Ontario mayor believes immigrants can boost the economy

Ontario mayor believes Immigrants can boost the economy

Bernadette Clément is looking at immigration as a possible solution to Cornwall’s stagnate growth.
Published: May 30, 2019 | Updated: May 20th, 2020 at 6:04 pm
Bernadette Clement, Ontario’s first black, female mayor

While the United States works to strengthen border security and reduce the number of immigrants entering the country, a small Canadian town just across the Saint Lawrence River from New York is taking a different approach.

“The population we are attracting has to include immigrants,” said Mayor Bernadette Clément of Cornwall, Ontario. “We are very much a community of diversity, and we have to develop that for the future.”

Cornwall, a city of about 47,000, rests on the shores of the Saint Lawrence across from Massena, New York. The Canadian Border Service Agency works the north end of the Seaway International Bridge just a mile from the mayor’s office. Two miles further south, and you’re in the U.S. at a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint.

Clément is Ontario’s first black, female mayor and the city’s first female mayor in 235 years. Cornwall lost its biggest employer, the Domtar paper mill, when the mill closed for good in 2006, and the city struggles to retain young workers, the mayor said. But retirees are moving into the area and the city is working to claw its way back to prosperity.

“We’re tough,” Clément said. “We’re survivors.”

Clément said that, during her 27 years in Cornwall and in her first year as mayor, the biggest obstacle the city has confronted is socio-economic stagnation. The Domtar closing cost more than 900 Cornwell residents their jobs and stunted the city’s growth, according to news reports.

Poverty rates spiked and economic uncertainty took hold, said Carilyne Hébert, executive director of the Social Development Council of Cornwall.

“It was a really dark and difficult time,” Clément said. “We’re probably moving to another phase beyond survival. We’re trying to figure out who we are now in this new capacity.”

Clément sees a solution in what has become a topic of contention across North America, and the world: Immigration. Instead of stopping the influx of immigrants coming into the country, new Canadians should be welcome, Clément said. She said they would not only enrich the community’s already diverse population, but will also help stimulate the struggling economy.

“There’s been a lot of asylum seekers coming in from the U.S., crossing irregularly outside of the borders, feeling unsafe or that their lives were not sustainable,” Clément said. “They decided to try coming into Canada.”