Evidence of meeting #67 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 immigrants.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

James Ted McDonald  Professor of Economics, University of New Brunswick
Kevin Lacey  Director, Atlantic, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
Craig Mackie  Executive Director, Prince Edward Island Association for Newcomers to Canada
Alex LeBlanc  Executive Director, New Brunswick Multicultural Council
Sarah Parisio  Coordinator, Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

The committee adjourned at 5:06, and there were four minutes left, Mr. Chair. I just want to put this on the record.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

We will proceed with the vote on whether the decision of the chair shall be sustained.

(Ruling of the chair sustained: yeas 6; nays 3)

The decision is sustained.

I'd like to proceed with the witnesses we have before us, by video conference, from the Prince Edward Island Association for Newcomers to Canada, Mr. Craig Mackie, the executive director. Welcome.

5:15 p.m.

Craig Mackie Executive Director, Prince Edward Island Association for Newcomers to Canada

Thank you.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

From the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, we have with us Alex LeBlanc, the executive director. Welcome.

From the Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador we have Ms. Sarah Parisio, coordinator. Bienvenue.

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

5:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Prince Edward Island Association for Newcomers to Canada

Craig Mackie

Thank you very much. I appreciate the invitation to participate in this discussion about immigration in Atlantic Canada.

For us, immigration is about individuals and families. It's about people, often vulnerable people.

Let me describe a shared experience for many immigrants and refugees. They arrive excited and enthusiastic about a new life in Canada. Canada truly is a place of their hopes and dreams, but within a few short weeks, emotions change from excitement to frustration to unhappiness and even to anger as they realize the challenges and barriers that are ahead in their new lives in Canada.

Those challenges include learning a new language, dealing with completely different cultural norms, finding a job, not having their education and credentials recognized, and not being able to find the food they're used to. Also, parenting expectations are different. Adjusting to daily life in a place where you look and sound different to the majority of people is hard, and newcomers have to deal with prejudice, discrimination, and racism that are often covert.

This is where the people at the settlement agencies come in. Throughout Atlantic Canada there are hundreds of English teachers, settlement workers, employment counsellors, interpreters, multicultural educators, and community volunteers who support newcomers with their short-term settlement needs and their long-term integration and inclusion into life in Canada.

It is these people who are helping to make immigration successful here. They are dedicated professionals who have the best interests of newcomers at heart, and they work long hours, are often underpaid and underappreciated, and they deal with everything from employment assistance to PTSD.

These settlement workers are also amazingly flexible and creative when it comes to problem solving, because every group has different needs. Chinese families coming through the provincial nominee program are very different from Indian families coming through express entry, who are in turn very different from Syrian refugees who arrived in large numbers and came from very traumatic circumstances. Settlement staff in these agencies adjust and support and comfort as circumstances and needs arise.

So much of this is important work, and it's unseen by most Canadians, and yet this support is critical to successful immigration, settlement, and integration. There's no question that it is expensive, but it is an investment in the future of Canada.

Atlantic Canada needs successful immigration. Our population is aging—take a look at this face—our birth rate is static or declining, youth continue to leave for education and employment opportunities elsewhere in Canada, and we need diversity. The organization I work for, the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, or PEIANC, or just “Newcomers”, as we're called locally, has been serving refugees and immigrants since 1993.

In 2016 we had a record-setting year in terms of the numbers of new immigrants and refugees who registered with us. While this is good news, it does raise a concern about the funding model that we deal with. Settlement agencies funded by IRCC are on a three-year rolling average of landings. That's all well and good when those landings are consistent year over year. In smaller locations, where numbers may vary, we can go through a couple of years of low landings and then have a big year. Meanwhile we've had cuts to our funding and have laid off staff, and the three-year rolling average doesn't catch up.

We've just been through this. Our funding was cut in 2015 by 17%—a quarter of a million dollars for this organization—after two years of low arrivals. Then in 2016 we had huge numbers, but we don't have the staff to support them.

