Evidence of meeting #65 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was irb.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ray Ivany  President and Vice-Chancellor, Acadia University
Frank McKenna  Deputy Chair, Corporate Office, TD Bank Group
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Erica Pereira
Peter Halpin  Executive Director, Association of Atlantic Universities
Sofia Descalzi  Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Natasha Clark  International Student Advisor, Memorial University of Newfoundland

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

I call the meeting to order.

Pursuant to the order of reference received from the House on Wednesday, November 2, 2016, the committee will resume its study of M-39 on immigration to Atlantic Canada.

On our first panel today, we have Mrs. Alaina Lockhart, the member of Parliament for Fundy Royal. Welcome.

From Acadia University, by video conference, we have Ray Ivany, president and vice-chancellor. Welcome, Mr. Ivany.

3:35 p.m.

Ray Ivany President and Vice-Chancellor, Acadia University

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

From the TD Bank Group, we have the Honourable Frank McKenna, deputy chair.

Welcome to everyone.

Mrs. Lockhart, you can begin, with seven minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the members of this committee for studying this issue and for hearing the full testimony of expert witnesses who are travelling great distances to make a difference for Atlantic Canada.

I also want to thank each and every member of the House of Commons who voted in favour of this motion last November. The very fact that the House of Commons was unanimous in its support of this issue proves to every Atlantic Canadian that the region and its culture, language, history, and society are important to all Canadians.

I am often asked why I chose to focus on immigration as the topic of my private member's motion. It's a valid question, as I do not hear from constituents each day looking for more immigration. However, what I do hear about is their daily concerns about the sustainability and growth of our communities and the local economy.

Constituents tell me they are concerned about their rural schools, the corner stores in their communities closing because of a lack of volume, and the dwindling memberships in organizations, just to name a few. At the same time, business owners in the trucking, tourism, home care, and manufacturing sectors are talking to me about the challenges they face when hiring, and how it is limiting their potential for growth.

As a former human resources professional and a business owner, I have experienced the effects of a shrinking and aging population. These challenges are symptoms of a larger problem, one that includes lagging immigration numbers in Atlantic Canada relative to the rest of Canada.

As you heard in Ms. Hunter's limited testimony last week, “In 2014, 6.7% of the Canadian population lived in Atlantic Canada, but the region welcomed only 3.1% of new immigrants.”

We have passed the point where we can repopulate the region without intervention. We will not naturally become a younger society again. Our workforce will not naturally expand. Investments will not come easily to our region if we stay the course.

Is immigration the magic bullet? No, but it is an important part of a larger strategy to revitalize Atlantic Canada and ensure sustainability for the future.

In addition to the immigration pilot program, the Atlantic growth strategy focuses on four other areas of action: innovation, clean growth and climate change, trade and investment, and infrastructure. Together, the federal and provincial governments are playing the long game for sustainable prosperity in Atlantic Canada for generations to come.

I would like to think that my motion, as well as the work of all 32 MPs from Atlantic Canada, is reflected in the government's consistent support and action to enhance Atlantic Canada's economic performance.

Considering the announcement of the Atlantic growth strategy, after I had tabled my motion but before the House could debate it, I called for an amendment that would focus a committee's work on examining retention and settlement, with a view to bringing forward recommendations and best practices.

The amendments to the motion broadened the scope of the study. They did not significantly narrow the scope of the motion as debated. By concurrently studying the factors affecting retention, the committee would be not only studying retention flowing from the pilot initiatives, but also contributing to the success of the pilot and to improving retention in other provinces and territories.

This government has taken steps to increase immigration, but that is only the first step. We need immigrants to stay, and we need them to prosper.

The committee is now undertaking a study that I hope will identify problems with the process, including barriers within our bureaucracy and best practices for successful recruitment. Attention should be paid to the successful integration of new immigrants and ways to ensure that success by engaging businesses and offering settlement and integration support.

