A tick­ing time bomb

The Beacon (Gander) - - Editorial -

The warn­ings are get­ting more omi­nous. At­lantic Canada was told that un­less we at­tract and re­tain more im­mi­grants, the re­gion will en­counter dra­matic eco­nomic and demographic prob­lems. Our pop­u­la­tion is ag­ing as young peo­ple leave for bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties. A shrink­ing work­force is an ob­vi­ous threat for in­dus­try.

Such warn­ings are noth­ing new but per­haps our po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness lead­ers have down­played them. Af­ter all, isn’t the re­gion en­joy­ing strong eco­nomic times right now; and we see more im­mi­grants in our com­mu­ni­ties? Re­ally, how bad can it be?

Just ask for­mer New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, who de­liv­ered some of the strong­est warn­ings to date for the chal­lenges fac­ing At­lantic Canada. Dur­ing a pub­lic pol­icy fo­rum Wed­nes­day in Fred­er­ic­ton, he warned that: “Our pop­u­la­tion is ag­ing rapidly and the only hope is to im­mi­gra­tion.” And, “the fu­ture of At­lantic Canada is at stake with­out suc­cess in im­mi­gra­tion.”

McKenna said it was no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to sug­gest the re­gion could be in jeop­ardy if more isn’t done to in­crease its pop­u­la­tion. It seems that we needed a dose of shock ther­apy to wake us up and deal with this im­mi­nent peril. The Fred­er­ic­ton con­fer­ence was told that At­lantic Canada is a tick­ing time bomb ready to go off.

The At­lantic prov­inces and Ot­tawa haven’t ig­nored the loom­ing threat. There are pop­u­la­tion sec­re­tar­iats in place and the re­cent At­lantic Im­mi­gra­tion Pi­lot is work­ing hard to boost im­mi­gra­tion for skilled new­com­ers. There is a joint ef­fort to tar­get for­eign stu­dents to stay af­ter grad­u­a­tion and Provin­cial Nom­i­nee Pro­grams have been in place for over 10 years.

Fran­cis McGuire, the pres­i­dent of the At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency, had a blunt mes­sage for the pol­icy fo­rum. He sug­gests an un­der­cur­rent of racism re­mains in play, and while we like to see im­mi­grants ar­rive with in­vest­ment money, there are not enough ef­forts to make them feel wel­come and in­clu­sive.

Im­mi­grants need more sup­ports from gov­ern­ment and busi­nesses must make ad­di­tional cap­i­tal in­vest­ments. New­com­ers look­ing for work don’t have EI help that Cana­di­ans en­joy. More lan­guage train­ing is needed. And if there are more job op­por­tu­ni­ties, there is a greater chance for im­mi­grants to come, find work and stay here. It’s a re­ver­sal from past po­lices where a pri­or­ity was to get im­mi­grants here and then try to find them em­ploy­ment.

A re­cent re­port shows At­lantic Canada has the low­est re­ten­tion rates for im­mi­grants in the coun­try. Nova Sco­tia has a five-year im­mi­grant re­ten­tion rate of 72 per cent, while New­found­land and Labrador is at 56 per cent, New Brunswick is at 52 per cent, and P.E.I. is at 18 per cent.

The num­bers are dis­mal but con­sider that P.E.I.’s pop­u­la­tion is in­creas­ing and get­ting younger – both lead­ing the re­gion and re­vers­ing re­cent trends. Im­mi­grants have played a prom­i­nent role in this turn­around.

We know the prob­lems and we know the so­lu­tions. It’s a mat­ter for busi­nesses and gov­ern­ment to fol­low through on what needs to be done. Let’s all join in on this ef­fort.

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