Ontario’s future prosperity depends on engaging and encouraging meaningful participation of all Ontarians, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Canada’s $50 billion mining industry has already begun to embrace this principle.
Mining is the largest private sector employer of Aboriginal people in Canada but it also faces a challenge: over 40 percent of the mining industry’s national workforce is eligible to retire this year.
Conversely, Aboriginal youth are the fastest-growing segment of Canada’s population. By 2020, it’s estimated that over 400,000 young Aboriginal people will enter the workforce. In a little more than 20 years, Aboriginal people will represent 20 percent of Canada’s available workforce.
Every year, Ontario commits substantial resources to economic development and job creation programs and services. Despite these efforts, Aboriginal people in Ontario continue to face significant economic disadvantages.
The unemployment rate among First Nations people living off-reserve is roughly double the Ontario average. On-reserve, these differences are even more pronounced, with unemployment rates approximately three times the Ontario average, running as high as 80 percent in some remote communities.
The need is clear: Ontario must do more to ensure this under-serviced and high-risk group has opportunities to succeed and fully participate in the workforce and the economy. This includes providing additional support to Aboriginal businesses.
In Ontario, there are more than 9,000 entrepreneurs who identify as First Nation, Métis or Inuit.
These businesses tend to be small, most with revenues of $100,000 or less, but they serve a diverse set of markets and clients and generate important economic activity in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities alike.
While there is an abundance of research and data available on Canadian businesses, relatively little is known about the experience of Aboriginal businesses. That’s why the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs helped fund the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business’ (CCAB) 2014 Ontario Aboriginal Business Survey.
The survey and the accompanying report, Promise and Prosperity, shed valuable light on the experiences of Aboriginal businesses in Ontario, including the challenges faced by Aboriginal organizations, individuals and communities. These include difficulty in accessing capital and retaining qualified employees, particularly on-reserve. There is also a lack of community-level capacity to leverage economic development opportunities.
The survey also showed that the government of Ontario has an important role to play in ensuring Aboriginal businesses succeed. In fact, four in 10 Aboriginal business owners surveyed had used an Ontario government program in the past year.
The research played an important part in the development of a new targeted program, the Aboriginal Economic Development Fund (AEDF).
Announced in the 2014 Ontario Budget, the AEDF is a three-year, $25-million initiative that will support business, employment and training opportunities.
The fund will help Aboriginal communities diversify their economies and foster regional partnerships for economic development projects. It will also increase access to financing and other business supports to help ensure Aboriginal businesses succeed.
“Support from the fund, combined with important CCAB research, presents a unique opportunity for Aboriginal communities and Economic Development Corporations,” says JP Gladu, president and CEO of the CCAB. “Accessing these valuable resources has the potential to open doors and level playing fields on the way to improved opportunities for all Aboriginal businesses in Ontario.”
Aboriginal communities and the province as a whole would benefit from greater participation of Aboriginal people in the economy.
Closing the education and labour market gap between Aboriginal people and other Canadians by 2026 would add over $400 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product over a 25-year period, according to a report by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards. And government expenditures would be reduced by tens of billions of dollars due to increased tax revenues and decreased social assistance costs.
Ontario recognizes the great potential of this labour force, which is why we are taking a whole-of-government approach to help close the socioeconomic gaps between Aboriginal people and other Ontarians.
When Aboriginal people prosper, all of Ontario prospers. Once it’s formally launched this fall, the Aboriginal Economic Development Fund will join a number of other resources and programs Ontario offers to help Aboriginal entrepreneurs, organizations and communities thrive.