A place where peo­ple can lay down roots

The Victoria Standard - - Commentary - FROM THE EDITOR

Nova Sco­tia can pat it­self on the back for an­other strong year of im­mi­gra­tion. Syr­ian refugees were a large part of the growth seen in 2016, but 2017 saw con­tin­ued growth with­out large num­bers of refugees. In a Dec. 29 press re­lease, the Prov­ince said more than 4,000 new­com­ers were wel­comed this past year. A cited sur­vey sug­gested at­ti­tudes to­wards im­mi­gra­tion are shift­ing tremen­dously, and for the bet­ter. This is good news for an ag­ing prov­ince look­ing to stem the tide of out mi­gra­tion to the west and be­yond.

Cape Bre­ton Part­ner­ship has cho­sen to fo­cus heav­ily on in­creas­ing im­mi­gra­tion in Cape Bre­ton. The Part­ner­ship now op­er­ates three pro­grams de­signed to at­tract, set­tle and re­tain for­eign na­tion­als to our is­land; At­lantic Im­mi­gra­tion Project (pairing skilled work­ers with em­ploy­ers), Cape Bre­ton Local Im­mi­gra­tion Project (fo­cus on mak­ing local ar­eas more im­mi­gra­tion-friendly) and Cape Bre­ton Con­nect (pairing busi­ness men­tors with stu­dent mentees).

After a De­cem­ber pre­sen­ta­tion to coun­cil how­ever, it is clear that the Part­ner­ship’s fo­cus re­mains more on CBRM and less on ru­ral ar­eas. It is early days for these re­cruit­ment pro­grams so there is jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for get­ting it right in the CBRM be­fore rolling things out is­land-wide.

In April 2017, Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil worked with out­side con­sul­tant Gor­don Mcin­tosh to cre­ate a list of strate­gic pri­or­i­ties for the coun­cil to un­der­take dur­ing their cur­rent term. Im­mi­gra­tion did not make the list, but for now, that makes sense. There are sev­eral is­sues that must be ad­dressed be­fore at­tempt­ing to set­tle more peo­ple here en masse.

What are Coun­cil’s top five cur­rent pri­or­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Strate­gic Pri­or­i­ties Chart coun­cil in­tro­duced at their May 8 meet­ing? 1. Tourism Strat­egy, 2. Af­ford­able Hous­ing, 3. Broad­band, 4. Sea­sonal worker ac­com­mo­da­tion, and 5. Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment strat­egy.

All five pri­or­i­ties ar­guably help lay the ground­work for long-term pop­u­la­tion growth in the County. More di­rectly, af­ford­able hous­ing and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment are two pil­lars where the county can choose to not only ad­dress the needs of cur­rent res­i­dents, but plan a land­scape that will at­tract new­com­ers.

It is good to see that two of Coun­cil’s top five pri­or­i­ties are hous­ing-re­lated as Vic­to­ria County is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing noth­ing short of a hous­ing cri­sis. Deal­ing with sea­sonal ac­com­mo­da­tion is­sues should be part of a wider plan to deal with af­ford­able hous­ing and a short­age of rental stock. If we want to grow the pop­u­la­tion, hous­ing strat­egy needs to fo­cus more heav­ily on long-term rentals that wel­come fam­i­lies to stay, and not just pro­vide small sea­sonal dwellings for a tran­sient pop­u­la­tion.

The year-round rental va­cancy rate in Bad­deck stands close to zero and the rest of the County ap­pears much the same. With the pop­u­lar­ity and ease of Airbnb and other web-based por­tals de­signed for the lu­cra­tive short-term tourist rental mar­ket, there is lit­tle in­cen­tive for prop­erty own­ers to rent long-term. At the same time, there are fre­quent re­quests by would-be new­com­ers to rent in Bad­deck and sur­round­ing area. I have heard anec­do­tally of more than one per­son choos­ing not to live or work in Bad­deck due to a lack of hous­ing.

Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is a much more neb­u­lous and time­con­sum­ing un­der­tak­ing. A re­view of the County’s Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy was slated for Au­gust, but that re­view has not yet hap­pened. Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Of­fi­cer Pa­trick Austin will ap­pear be­fore Coun­cil this month.

As im­por­tant as tourism is to our sur­vival, we must see eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment emerge as a multi-pronged ap­proach. Eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion makes a re­gion stronger and there are lots of other sec­tors that the county could fo­cus on such as aqua­cul­ture (Lit­tle Nar­rows gyp­sum pits could hold a lot of farmed fish, if flooded), farm­ing (Cape Bre­ton was once a net exporter of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts and much of the land po­ten­tial re­mains), tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion (the newly-formed Alexan­der Graham Bell Foun­da­tion is charged with bring­ing the story of Alec and Ma­bel Bell alive. What bet­ter way than to an­i­mate the re­gion than with a Cen­tre for In­no­va­tion?)

One ma­jor pri­or­ity that did not make Coun­cil’s list is child care. If we want youth­ful new­com­ers, we must have vi­able op­tions for the next gen­er­a­tion of minds and bod­ies to be cared for, de­vel­oped and taught. Lack of reli­able, af­ford­able child care has also reached cri­sis sta­tus for ex­ist­ing chil­dren and par­ents so much work is needed in this area.

New im­mi­grants will not have the fam­ily so­cial net that so of­ten chips in with free child­care. Em­ploy­ers fre­quently com­plain about the small labour pool, but a par­ent can­not pur­sue em­ploy­ment with­out reli­able child­care. The job boards at em­ploy­ment and re­source cen­tres have plenty of min­i­mum wage job op­por­tu­ni­ties, but can we ex­pect a par­ent with no reli­able child­care to ap­ply?

The cre­ation and suc­cess­ful pi­lot­ing of the Bras d’or Lakes Day Camps As­so­ci­a­tion in Bad­deck last sum­mer by five local work­ing par­ents was en­cour­ag­ing. Their goal was to pro­vide an en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for kids dur­ing the sum­mer months while pro­vid­ing a so­lu­tion to the child­care co­nun­drum. They are work­ing now to pro­vide year­round op­tions. If their suc­cess con­tin­ues, it could be a model for else­where in the county.

We need to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple are in­vited to lay down roots, not sim­ply visit dur­ing sum­mer months. Tourism is our lifeblood but sea­sonal em­ploy­ment alone at­tracts a tran­sient, of­ten child­free pop­u­la­tion. Con­di­tions for long-term, sta­ble pop­u­la­tion growth need to be cul­ti­vated. In turn, this em­pha­sis will not only fos­ter growth, but im­prove the lives of peo­ple al­ready re­sid­ing here.

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