By studying the factors that increase the retention rates of newcomers, the committee would not only contribute to the success of the government's pilot, but also provide a point of reference for best practices. The practices can then be shared across Canada. We know that national demographic projections show that all regions of Canada will be impacted by an aging population. Atlantic Canada is facing that impact first.

Strong and effective retention measures will help ensure that Atlantic Canada remains a region of choice, and are likely the key to maximizing the social, cultural, economic, and community benefits of immigration.

This is a critical call to action, as Atlantic Canadians look for ways to achieve a more prosperous future, a future that allows for the repatriation of our youth, economic growth, and the sustainability of communities throughout the region.

I'll end with this, Mr. Chair. When Atlantic Canada does better, all of Canada does better.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you, Ms. Lockhart.

Mr. Ivany, the floor is yours for seven minutes, please.

3:35 p.m.

President and Vice-Chancellor, Acadia University

Ray Ivany

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

My perspective on this is shaped by my experience as chair of a commission in Nova Scotia that began in 2012, and reported in February 2014. We were asked by the provincial government to take an in-depth look at the Nova Scotia economy and our prospects for the future. We were also asked to engage Nova Scotians in that process.

We had two rounds of province-wide consultations. When we began that work we looked at the data sets surrounding both the economy and demography, and of course just like every other part of Canada, our economic history has always had those two things combined. I hale from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and during the years of the development of the steel mills and the coal mines there were waves of immigration, so those two things have always been linked.

The issue became more pointed, however, when we extrapolated from a baseline year of 2009 and looked at a projection, assuming that the same patterns would prevail in terms of net interprovincial migration, immigration levels, etc., and we pushed that out 25 years. It really painted a very stark reality, which I'll share with you.

The projection was that Nova Scotia's overall population would decline somewhere in the order of 4%. Unfortunately, the 18-64-year-old cohort, which is the labour market, would decline over that same period by between 15% and 20%. Moreover, we looked across the world, frankly, at sub-national jurisdictions—at provinces—that had experienced even a fraction of that kind of labour market compression, and there was no productivity or innovation compensatory economic lift that could accommodate that kind of a contraction in the labour market.

Demography in this case is not simply a tracking of age. It is a fundamental change to our province's and the region's ability to be successful on a long-term basis. The Canadian demographer David Foot has often reminded us not to be surprised that people get one year older a year at a time. But when you reach the point, as Ms. Lockhart indicated, of a demographic pattern in Atlantic Canada that is a bit of a precursor to what will happen in other areas of Canada, that kind of age weighting will fundamentally change everything.

In our economic commission report, we set 19 goals and it was no accident that the number one recommendation was for a tripling of immigration numbers in Nova Scotia. While that may seem a bit of a stretch goal, especially given where we were at the time in 2014, I'd remind the committee members that the number corresponded to Nova Scotia's per capita share of the immigrant landings at that time in Canada.

There needs to be a focus on immigration. Obviously the economic linkages are equally important, but I think the committee is aware that the track record of immigrants in Canada, generally, and in Nova Scotia specifically, is very positive with respect to their employment levels, to their having higher educational attainment levels than the Canadian population, and to their starting their own businesses and succeeding with them over time.

Our belief is that there does need to be a concerted focus on immigration, particularly with the dynamics in Atlantic Canada, and that it should act in concert with the kinds of elements of an innovation agenda and the start-up success that we've seen, particularly in the Halifax area. But, frankly, this is a circumstance, and I believe now what I believed in 2014, that without significantly enhanced immigration capacity it will be an exceedingly challenging economic future for Atlantic Canada.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you, Mr. Ivany.

Mr. McKenna, the floor is yours.

3:40 p.m.

Frank McKenna Deputy Chair, Corporate Office, TD Bank Group

Thank you.

I am delighted to be here.

I'm delighted to be among you here today and flattered to be asked to be here as a witness, especially with my good friend Alaina Lockhart, whom I give full credit for inspiring this effort, and Ray Ivany, the subject matter expert who is well respected in our region.

