January 27, 2022 - Despite making up less than 10% of the total population of the district, Francophones play a critical role in Algoma’s economy.
Since the first Francophone communities formed in Algoma following the early development of Northern Ontario’s transportation infrastructure, Francophone communities have continued to shape the district’s local economies. However, the Francophone population in Algoma is declining rapidly. Due to high rates of out-migration of younger Francophones and an aging population with low-birth rates, Francophones’ economic footprint in Algoma will decrease in coming years if not appropriately addressed in future planning processes. To understand how this declining Francophone labour force will impact Algoma’s economy, we must first identify what the Francophone community’s economic contributions are within the district.
This is the aim of The Turning Point? Estimating the Francophone Economic Footprint in Algoma, a newly released paper by Northern Policy Institute.
Francophones have a significant impact on the local labour forces in Algoma, with the strongest impact in smaller and more rural areas. In traditionally Francophone towns like Elliot Lake and Dubrueilville, Francophones make up a larger percentage of their total population. In smaller communities outside of Sault Ste. Marie, Francophones make up 14.2% of the labour force and earn 15.1% of the total income. In terms of occupation, Francophones make up 24% of the population employed in Algoma’s mining sector. Francophones are also heavily represented in industries including agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting; wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, and other services in Algoma.
With most of the Francophone population above age 55, declining birth rates, and a large out-migration of younger people, their population in the Algoma district will significantly decline in the coming years. While this has the potential to negatively impact Algoma’s local economies - particularly those of smaller, predominantly Francophone communities - the severity of the future Francophone labour shortage can be minimized. By focusing on increasing enrollment in French immersion education programs, communities in Algoma can work towards rebuilding their future Francophone labour force.
By illustrating where future labour gaps will develop in economies and industries that are heavily dependent on Francophone labour force, this paper highlights why strengthening local Francophone communities is important. Failing to address the declining Francophone population will result in not only a loss of Northeastern Ontario’s Francophone cultural identity, but serious labour shortages in rural communities as well. Smaller communities in the Algoma district whose economies are centred around mining could suffer from a sharp decline in their Francophone workforce. A decreasing labour supply in these communities may lead to a loss of economic investment and tax revenue for publicly funded services.
In light of the declining Francophone population and lower birth rates of Francophones, there needs to be an increased investment in primary French language education. Provincial and municipal governments should aim to offer more publicly funded primary, elementary and secondary education in French. Encouraging the large bilingual working-age population in Algoma district to enroll their children in French immersion programs will help rebuild the Francophone population in future years.
Additionally, Francophone in-migration remains a key aspect of avoiding regional labour shortages in Northeastern Ontario. Communities should continue focusing on meeting targets for Francophone migrants and providing more Francophone community services to increase the retention of newcomers, where possible.
The local Francophone population has not only shaped Algoma’s economic past, but also continues to influence its future. As communities work to align their labour supply with labour demands, recognizing the impact of Francophones on the local economies is important for anticipating future labour shortages. Through an increased focus on French immersion education and Francophone in-migration, the Algoma district can take a step back from the turning point.
The Turning Point? was completed in partnership with Réseau du Nord through Northern Policy Institute’s Northern Analyst Collective program.
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