Immigration Pilot a Good Start but Serious Problems Remain

Atlantic Canada’s impending demographic crisis is beginning to get some traction in government. Economists, statisticians, and public policy analysts have been sending up flares for 15 years, but only since the Ivany Report have we begun to see any meaningful activity.

I remember attending a public policy forum around 2005 when now Professor Emeritus in Public Administration at Dalhousie University, Jim McNiven outlined, in no uncertain terms, that the collective ‘we’ had better start taking this issue seriously…soon…or some very serious trouble was waiting for us. Well…that trouble is now on our doorstep.

Twelve years later it would appear the federal and provincial governments have finally decided it might be a good idea to adjust the rules to assist the region in the attraction and retention of immigration. As anyone who has been following our Atlantic immigration woes already knows, attracting immigrants to our region has not been the problem (although our allotments have been inexplicably low), our problem is keeping people here.

The reasons for immigrants heading off to MTV, (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) are usually, but not exclusively, economic. Larger centers generally have communities providing stronger cultural supports, but our heavy cumulative tax burden and a stifling regulatory environment suppress entrepreneurial opportunities. Or at least it encourages immigrant to look elsewhere.

Our efforts around the Syrian refugee crisis, however, have provided some valuable lessons. As communities have come together to support those in desperate need, we’ve demonstrated our ability to be more welcoming and provide economic opportunities.

In my podcast this week, I’m talking with Tareq Hadhad, the founder of Peace By Chocolate, and someone who has become a poster child for successful integration into our community and country. The entire story is heartwarming and inspiring, but it needn’t be unique. In fact, the experience is more commonplace than we realize, except most immigrants who come to Canada empty-handed and succeed as entrepreneurs don’t have the Prime Minister using them as an example at the United Nations.

I would encourage you to listen to the podcast this week, to hear his family’s story. While Tareq is almost universally positive about his Canadian experience, he makes some useful observations for those who may want to look more critically at our own response to immigration. For example, our recognition of foreign credentials continues to be an obstacle not only for talented people coming to our country, but for us as well.

Tareq was fresh off four years of medical school, studying to be a doctor, when he was forced to flee Syria for Lebanon. When he arrived in Canada, he was informed he would be required to, literally, go back to zero and write his MCATs to become a doctor. Ironically,  in a province where we are desperate for doctors.

Efforts have been made to address the problem of foreign credentials recognition but it is still a serious barrier to immigration. It is an area of regulatory reform that requires more attention and more certainly more immediate action here in Atlantic Canada.

Tareq also raises a very interesting point about how employers can assist in the retention process by employing the simplest of management strategy; give the immigrant employee a sense of their career trajectory and how they can build a career and succeed. A job is not enough, all people, regardless of where they are from, want to build a life.

The federal and provincial government’s efforts to streamline immigration through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program shows some promise however it is going to take a collective effort by the people of Atlantic Canada to continue to push immigration reform. As it stands, immigration will not solve our demographic crisis ahead, it is only one tool to mitigate what will surely become an unbearable tax load on an ever-shrinking workforce.

It is just a piece of the puzzle, however we should listen carefully to those who can provide useful advice.

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