They've said exactly what I wanted to say, so I'm going to go further and be much more provocative in what I say. I don't have the expertise, but I am motivated by living in the region, having eyes in our region, and a lifelong passion for the place of my birth. I can only be helpful, I think, if I get right through to what I think are the facts.

We can't do justice to the issue of immigration in Atlantic Canada without dealing with the issue of temporary foreign workers and employment insurance. They're all inextricably linked, so let's frame the problem.

It's not overly apocalyptic to say that if demography is destiny, Atlantic Canada is in a slow-moving death spiral. The facts should not be in dispute: 10% of Canadians lived in Atlantic Canada in 1966; now it's 6.6%. The 2015 Stats Canada numbers showed that New Brunswick had sustained more deaths than births for the first time since statistics were tracked. The region as a whole had the second-lowest fertility rate in Canada. We've lost over 40,000 people in the last 30 years. The population isn't just leaving; it's getting older. The Atlantic region has aged twice as fast as Alberta since 1971. The average age now is eight years older than in Alberta.

Just this week, Stats Canada had even more alarming numbers. The slowest growing part of Canada is Atlantic Canada. New Brunswick was the worst in the country, and the only province that had a negative growth rate; Nova Scotia was right behind it. Saint John, New Brunswick, was the only city in Canada that lost population over the last five years.

We're seeing the consequences play out in this never-ending death spiral. Aging populations cost more, the declining population base results in less equalization, fewer transfers for health and education, less money from income tax, less money raised from consumption tax, and then we have to care for an aging population, which is exponentially more expensive.

The results are starkly visible: universities are struggling for students, our high schools are sometimes half full and, of course, everybody is fighting to keep their school full and we have bed-blockers in all our hospitals.

That vicious cycle is self-perpetuating. Provincial deficits are soaring, and in a desperate effort to staunch the bleeding, provincial governments have compounded the problem by increasing consumption taxes and marginal tax rates to the point where taxation is at capacity in virtually all our provinces. Even worse, skilled workers commuting to the west may conclude at some point that it makes more sense to move there and enjoy lower tax rates than continuing to live at home.

To compound the problem for the provinces, all the levers are held by the federal government: employment insurance, immigration, temporary foreign workers.

Let's start with immigration. Atlantic Canada in particular and much of rural Canada in general have trouble attracting immigrants because we don't have a base of immigrants. Immigrants go where immigrants are; they want to be part of a community. We don't have those communities in large measure. That's why 70% of immigrants in Canada go to Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto; 65% of all immigrants end up in Toronto. Toronto is booming, with cranes on every corner. That's a good thing for Toronto, but we don't have that jet fuel in our economy.

Public policy supports those centres that have critical mass. When was the last time you saw an immigration minister from Atlantic Canada? Facts are facts; Atlantic Canada only receives about 2.5% of immigrants. We're not getting our fair share, and without a larger base we can't get the critical mass to attract more immigrants. It's a constantly reinforcing negative cycle.

Increasing immigration to Atlantic Canada, I want to say clearly, is not without controversy. Even the citizens of Atlantic Canada are less than enthusiastic about increased immigration. They often ask me why I want to keep bringing people in; they don't have jobs for the people who are here.

A glimmer of hope has emerged in the recent Syrian refugee crisis. Atlantic Canadians welcomed a disproportionate number. A lot of that was for humanitarian reasons, but a lot of it was also blatant recognition that we have a big population problem.

What does all this mean? It means that Atlantic Canada not only has an aging and declining workforce, but also a dramatic shortage of skilled workers, a chronic shortage of willing workers to fill the jobs available. When we fix the problem, we have to fix the hemorrhaging, which brings us to the temporary foreign worker program. That program is desperately needed for everyone, from machine operators to production workers, hospitality workers, whatever you might think. Thousands of jobs are at risk of going unfilled and much production of being shipped out of the region because of a lack of employees. This is not an idle threat. Changes made to the program a couple of years ago resulted in a crisis in our communities, with hundreds of jobs being shifted out of the region.

