A Liberal government in Ontario would attempt to bolster the population in the province's north by improving access to medical care, building roads and taking more control of immigration to the region, party leader Steven Del Duca said Tuesday.
Del Duca – who is looking to improve his party's third-place position in next month's vote – said he would attempt to draw skilled workers to northern Ontario in a bid to boost the region's economy and improve quality of life.
Having more of a say in immigration would help match newcomers' skills to the labour needs of the area, he said.
"We will work with the federal government, seeking a mandate from the people of this province, to make sure that Ontario is in the driver's seat when it comes to our own immigration system," he said in North Bay, Ont.
"Making sure that as the world comes to this country, more and more skilled workers can come to this province of ours, can come specifically to northern Ontario to fill that skilled worker shortage that we have."
If elected in June, the Liberals would appoint a dedicated immigration minister to help newcomers work in their areas of expertise. They would also strike a northern immigration advisory panel of regional municipal leaders and economic development officers to ensure a new immigration system is "in the best interests of the North."
Del Duca made the comments at a campaign stop ahead of a debate between party leaders on northern issues.
The Liberal leader said he would make sure everyone has access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner within 24 hours regardless of where they live, something he characterized as a basic standard that wasn't being met.
"That's not good enough for northern Ontario, and that's not good enough for an Ontario Liberal government," he said. "We need to do better."
He said he would attract more doctors and nurses to the region by covering the tuition of medical and nursing students who "commit to working in a rural or remote community."
Del Duca also pledged to build more roads to the resource-rich Ring of Fire to make it more accessible – a project he said would draw even more workers to the region.
"I think about, for example, the heavy machine operators that we are going to need to build the road that's going to unlock the potential of the Ring of Fire at long last," he said.
"We need to make sure that northern Ontario has those and other skilled workers to provide the kind of economy and the kind of quality of life where we can move forward together."
The Liberals also promise to get "affordable, high-speed internet" to everyone in northern Ontario by 2025.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2022.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press