I think, then, that it would be good to look at a funding model that would be a combination of the three-year rolling average and of looking at a minimum standard, a level below which staffing and funding would not drop.

PEIANC delivers a variety of settlement and integration services and programs. You can read the details on our website, peianc.com. We offer an online guide for newcomers in seven languages. We average more than 30,000 unique visits a month, with people staying more than three minutes per visit.

P.E.I. is a small place, and we have the good fortune to work with partners that include the French settlement agency CIF, La Coopérative d’intégration francophone, the language schools at Holland College with the study abroad program, the PEI Connectors program for newcomer business people, RDÉE, and hundreds of other agencies and organizations with whom we partner to make our island a more welcoming place for newcomers.

We're also part of a network of settlement agencies in Atlantic Canada called ARAISA, the Atlantic Region Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies. We have representation from all four provinces. We provide support for each other and we organize professional development opportunities for staff. In the past few years we've had professional development sessions for refugee workers, settlement staff, employment counsellors, and community connections people.

P.E.I. has experienced rapid growth in becoming a more multicultural place. In the past 10 years at this association alone we've registered more than 14,000 newcomers from over 130 different countries. Our culinary landscape is one of the most obvious changes. We have more international food choices than ever before. Newcomers are working in almost all sectors of the economy. Several years ago, Mandarin rose to become the second most spoken language on Prince Edward Island.

Thanks to funding from the province, we also have one settlement worker dedicated to supporting temporary residents: temporary foreign workers and international students. The main focus of this role is an educational one and to help these temporary residents find a pathway to permanent residency. Currently, that one settlement worker has a caseload of 1,400 people, with about 400 active at a time.

One area of concern we see is support for multicultural education. As we work to help established Islanders deal with the changes in population and as we help them welcome and work with newcomers, it's important that we have the resources to deliver cultural sensitivity training and diversity education. At one point we had two educators. With cuts we now have only one, and we no longer deliver multicultural education to public schools.

P.E.I. is changing because of immigration, and it's mostly a good change, but as with all changes, there are challenges. We are part of a historic shift in the life of this island. We're proud to be helping new and established Islanders by bringing people and communities together to support settlement and inclusion.

Thank you so much.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you, Mr. Mackie.

Mr. LeBlanc, the floor is yours for seven minutes.

June 14th, 2017 / 5:20 p.m.

Alex LeBlanc Executive Director, New Brunswick Multicultural Council

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee members.

As a relatively young New Brunswicker, this is an issue that is very important to me. I believe deeply in our region's capacity to turn our demographics around. We have proven our ability to innovate and think outside the box in the design of the Atlantic immigration pilot, and now we must build on that momentum and develop other innovative options. Just as wise financial investors will diversify their investments, we need to diversify our interventions for the Atlantic region, as we don't yet know what will be the game-changer, and we certainly need a game-changer.

We know, of course, that employment is critical to retention, but if employment alone led to retention, we would not be here. There are other powerful dynamics at play, such as welcoming communities, education, the presence of ethnocultural and faith communities, access to culturally appropriate services, and the pull towards family and social networks in other regions.

It's clear that the status quo in our approach to date has not produced the result we want. Retention rates continue to fall in the 60% to 70% range across Atlantic Canada. Although there are a multitude of factors that lead immigrants to leave our region, I believe the real keys to retention lie within our cities. This is a central point that I want to make today. In a moment I'll share the reason I believe this is the case and indicate how we might test whether cities can get us a better result.

For many good reasons, immigration is controlled federally; however, integration takes place locally. This strikes me as a design challenge that we need to acknowledge and address. Of course, the federal government must ensure that the system has checks and balances, but this can be done while also providing more flexible options to provinces and cities to select the immigrants who match their economic, demographic, and linguistic realities. A one-size-fits-all approach has not worked and will not work. If we want a better result, we need a new paradigm.