The provinces and employers are caught in a cruel bind: even though on paper unemployment is high, they have no control over the employment insurance system, and they can't find enough workers to satisfy the labour force requirements. A suspension of the temporary foreign workers program would put at jeopardy at least a billion dollars in the seafood industry alone.

That brings us to the third piece of the conundrum. With unemployment across the region close to double digits, how could we possibly have a shortage of workers? Well, here's the dirty little secret. For many, employment insurance has gone from being a trampoline to being a trap. A percentage of chronic recipients have become so addicted to the opiate of unemployment insurance that they eschew full-time work.

The seasonal nature of part of the Atlantic economy exacerbates the problem. Employment insurance de facto has become a guaranteed annual income program for seasonal industries. It's a fact. In spite of well-meaning efforts from successive federal governments, the problem is getting worse, not better. Decades of chronic dependency have atrophied the skills of this work force and destroyed their resolve to work. The drug of unemployment insurance has sapped the strength of many in our economy, allowing them to avoid tough mobility decisions, and it has promoted poor work practices by employers and employees alike.

We haven't seen the political will at the federal level to do anything about this. In New Brunswick alone, about $800 million is paid each year in employment insurance payments.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Wind up in 20 seconds, please.

3:50 p.m.

Deputy Chair, Corporate Office, TD Bank Group

Frank McKenna

Decades of EI have left these workers without skills and motivation. You can't blame the victims: they've taken what's on offer.

I suggest that we need a three-pronged approach: deal with employment insurance; try to create case plans for new entrants to work them into programs of learning, education, etc.; continue with temporary foreign workers in order to fill the current gap.

Also, deal with the problem of the immigration program. We need a larger share of the pie than we're getting at present. I'd be glad to give some suggestions on that as we get to questions.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you so much, Mr. McKenna.

Mr. Harvey, take seven minutes, please.

June 7th, 2017 / 3:50 p.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

First of all, I'd like to thank you, Mr. McKenna, for being here with us today. I think you offer a unique perspective as somebody who has been a strong advocate for Atlantic Canada as a public servant, and somebody who has worked in the private sector. It gives you a more well-rounded view of the picture in Atlantic Canada.

As somebody who has worked in private industry my entire life before running for public office, I've accessed the temporary foreign worker program in Atlantic Canada and have used it in a processing industry. I've long said that I don't believe there's a direct correlation between the unemployment area in a specific geographic region and the need in that region for temporary foreign workers or an immigration stream to fill the roles that are required by industry. I think much of that relates to what you spoke to—the lack of skills development because of decades of declining population and lack of industry.

I'm wondering, therefore, how you see the federal government's role in working with the provinces and the private sector to push this agenda of immigration in Atlantic Canada. Where can we be most effective in recruitment and retention of those workers in Atlantic Canada once they're there?

3:50 p.m.

Deputy Chair, Corporate Office, TD Bank Group

Frank McKenna

I'd say retention is part of our own problem. Communities, the province, and associations have to work harder at retention. We have to lay down a base.

I would say as well that many things are starting to work now. The Atlantic growth strategy is part of the solution to the problem. This new Atlantic immigration pilot is a big step in the right direction. We need much more along the lines of the pilot project.

We need more entrepreneurs coming; we need people to come who don't have a job but will create a job and create hundreds of other jobs, the way you see all over the rest of Canada. We need people like that.

We need a path from our universities. I'd say 20% or more—Ray would know—of our university graduates are international students. We need to allow them to stay in our region for some years after they graduate and put together business plans and create new industries. We need all of that.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

And do you think—?

3:50 p.m.

Deputy Chair, Corporate Office, TD Bank Group

Frank McKenna

And we need a path, by the way, for temporary foreign workers. Somebody who's been in our community working for four or five years knows the community, likes the community, and is probably the best bet to be retained in the community.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Absolutely. I know from a transportation perspective that we certainly see in Atlantic Canada many transportation drivers who are coming in here and are working and auto-enrolling in the immigration stream with the full intent of immigrating here over the long term. I completely agree with you that it becomes a more long-term strategy for immigration.

