Immigration – Get your ducks in order

Now after decades of almost no immigration, now everyone and their dog in Atlantic Canada is talking about it. Provinces are developing strategies, communities are getting ‘immigrant friendly’ and the federal government is finally starting to show some interest in immigration to prop up Atlantic Canada’s sagging population.

I am all for immigration – on many fronts. Just ask my wife who immigrated here from Brazil. Or my cousin who married a Columbian lady or my brother who married a, gasp, American and brought her to Halifax.

But, and with me there is almost always a but, the issue in Atlantic Canada is the systemic underperformance of the economy. Just bringing in immigrants (not including investor immigrants) will just make for more unemployment and frustration. Somebody once said that all the taxi drivers in Toronto are new immigrants because non-immigrant Torontonians will not do those types of jobs. Well, in New Brunswick, there are lots of folks to drive taxis. Bringing in immigrants for these jobs would just displace Mintoians or Miramichiers.

To illustrate this point, recently in Halifax, the Chief Economist of the TD Bank stated that recent immigrants to Canada have not faired as well economically as their predecessors. Forcing them to move to the least economically succesful region of Canada may not improve their lot much.

A successful immigration strategy should target immigrants that will fill a real need in the community. If there are shortages of health care professionals, etc. As the economy grows and more pressure is put on the service sector, then we can look at bringing in immigrants to supplement the existing workforce.

I’ll say that bringing in immigrant post-secondary students is a great idea. New Brunswick’s universities have a lower than average rate of international students and I think this would be a great way to provide potential immigrants with a ‘trial run’.

I also think that immigrant investors (those that must invest $250,000 to get in) are also a good target. If some of our small businesses need a private sector funding partner, this might be a good source (assuming a cultural fit).

But let’s not detract from the real issue here. If you build it, they will come – as the saying goes. How can Fort McMurray, located in the most barren wasteland of Canada, grow by 19% in just two years? People are going there for the jobs – duh.

Stick a Michelin-type plant in every region of Atlantic Canada, reduce dependence on EI, raise our collective confidence level – and people will be clamouring to move here.

Trust me on that.