We've had promising results over the last decade with the provincial nominee program and more recently with the Atlantic pilot. Both streams facilitate a more targeted approach to economic immigration. On May 29, you heard from Laurie Hunter, director of economic immigration policy, who stated:

Under the...PNP, participating provinces and territories develop economic immigration streams tailored to their labour market needs and nominate candidates [based on] their ability to contribute to their regional economies. It has contributed to higher numbers of immigrants arriving in Atlantic Canada in recent years. For example, in 2005, only 1.5% of new immigrants to Canada were destined for any of the Atlantic provinces. By 2014, that percentage had more than doubled to 3.1%.

Although this is a trend in the right direction, immigration traffic to the Atlantic still falls well short of the proportion of Canadians living in the region. We represent 6.6% of the population and received merely 3.1% of new immigrants to Canada. The PNP is proof that a nominations approach increases traffic to our region, but we still have work to do on integration and retention.

I can't help but wonder what if we gave our cities the opportunity to nominate newcomers through piloting a municipal nominee program. Could a hands-on approach by cities at a local level improve overall immigration and integration experience? Would cities get a better result? I believe they might, and I certainly believe that a nomination process driven by cities is worth testing.

Once again, we need to diversify our interventions. The Atlantic pilot is a great step, but it will not in and of itself change the demographic trends. We need bold interventions. The population crisis in our region is not simply a demographic challenge; it is indeed an economic one.

Ray Ivany put it well in his committee remarks when he said, “Demography, in this case, is not simply a tracking of age. It is a fundamental change to our province's...ability to be successful on a long-term basis.”

With an aging and shrinking workforce, we hear time and time again from businesses in New Brunswick that access to workers is the number one challenge. The Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick, representing nearly 1,000 francophone enterprises, and the New Brunswick Business Council, representing 25 large businesses from various sectors, continually underline that access to labour is one of their largest challenges.

Exacerbating our workforce woes, New Brunswick's labour force is set to see 110,000 permanent exits over the next 10 years. To put this into perspective, this represents one-third of our entire labour force permanently exiting.

Proof that businesses are struggling has been demonstrated by the rapid uptake of the Atlantic pilot in our province. To date, 235 employers have completed an expression of interest in the pilot to fill a total of 1,700 jobs.

New Brunswick has an allowance of 640 for 2017, and 120 New Brunswick employers have already made 232 job offers to foreign nationals in three short months. Employers are stepping up, along with the provincial government, settlement agencies, and, yes, our cities.

New Brunswickers resettled over 1,600 Syrian refugees, the highest per capita across the country, and our cities played key roles in coordination, public messaging, and service delivery. Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John fall within the top four cities across the country for highest per capita numbers. To date, our retention rate from the Syrian community is over 90%.

Broader community involvement in this case has led to better integration, a greater sense of belonging, and I expect improved retention. Over the past four years, Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John have all created staff positions dedicated to immigration and population growth. They all have strategic plans to grow their communities through immigration. They all lead IRCC-funded local immigration partnerships. The capacity of our cities to organize and execute on immigration has never been greater. At the end of the day, immigrants are choosing employers, neighbourhoods, communities, and schools. They're choosing municipalities.

We have to be bold and creative and committed in solving this economic and demographic conundrum. It is clear we need to try something different. What better time than now, and what better place than the Atlantic region to pilot a municipal nominee program?

Thank you very much.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you, Mr. LeBlanc.

Madam Parisio, you have seven minutes, please.

5:30 p.m.

Sarah Parisio Coordinator, Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador

Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Sarah Parisio. I am the coordinator of the Réseau immigration francophone de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador, under the umbrella of the Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador, or FFTNL. First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to appear in order to share the views of our francophone community on immigration and on the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.

As you may know, the FFTNL is working to help advance, develop and showcase the francophone and Acadian communities of Newfoundland and Labrador. Francophone immigration is a key issue for the FFTNL, which has been working on it since 2007, together with your government.

