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.