Winter is Coming for Ontario’s North

Since 1986 the population of Northern Ontario, as a percentage of the total Population of Ontario, has declined. In addition to this, the population is aging rapidly. In other words, as people are aging and leaving the workforce there is not enough young people to replace them. But why is this happening and what effect is it having on the population, the economy and society?

In 1986 Northern Ontario made up 8.8% of the population of Ontario, (6.2% for Northeastern and 2.6% for Northwestern), in 2016 it was 5.8% (4.1 and 1.7 respectfully) for an overall drop of 3%. pg.14 table A

In real numbers, the population of Ontario in 1986 (according to the 1986 census) was 9.437m, giving a Northern Ontario population of 830,456. The 2016 census has the Ontario population at 13.448m, giving a Northern Ontario population of 776,984. So while the overall provincial population grew, by just over 4 million in 40 years (a gain of 100k per year). Northern Ontario lost 1,217 people per year for a total population loss of 50,472 over the same period.

However, a population drain is not the only problem facing Northern Ontario. We have an aging population as well. In fact the same policy document shows that Northern Ontario has the fastest aging population in all of Ontario.

The Northeast is projected to remain the region with the oldest age structure.

In 2018, the share of seniors aged 65 and over in regional population ranged from a low of 14.8 per cent in the GTA to a high of 21.1 per cent in the Northeast…. pg.14

An Aging Population


What does an aging population mean for Northern Ontario? Well it means there is an increasing demand on social and health services and a decline in available workforce and economic growth.

In October of 2017 Maclean’s published an opinion piece on the effects of an aging population.

As a result of dramatic demographic change, and the resulting higher spending and slower revenue growth, governments in Canada face stark choices

But what does this mean for Northern Ontario businesses? As our population ages we will eventually reach a point where we have more people of retirement age (65yo>) then we have available in our workforce (15-64). This means there will be industries who will be unable to meet their Human Resource needs. This will in turn seriously affect our economic growth potential. This negative effect will only serve to increase the migration from Northern Ontario.

Health Care

We also have to consider the effects this will have on our health and social services. As more and more people retire and age, they will need more and more services. This means more demand on Doctors, Nurses and Hospitals, as well as the financial demand upon Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security.

According to the Canadian Medical Assocation’s Policy Summary of The Canadian Medical Association December 2013

Though age does not automatically mean ill health or disability, the risk of both does increase as people age. In 2006, 33% of Canadians aged 65 or older had a disability; the proportion climbed to 44% among people aged 75 or older.

Here in Sudbury our Hospital is already feeling the effects. According to a article published in July 2019;

As of July 30, Health Sciences North was operating at 107-per-cent capacity, with 97 patients designated as ALC (alternate level care), a sharp spike from the same time last year.

Of those 97, half are waiting for placement in Long Term Care Facilities the rest are waiting for placement in other facilities such as Rehab and Hospice. This situation is only going to get worse as our population ages faster then our Long Term Care services can accommodate.

Forestry vs Auto

Arguably, the main industry of the North is Natural Resources in the form of lumber and mining. By the year 2014 the Forestry industry had been decimated. In part due to the internet and the switch from paper products to technology. According to a Globe and Mail article in December 2014;

As recently as September, 2004, 308,664 Canadians earned a living from logging, paper making and wood products manufacturing. A decade later, the industry employed just 190,651 people.

That loss of 118,000 jobs is more than one-third of the industry’s work force and for the most part, high-paying jobs with good benefits and pensions. It’s the equivalent of eliminating every job in the auto assembly and auto parts sector in Canada.

However, the response from the Province has been less then appropriate. Whereas when the Auto Sector faced certain doom, the Province and the Feds stepped in and used precious tax dollars to bail out General Motors and Chrysler. According to the Canadian Tax Payer Federation, these two companies were given a combined total of $13.7 Billion Tax payer Dollars. A similar response was lacking for the Forestry Industry.

So while Southern Ontario Jobs were saved from certain doom in 2009. Just a few years later in 2014, over a 100,000 good paying jobs had been lost in Northern Ontario. According to the same Globe and Mail article, in 2000 the Forestry Industry was worth over $30 Billion dollars. By 2015/16 that was reduced.

….2015 to 2016, the total revenue of the forestry sector exceeded $15.5 billion. (Northern Ontario Business Sept. 2019)

Looking to our Friends

What is needed, and what is being called for (by the Forest Products Association of Canada and the Ontario Forest Industries Association). Is a National and Provincial Forestry plan. One example that is being cited is the one set by Finland.

Compariatively, Ontario is much larger then Finland. Yet we only harvest .2% of our Forest. Which, according to the Northern Ontario Business Article is 80% less then Finland.

Another ally that we can look to is Germany. Almost 1/3 of Germany is forest. They have developed a management system that takes into account not just Pulp, Paper and Lumber. But also hunting and the harvesting of medicinal plants as well as mushrooms for consumption.