Francophone immigration is actually one of our community's priorities, as noted in the Comprehensive Development Plan—Francophone Community of Newfoundland and Labrador 2014-2019.

Our small community has been around for more than 500 years and it is mainly distributed in three very remote regions. The distance between them ranges from 800 to 2,100 kilometres. I don't think I need to stress that the geographical remoteness is a major handicap for us.

According to the 2011 census, the francophone community represents 0.6% of the province's population, and 25,000 people are bilingual. Given the small size of our community, its survival depends on ensuring that immigration programs and trends are not additional factors that reduce its demographic weight, but rather that support its development.

The multi-year funding of francophone immigration networks in the provinces and territories by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) was an important step in the development of our communities through immigration. That is how we were able to build long-term partnerships with stakeholders, whether employers, chambers of commerce or anglophone organizations working in the field.

Recently, we also celebrated some of your government's initiatives to facilitate the recruitment of temporary skilled workers by restoring the Mobilité francophone program. To facilitate the recruitment of francophone permanent residents, there have been changes to the express entry program, to the benefit of candidates with a good knowledge of French. Finally, with the inception of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, Newfoundland and Labrador could welcome up to 440 immigrants starting in 2017.

Last spring, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador launched the provincial immigration action plan. We were delighted to see that this government had made a clear commitment to increase francophone immigration and retention in the province by, among other things, a target for the provincial nominee program that is in line with your government's program, that is to say 5%.

Until 2015, francophone nominations through the provincial nominee program remained below 2.7%, or 15 people a year, since the nominee program accounted for almost 50% of the province's overall immigration.

Despite those advances and initiatives, we still have to face many challenges, which we must tackle on a daily basis. The major challenges are: direct and indirect French-language services for newcomers to Newfoundland and Labrador, and international recruitment. In terms of French-language services in Newfoundland and Labrador, this is the first year that the annual funding for the provincial francophone immigration network has been significantly reduced.

Since April 2017, the francophone immigration networks in the four Atlantic provinces have been receiving the same funding, which is an inexplicable and harmful change. Earlier, I referred to the remoteness of our communities. As we well know, cuts always have disproportionate impacts on areas remote from major centres.

Mr. Chair, you must understand that distances in Newfoundland and Labrador are nothing like in Prince Edward Island or the other Atlantic provinces. In addition, since April, we have only had one direct French-language service provider for newcomers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A mentoring service for francophone permanent residents is now available in St. John's to job seekers. Again, the remote areas are without service. The extended absence of direct services in French has placed our community at a disadvantage compared to other Canadian provinces, including the Atlantic provinces, which easily welcome francophones to their official language minority communities.

Among the many concrete examples of this inequality, we find that the provision of direct information about community services and referral services is funded by your government in all the other Atlantic provinces, but not in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In addition, language assessment and French-language courses for newcomers are non-existent in our province. As a result, we see that francophone newcomers go to the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, to a foreign country, to take the French test required to obtain Canadian citizenship. In addition to the lack of direct services in the province, we no longer receive funding to promote our province, the Atlantic region and the francophone and Acadian communities abroad. It was scrapped in 2012.

If I may, I will give the example of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which is unique to Newfoundland and Labrador. Our province is 25 kilometres away from France, meaning the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Unfortunately, our current agreement does not allow us to promote our province there because it is not a Canadian territory. We are losing a great recruitment opportunity because the residents of St. Pierre and Miquelon often have many ties of friendship and family with our province. This is a significant retention factor, not to mention that they are used to the climate and are already great hockey fans.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

You have 20 seconds left, Ms. Parisio.

5:35 p.m.

Coordinator, Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador

Sarah Parisio

However, we cannot go there because it’s too expensive. Despite the lack of services...

I did not understand what you said.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

You have 20 seconds left.

5:35 p.m.

Coordinator, Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador

Sarah Parisio

Thank you.

