The warnings are getting more ominous.
This week, Atlantic Canada was told that unless we attract and retain more immigrants, the region will encounter dramatic economic and demographic problems. We know our population is aging as young people leave for better opportunities. A shrinking workforce is an obvious threat for industry.
But really, how bad can it be?
Just ask former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, who delivered some of the strongest warnings to date on the challenges facing Atlantic Canada.
During a public policy forum Wednesday in Fredericton, he warned: “Our population is aging rapidly … the future of Atlantic Canada is at stake without success in immigration.”
McKenna said it’s 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 more than 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 included.
Immigrants need more supports from government, and businesses must make additional capital investments. Newcomers looking for work don’t have the help from EI 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 the priority was to get immigrants here and then try to find them employment.
A report this week 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.