The face of Canada’s immigration system has been changing drastically. With the federal government scaling back on settlement service funding in parts of central Canada, the situation is even bleaker in the Atlantic region where funding is hard to come by.
The Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC), for example, has been badly affected. With the recent uncertainty in the value of oil, the private businesses who were RIAC’s prominent donors were forced to cancel their regular donations. The non-profit NGO has had to lay off its staff and is surviving month to month on private donations and volunteers.
RIAC’s decline comes at a precipitous time for the province when jobs are disappearing, young people are leaving and the population keeps getting older.
A solution offered to the province and other regions in Atlantic Canada facing similar challenges is to aggressively recruit immigrants to slow the aging of the population while injecting new energy and ideas.
Traditionally however, Atlantic Canada has not been a hub for newcomers and governments have been sluggish in developing recruitment strategies. While settlement services in central Canada are far from ideal, they do seem to be more of a priority there than with the Newfoundland government. This is presumably because the number of newcomers settling in the Atlantic province is low. According to Statistics Canada, in 2014, Newfoundland only took 0.4 per cent of Canada’s total immigrants.
However, it is believed that if Newfoundland were to commit to immigration, the numbers would increase.
RIAC receives no government funding. In fact, The Association for New Canadians is the only organization that offers government funded services in Newfoundland. Rivera says this is insufficient, as in other parts of Canada the government makes much more significant investments in settlement.
Newcomers need more robust services when they come to Newfoundland.
Prince Edward Island (PEI) is bucking the trend in Atlantic Canada. By making extensive use of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and a sophisticated coordination of its settlement services, PEI has been able to attract and retain newcomers in significant numbers.
According to PEI’s Association for New Canadians (ANC), PEI has 0.4 per cent of Canada’s population and it attracts 0.5 per cent of the nation’s immigration. Over the past eight years, PEI’s retention rates have improved from approximately 20 to over 40 per cent.
The secret to PEI’s success is how the province integrates its settlement services with various stakeholders, a strategy it developed in 2010. According to Craig Mackie, executive director of PEI’s ANC, “The three keys to integration and retention are learning the language, employment and social inclusion.”
The province offers free government-funded English language classes for permanent residents.
PEI’s PNP has two main categories to address its economic needs: the labour impact category and the business impact category. The former is geared towards attracting skilled or temporary workers and is employer-driven. The latter is meant to attract foreign nationals to invest and manage a business in PEI.
With regard to the third element, social inclusion, ANC recently organized a gathering of over 100 people to discuss ways to make the province more welcoming to newcomers.
Within the Atlantic region, Newfoundland is best positioned economically to invest heavily in a more robust settlement network. Despite Oil revenue soaring, unemployment remains high at 15.6 per cent.
By 2020, the province anticipates that 70,000 jobs will be available, most of which will be the result of attrition, but 7,700 of those will be new positions. Of these positions, 66.7 per cent will be in management occupation and will require a post-secondary education.
By mimicking PEI, Newfoundland could lower its unemployment by injecting the economy with new investors and entrepreneurs, while simultaneously rejuvenating the population with young families.
The Connector program run by the Halifax Partnership has received country-wide acclaim, most recently at the Metropolis conference in Vancouver. The program is serving as a « best practice » for other immigrant settlement organizations, including in Toronto.
The New Brunswick Multicultural Council continues efforts « to make New Brunswick the province of choice for … newcomers » and even tiny Cape Breton in Nova Scotia is « dreaming big ».
For now, though, Newfoundland, and the rest of Atlantic Canada, would be wise to imitate PEI – the overachieving sibling.