We need better services to get better results. Francophone communities in Newfoundland and Labrador are ready to serve immigrants, but they do not have the tools they need to support, as they should, a program like the pilot. This represents tremendous potential for us. However, the services are not adequate to serve the hundreds of potential clients that we could receive.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you.

5:35 p.m.

Coordinator, Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador

Sarah Parisio

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

There will be rounds of five minutes.

Mr. Casey.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to all the witnesses for being here and for your patience, especially Mr. LeBlanc and Madame Parisio, who travelled to Ottawa to testify.

Mr. Mackie, whom I know well, is with us electronically. I'm going to present most of my questions to you, Mr. Mackie.

Ms. Parisio, I was born in Newfoundland and Labrador, but I represent the riding of Charlottetown.

Mr. LeBlanc, I'm a graduate of Fredericton High School, class of 1980.

Mr. Mackie, I'd like to ask you about Prince Edward Island's status as the only province in Canada where there is no face-to-face service for immigrants with the Government of Canada, since that service was eliminated under the previous government. Can you talk a bit about the impact on your clients of that service being eliminated back in 2012?

5:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Prince Edward Island Association for Newcomers to Canada

Craig Mackie

Thank you.

When I started here seven and a half years ago, we had four or five CIC employees. That was dropped down to one, but at least we had a presence here. Although it wasn't a public presence, it could help to deal with clients.

We now have clients who have to travel out of this province to go to Halifax or New Brunswick to deal with IRCC. We have clients on financial assistance who don't have a lot of money. They have to collect their permanent resident cards and have to travel to Halifax.

Any errors or issues with permanent resident cards or temporary visas could be dealt with easily if we had a person based in Prince Edward Island. It would even help if we had somebody who would come and spend one week a month on Prince Edward Island so that, for example, sponsored spouses could have their interview on P.E.I. instead of having to travel to Halifax. We don't get many refugee claimants on Prince Edward Island, but when we do, there's nobody we can bring them in front of. They have to travel out of province to claim refugee status.

Those are a few examples.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

You started in the job with the Prince Edward Island Association of Newcomers to Canada when there still was a presence or an immigration office. What was the service like before it was eliminated?

5:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Prince Edward Island Association for Newcomers to Canada

Craig Mackie

It was actually good to have people to whose office you could go to deal with things around contribution agreements. We have three contribution agreements with IRCC: one for settlement, one for refugee resettlement, and one for a LIP, a local immigration partnership. We have people who have never seen us, who don't deal with us on a regular basis, who don't understand the island context. It's a challenge for us to work through those situations, whereas before, as I've said, we could go and deal with things.

The other thing the IRCC officer is able to do is bring together the contribution agreement holders—there are probably six or seven of us on the island—to discuss common issues, themes, and challenges that we may be facing, and together come with some solutions. That doesn't happen anymore.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Chairman, I would like to cede the rest of my time to Ms. Lockhart.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Take one minute, please.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

Thank you, Mr. Casey.

Thank you to all of you.

I'm going to be very succinct here.

We talked about immigration to urban areas, and I agree that there certainly is merit to it. When we think about Atlantic Canada and the amount of rural area we have, I think about succession planning in farming.

I'm wondering, Mr. Mackie, whether you have some experience from Prince Edward Island. Most of Prince Edward Island is rural. What has the experience been there with immigration?

5:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Prince Edward Island Association for Newcomers to Canada

Craig Mackie

Most of the people who come through the two main programs, the provincial nominee program and express entry, are settling primarily in the greater Charlottetown area, which includes the towns of Stratford and Cornwall. There is a small trickle of people, after they've been here for a few years, seeing the advantages of moving to rural P.E.I.

It is a real challenge for us, though, to encourage people to settle in rural P.E.I. There are a couple of major challenges that we hear. One is that the lack of high-quality and high-speed internet in rural P.E.I. is something—

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you.