from 1996-2001 (a comparable decrease to Northern Ontario as a whole).
So with the issue at hand, how do politicians plan to address the need for more youth opportunities and employment in the district?
John Rafferty (NDP) and Russ Aegard (Green) are presenting new ideas while Richard Neumann (Conservative) and incumbent Ken Boshcoff (Liberal) plan to expand on what they say already has been accomplished.
“We need to get away from corporate welfare,” said Aegard. “We need to get out of that whole dependency.”
He described how corporations come into the district, use our resources, and then leave—taking the jobs with them.
Rather, Aegard would like to see a move towards more employee-owned corporations, as well as local ownership and support of small businesses, which can be passed on from generation to generation—unlike the big box stores which take money out of the community.
“We have to get tougher with corporations,” Aegard stressed. “We would support local businesses.
“We have to invest in ourselves.”
At the same time, Aegard said the region needs to provide incentives for youth to stay in the community.
Using the example of the current doctor shortage, Aegard’s suggestion is to pay medical students’ tuition—provided they agree to work in the community for five or 10 years upon completion of their program.
“They can be part of the community debt-free,” he explained.
Rafferty is on the same page, backing local businesses 100 percent. “We’re making a real push this time to promote small business,” the NDP candidate said.
He would support things like loan guarantees for small business and youth entrepreneurship, adding apprenticeship programs are an important initiative for youth in the district.
As well, Rafferty would like to see an agricultural program, possibly an apprenticeship-style course, to offer training for youth to get into the business of farming.
For Boshcoff, his motivation for entering the political sphere was the need for more youth opportunities in the north.
“That’s one of the major reasons I entered the federal arena,” he remarked.
Citing his involvement in the construction of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and the establishment of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine while he was mayor of Thunder Bay, Boshcoff pledged he will continue to support youth issues.
“Allowing young people to train in their community” is one of his goals.
Neumann’s Conservative party, meanwhile, has been widely criticized for cuts made to the Summer Jobs Program, but he said the criticisms that the cuts actually decreased jobs opportunities for youth were off-base.
“We needed to look at ways that program could better serve the people it’s meant to serve,” he explained. “The changes were basically positive ones.”
Neumann said the program was too accessible for large corporations—corporations which already could afford to hire students without funding and that was taking money away from those in need.
The cuts “tailor the program to the public sector and small- and medium-sized sectors,” he explained. “We directed those monies to the folks that need it the most.
“We believe that providing for youth employment at an early stage is extremely important,” Neumann pledged. “What we need to do first is expand on what we’ve already accomplished.”