Thank you very much.
Good evening, everybody. Thank you very much for the opportunity to travel here to Ottawa and speak to you today about something that is very close to my heart. I'm a municipal councillor for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, so when I look at issues of demographics, I know full well that I'm dealing with the dollars every single day that are running out across our causeway, but again, I say thank you very much.
My experience in council isn't exactly why I'm here. It's more so the experience that I've had in the past working with Cape Breton University under the rural-urban immigration pilot for Cape Breton. That really lends my voice to this committee today. The rural-urban immigration pilot for Cape Breton was proposed as a response to the “Now or Never” report that was produced by Ray Ivany in the One Nova Scotia coalition. That report clearly identifies that Nova Scotia simply can't sustain economic growth over time unless there is renewed population, which really means that we need more workers, we need more entrepreneurs, and we need more consumers.
With that came the realization that Cape Breton Island is home to more than 1,200 international students, and it was a natural fit for Cape Breton University to launch an island-wide initiative with the goal of increasing immigration to our island. What guided this pilot was essentially three questions. How can Cape Breton Island, specifically, achieve an immigration rate of at least 1,000 newcomers a year? What proportion of those 1,000 immigrants would be some of our international students who are already at our post-secondary institutions, and their families? Finally, what changes are required in governance, regional coordination, programming, and support services to reach these quite aggressive targets?
We began to address these questions by forming an island-wide task force on immigration, and we engaged our international student body by way of a survey. Questions in the survey focused on the interest of these students to immigrate to our region, how they viewed Cape Breton as a welcoming and supportive community, and what changes and recommendations they had to make immigration more appealing to our international student body.
A summary of these results is that, in their opinion, Cape Breton lacks front-line and face-to-face supports and services for immigrants. This is one of the biggest barriers for our island. It was interesting to note, however, that the majority of respondents in the survey did identify as entrepreneurial and well-educated and, most importantly, they found a connection to Cape Breton Island and wanted to stay on after graduation. In fact, 88.4% of our respondents were planning to apply for a post-secondary work permit, and 35% of those respondents actually said they wanted to start a new business. You can imagine that, when you consider that 67% of respondents were between the ages of 20 and 25, these students and this data really offered a glimmer of hope for us in reversing some of the demographic issues we've been facing on the island.
I'm not sure if anybody is familiar with some of the issues we're facing, but on Cape Breton Island right now, we are losing a minimum of 1,500 people per year. We look at that and we know that number is going to stay and increase year by year, but when we lose 1,500 people on the island that means we lose $19 million in consumer spending. It's quite shocking when you combine it with the fact that in 2015 we had, in the province of Nova Scotia, 2,005 immigrants come and settle in Halifax, and only 92 people came to Cape Breton Island. Other regions across the province saw a shared number of 10 people. This pattern of settlement has been the same for decades. In Nova Scotia, we continue to watch Halifax, which is our capital, grow while other regions in the province shrink. With a population today of less than 130,000 in Cape Breton, this simply cannot continue. We won't have an island. Hence our enthusiasm to come here and work with you all to help with the implementation of the AIP.
What we would like to see in this is a very fair, region-based program. It's really heart-wrenching to see student after student leave the island after graduation, and there's only one reason they do it. They say they simply can't access the services that they need to immigrate here.
Where does that leave us now? Well, as I stated before, Cape Breton saw fewer than 100 newcomers settle on the island last year. We need, at minimum, 1,000 people just to begin to stabilize our population. There's a very deliberate reason this is happening, and it all comes down to money. It's funding. Immigration services and supports stay in the provincial capital, and there's no plan in place to promote immigration to other economic regions across our province.
As the AIP continues to roll out, I hope you consider the following recommendations that I've brought today.
With the AIP still in its early months of implementation, it would be very helpful to see a full briefing of the pilot and regular follow-ups with all our municipalities across the Atlantic provinces. I've heard from several immigration service providers that they're having a great deal of difficulty in the employee designation process. This is resulting in employers on the island refusing to participate in it, because it's simply too difficult to get into it; and they're the ones who need workforce more that anybody.
We have to be more conscious of our economic regions, rather than implementing this from a provincial point of view. We have 15 economic regions in the Atlantic provinces, and nine of them are in constant decline. The funding provided by IRCC for provincial immigration programming should very much come with a specific stipulation that distribution of funding has to reach all regions based on need. It's not about expanding services in one area or duplicating services, it's about making sure each region has what it needs to welcome newcomers.
With that, economic regions should be able to dictate their needs, be that labour market shortages or feasible immigration targets. By putting economic regions in direct communication with IRCC, immigration caps can be adjusted in a timely manner. This is a huge issue, we know that, so labour market needs can be met and our communities stand a chance to grow.
My hope outside the AIP, and this might be a little crazy but we would like to see our very own nominee program in Cape Breton one day. We have a very interesting tourism-based, fishery-based economy; let people tell you what they need and what they can handle, and then do it.
Finally, this is of course outside the mandate of the AIP, but there is no question in my mind that there needs to be more of an emphasis on making the transition from international student to permanent resident of Canada, and choosing to live outside capital cities more accessible. One of the survey respondents said rural communities are a blank canvas of opportunity for new business. Where Cape Bretoners see an empty space, he sees his future. So that rings in my mind when I'm continuously advocating for immigration to our region, but there is so much opportunity that we don't even recognize as Cape Bretoners, that our newcomers are just filled with creativity for.
I will wrap it up on that as I think I'm over my time limit, but I want to thank you all so much for inviting me to participate in this, and also for taking the time to listen. It is wonderful to be a part of this.