Do you think we need a more holistic approach to addressing some of the issues we have in Atlantic Canada through the Atlantic growth strategy, along with immigration? This would address some of the other symptoms affecting economic growth and innovation. Do you think that is the proper path? Do you feel that the Atlantic growth strategy targets the areas we need to get to?

3:50 p.m.

Deputy Chair, Corporate Office, TD Bank Group

Frank McKenna

Yes. Look, I think it's all going in the right direction, but it is a chicken-and-egg thing. A lot of people would say let's not bring in immigrants until we have jobs. But in many cases, immigrants are the people who create the jobs. They enrich our communities and enrich our populations and our workforce. We must have all of these things firing at the same time.

Last week, I announced 600 jobs in Moncton. I know that we cannot fill all of those locally. We're going to have to bring people from across Canada or people from other countries in order to fill them. We need all of these efforts working together, in my view, in order to succeed.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Thank you.

Before I'm out of time, Mr. Ivany, from your work studying this issue, what specific streams of employment do you think immigration can help us address in Atlantic Canada, and what specific skills do new immigrants or newcomers coming to Atlantic Canada possess that we might not have in our regular workforce there? How can they complement the workforce that already exists?

3:55 p.m.

President and Vice-Chancellor, Acadia University

Ray Ivany

I think it's virtually across the board, so you're going to get some immigration that is triggered by the need for very rare and specific skill sets. I agree also with Mr. McKenna. I think we've long seen an entrepreneurial drive in immigrants, so it won't necessarily be skill-set related, except that the skill set is to actually create a business that will create employment for Atlantic Canadians.

I think what we've seen is better matchmaking, and this is an area in which, frankly, the provincial government and the federal government need to work hand in glove. I know that our immigration unit here in Nova Scotia has been very, very aggressive and has met or exceeded all of its targets.

Often it's about the point that you raised, Mr. Harvey. It is the matchmaking between an individual company looking for a specific skill and an immigrant. And remember that their requirements are to determine that they can't find a Canadian for that job, and then the immigration department helps match them up with someone coming through one of the streams.

We heard criticism—I'll be candid with you—during our work that oftentimes the federal government presence or effort in this matchmaking amounted to a 1-800 number. Frankly, that's not good enough. There needs to be a federal immigration office presence, I think, in all of the Atlantic Canadian provinces that can, again, work very closely with the provincial departments to get this elegant fit and match between opportunity and an individual immigrant.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Thank you, Mr. Ivany.

Before I run out of time, I want to just ask something.

Mrs. Lockhart, you spoke in your opening comments about the unanimous support received last fall for the motion in the House. What type of signal do you think that sends to Atlantic Canadians, and to New Brunswickers at the same time, that we were able to pass that in the House? What kind of message do you think that sends to Atlantic Canada?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

You have 30 seconds.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

Thank you, Mr. Harvey.

I think it was a very strong signal to send to Atlantic Canadians that the whole House of Commons recognizes there's an issue. I was very pleased to see cross-party support for looking at this and making sure that we do have a concerted effort. I think it was a very strong signal of how important it is to Atlantic Canada and that the prosperity of Atlantic Canada will impact the prosperity of all of Canada.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you, Ms. Lockhart.

Ms. Rempel, you have seven minutes. I understand that you'll be splitting your time with Mr. Tilson.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mrs. Lockhart, we've heard a lot of testimony to date about the need to ensure a strong economy in the Atlantic provinces to have a sustainable driver for immigration over time and certainly to see retention. Would you agree with that characterization?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

Absolutely. I mentioned in my opening statement that this needs to be part of a bigger plan. Immigration on its own will not solve the problems of Atlantic Canada, but when you have businesses telling you that it's a barrier to growth, then we really need to look at it. I think, as you said, we've heard a lot of testimony today, as well as earlier, that this is in fact the case.