Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
It is an honour to be asked to present with you today.
I am Meredith Armstrong. I am the acting director of economic development for the City of Greater Sudbury, which is a beautiful city of about 165,000 people about four hours north of Toronto, in northern Ontario. I'm sure MP Serré has boasted of our beauty many times.
We are very proud of our long-standing history in immigration from the roots of our community. We are also very proudly in the Robinson-Huron Treaty and on Anishinabe land, and we try to balance these considerations on an ongoing basis. We also have the third-largest francophone community outside of Quebec.
Given this foundation, immigration has been very important to us. We have been a long-standing host of the local immigration partnership. Bela has been a great partner, and you'll hear from her very shortly. We have also been officially designated, through IRCC in 2019, a welcoming community to francophone immigrants and newcomers. All of these have been very important stepping stones.
On top of this, we have faced a labour gap, and we have a great need for new talent. This has been a long-standing issue. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. This has been compounded by COVID.
I would like to say that we are relatively new in terms of being this close to current immigration processes. Our city and our community has really committed to extensive training, because—as you know—immigration is a very complicated sector.
We are a proud participant in the rural and northern immigration pilot program, one of 11 communities across the country, and this has really ramped up our game.
We work very hard to make sure that we're managing expectations because immigration is only one piece of a larger puzzle to address our labour market needs. Within that, the rural and northern immigration pilot is one tool. It's not necessarily the fastest, but it certainly gives us an opportunity to engage employers in a new way, and to engage candidates, who may not otherwise fit very well into an express entry program, in a new way.
COVID has created challenges for all of us. COVID makes it difficult to address all of the administrative pieces for the rural and northern immigration pilot, RNIP. It makes it difficult for us to get out to employers to do face-to-face site meetings and to address their issues.
We were lucky enough in the early stages of the immigration pilot to establish the expectation that we would draw from newcomers and immigrants who are already in the community. This allows us to tap into a really wonderful community of international students at our two colleges and our university. This also helps to establish the ultimate goal of our work, which is retention in the community. We are not a major metropolitan area, but we have a nice balance of quality of life and larger city things going on.
COVID has also made it difficult for some of the administrative pieces. Language testing has been delayed in some cases.
I think it was well stated by the first witness that the reunification of family members continues to be brought forward to us as a concern. Also, the fairness of a lottery system has been questioned. I think the question of whether or not to tweak it would be of great interest. The backlog obviously also creates real issues.
As a municipality, I would say that we have been really thrilled with the support we've been provided by our IRCC contacts. We've had a really great response time. We have a dedicated service channel that has made all the difference because employers are looking for hundreds and hundreds of people at a time, and we can only process people at a certain level to ensure the integrity of the system.
Finally, in terms of messaging, I would say that there are two key things we are working on in Greater Sudbury.
First of all, we recognize systemic racism throughout our community. It makes it difficult for employers who may otherwise not be aware of opportunities to bring in brand new talents, of the importance of new perspectives and of becoming a welcoming community. We're working with our local immigration partnership to start to address some of those pieces.
The other thing is that we are working to ensure people understand that immigration is a crucial piece of our country's economic recovery plan. This is not so easy when people turn around and ask how we can say immigration is so important when we're looking at the layoff of hundreds and hundreds of people.
I think it's really important to be unified in our—