Immigrating: Atlantic Canada Needs You

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By Robin Arthur

Robin Arthur is editor of Touch BASE – a monthly news tabloid for newcomers to the Maritimes and global-minded Canadians. Robin also writes a weekly column on Newcomers in the Daily News and has done several books on the subject – including Canada’s Immigrants, Heroes and Countrymen.

How we respond to the challenges of immigration, diversity and population change will determine whether we as a society live or die, says Brian Lee Crowley, President of AIMS (Atlantic Institute for Market Studies). Atlantic Canadians are struggling to renew their society, he says.

Most of the industrialized world faces major labour shortages today and in the future. That, and not unemployment, is our main challenge, he says. Most of Atlantic Canada’s industries, including the fisheries are either facing or forecasting problems finding workers in the near future.

“For this region to prosper, it must be possible to recruit workers who bring needed skills that are in short supply to the region,” he says.

But how do we woo immigrants? The key is not an immigration policy but a prosperity policy, Crowley says. Doing what is right for Atlantic Canadians will also be the right thing for attracting immigrants, including a reduced tax burden, a culture of education, and improving newcomers’ access to many regulated professions.

One of the most powerful attractions for immigrants is whether or not there are people like them in a new community — people who have prospered there. Being made to feel wanted and welcome is thus the strongest pro-immigration policy there is. In order for immigration to move outside the big cities, we need to foster immigrant communities, and not just individual immigrants, Crowley says.

Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson stirred up much discussion last year with his column titled: Why Atlantic Canada Remains White and Poor. That topic was a focus when the Atlantic Mayors Conference on Immigration got underway in May 2005.

It’s no secret that policy makers are feeling the heat from a declining economy driven by a loss of native-born population and the region’s inability to attract and keep the small share of the country’s immigrants that come here. Atlantic Canada currently is challenged by rural population decline, outmigration (people leaving the area), skills shortage and a lack of investment.
Papers presented by researchers and demographers at an earlier conference on regional migration, sponsored by the Atlantic Metropolis Centre, asked questions about migration theory including:

  • Why do people move?
  • Is it the young or the old who cross borders?
  • Do most people move out of province for social networking and clan comfort or are people simply going where the jobs are?
  • Does a surge in immigration trigger economic growth or does economic growth boost immigration?

The keynote speaker Dr. Barry Edmonston, suggested that away from big cities, people are attracted to areas where strong employment growth can be driven and pointed to the success Manitoba has reported with its Provincial Nominee Program.
Barry Chiswick of the University of Illinois stressed the importance of easy access to “Ethnic Goods” – anything from houses of worship, the celebration of festivals and holidays, the availability of international foods and clothing or marriage markets. Providing easy access to these “ethnic goods” could address some social factors that influence immigrant choices.

Creating a “welcoming” society is the magic formula.

“The initiative by Atlantic Mayors reflects our recognition of the importance of immigration to long-term economic sustainability and of the need to fill the voids in trades and professional sectors,” said Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly. He said that the conference was addressing grassroots ways for our communities to attract, retain and grow with the immigration process at all levels.

Kelly said, “This must be reflected in our staff hiring within the police force, fire departments, school boards and at the municipal departments and in our societies which have to become more inclusive with an appreciation of different cultures and religions.”

Growing immigration is a sure sign of economic and cultural strength. But in 2001, Nova Scotia got only about two thirds of one percent of the immigration to Canada, New Brunswick, one third of one percent, Newfoundland 16 one hundredths of one percent, and PEI five one hundredths of one percent.

Claudette Legault, the executive director of the Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association (MISA) in Halifax, says immigrants are now on the radar screens. “The corporate sector wants to know how they can be inclusive. When the phone rings, it could be a call from the health department, NovaKnowledge or a private sector employer wanting to connect with newcomers or with newcomer information,” she says.

Steps are being made in dealing with the problems of foreign credentials recognition. Dalhousie University in Halifax and the College of Physicians are working on an Assessment Centre for Physicians and there is a similar effort being made to assess the credentials of engineers. “The province is at a point where regulatory bodies are writing the career pathways and road maps and formulating a credentials recognition process that’s fair and affordable,” Legault says.

“Getting people into the workplace is the big challenge.” says Rosemary Pellerin, the Executive Director of the Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton (MAGMA) in New Brunswick. In the ten years she has been with MAGMA, the settlement agency has gone from serving no more than two or three refugees per year, to now serving more than one hundred newcomers every year. Many people from the Congo are settling in Moncton. They speak French and can therefore easily integrate. Family ties in the community are bringing more Congolese to Moncton and the number of immigrants who are staying is now as high as 95 per cent.

Pellerin says there is a sense that diversity management is becoming a shared challenge in Moncton as well. The agency takes calls from hotels, malls and fast-food chains asking for newcomer skills. But at the professional level it does not happen.
Moncton is welcoming and friendly, she says. “One does not hear of racist incidents reported in the media. Newcomers, instead report being overwhelmed with friendly assistance from Canadians in New Brunswick.”

The need for immigrant services in Newfoundland has substantially grown and the organization helps over a thousand newcomers per year, says Bridget Foster, the executive director of the Association for Newcomers to Canada (ANC). She says that credentials recognition is a road block to most newcomers, but that is an issue that’s being addressed with some urgency.

Newcomers say they feel included in Newfoundland. Overall, there is a sense that diversity is necessary for economic sustainability and Newfoundland now has a department working on an Immigration Strategy for the province.

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