The Forestry Industry is one of Canada’s largest industries and is certainly Ontario’s, it deserves the proper attention and management. At one time we were a world leader, it’s past time we returned.


Mining and Northern Ontario go together like bread and butter. Here in the Sudbury Basin mining has been a major industry for over 100 years. And stretches even farther back if you take into account the surface mining that the First Nations did to make tools, weapons and jewelry.

According to a University of Waterloo Paper entitled, “The Mining History of the Sudbury Area

Often, if not always, when the mining history of the Sudbury region is considered, 1883 is treated as the starting date. For it was in August of that year that Thomas Flanagan, a blacksmith on the Canadian Pacific Railway, noticed a rust coloured patch of rock while working with a crew in a recently blasted rock cut north-west of present-day Sudbury.

However the paper also states that mining actually goes back several thousand years,

Mining in the area actually began long before Thomas Flanagan –at least 10,000 years before. After the last period of glaciations 11,000 years ago, people of the Plano culture moved into the area and later began quarrying quartzite at Sheguiandah on Manitoulin Island. 

So for as long as there have been people living in the basin, there has been mining of some sort. In recent years we have seen the closure of several mines, Gason, Stobie, Thayer Lindsay. And the opening of Nickle Rim. The industry appears to have contracted. But that is an optical illusion. In fact the opposite is true. While the Mining Industry no longer supplies the most jobs in the area, that has been surpassed by Government and Health Care. The mining industry is still a major employer, and there is trouble on the horizon.

Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs

No, it’s not that there won’t be jobs available. In fact the mining industry is expected to grow as new deposits and technology allow access to more ore bodies. In fact from 2012 to 2022, Sudbury should see an average of 2,144 jobs posted. (21,440 est over that 10yr period). This accounts for natural attrition and anticipates for a slight growth. Even if there was a contraction in the industry it’s expected that the Mining Industry will still need an average of 2,111 jobs per year or 21,110 over the same 10yr period.

But where am I getting this information from you ask? That answer is simple. In 2012 a report was commissioned to look at the 10 yr period from 2012 to 2022. You can find it here. And it’s titled ” Sudbury Mining Hiring Requirements Forecasts”. It involved stake holders, government, employers from the Industry and was put together by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council.

When one looks at the numbers they used to forecast and compare them with the actual numbers from Stats Canada in 2016. We find that they were pretty bang on.

So what’s the Problem

So, what’s the problem then? Just over 2k good paying, long term jobs a year seems pretty good. So I’ll tell you what the problem is. The problem isn’t jobs. It’s the available workforce that’s the problem. The report goes into great detail, and even shows you the raw data they used. And I’m going to do my best to spit it out in less technical terms.

It’s no secrete that our society is getting older. There are more people over the age of 40 then there are under 30. We have a population gap. This is not only hurting our social services but is going to have a serious effect on the Mining Industry.

According to government papers, during the same 10 yr period (2012-2022) Ontario’s Mining Industry will have approximately 15,000 People (roughly 3% of the available workforce). That’s roughly 1,500/yr for the ENTIRE Province for the entire Industry.

Now, Sudbury alone needs just over 2k people a year. This is a serious problem and it’s not going to get any better as our population ages and more people leave the workforce.

Another problem we are having in the north is that net Migration and Natural population increase are already in the negative. So we have an aging population, an increase in our overall natural mortality rates because of this and a decline in our natural population increase and a migration of people out of the north.

However, while the North has recently seen net migration gains, its natural increase has turned negative. Ontario Population Projections, 2018–2046 pg 13

In other words, just as with the rest of our country, we are not having enough babies. Not enough people are being born here and those that are born here are most likely to leave.

What can we do?

So what can be done? In my opinion we need a greater diversity in industry. No longer can we rely on the Mines and other Natural Resources to support our community. One thing we can do is to push our education and research sectors.

We have 4 Universities, a Medical School and 2 Colleges. Laurentian University and Collège Boréal both offer programs solely in French. Yet the new French University went to the City of Toronto. Certainly there was a missed opportunity there. There is no reason why our city can’t become a true center of Education and Research.

The Northern Center of Advanced Technologies(NORCAT) is based here and is a world leader not only in mining technologies but in Robotics as well. They have helped usher in several new technologies that have helped local businesses grow into international success stories.

The potential is certainly there for Sudbury to grow and become a major metropolitan city. But we need our City Council and our Province to do more. We need the things we don’t have that will help keep people here. That means among other things;

  • a proper Theater Center that can host major productions,
  • an arena that isn’t falling down.
  • That means getting NEO Kids built so that people don’t have to worry about having to travel to Toronto or Ottawa (especially in Winter).
  • That means fixing our broken and crumbling infrastructure.

There is still hope yet, all is not lost. We just need to come together as a community. We need a City Council that is focused on growing and fixing our city instead of wasting tax payer dollars on ring roads we don’t need.

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