Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the issue of immigration in Atlantic Canada. This could very possibly be the most significant issue impacting the Atlantic region, not just in this Parliament but potentially for an entire generation.
I would like to take some time to thank the hon. member for Fundy Royal for her leadership on this issue within our caucus, in the House, and in her community as well.
Over the course of my submission, I hope to touch on why immigration is so important to Atlantic Canada. I will give a few examples on how immigration could transform the Atlantic region and then explain the key opportunities that currently exist to capitalize on the initiative and the study laid out in Motion No. 39.
The beginning point in this analysis for me is that Atlantic Canadians right now, myself included, are living in a house of cards of sorts. This is largely due to the demographic problem facing our region today. Nova Scotia, for example, has the highest proportion of seniors of any province in Canada. Having many seniors in our area can be a wonderful thing, but at the same time we are seeing a serious out-migration of youth and an overall decline in parts of the Atlantic region. This causes problems. As our population ages, the cost of health care increases and certain social benefits that seniors are entitled to become due. When we do not have a pipeline of young families and workers, we not only lose the tax revenue to cover the costs for these seniors, but we have a significant decrease in productivity as well.
The cost of inaction on this file is too great to ignore. If we do nothing, the Ivany report has suggested that by 2030 we could lose up to 100,000 workers just in Nova Scotia. This will see our schools close and our hospital services shut down. We need to act swiftly.
As far as I am aware, there are only two ways that we can boost the population of a region. This first it to increase fertility rates. The second is taking on an immigration plan. With great respect to the ambitious young people who may wish to replenish the population through their efforts to boost fertility, I would suggest that immigration would be a more effective way to achieve that important end.
I mentioned the Ivany report previously. This report lays out a path for future growth in Nova Scotia although it applies equally to Atlantic Canada. It identified immigration as a potential game changer. There are certain economy and social boosts that we can expect to see if we put together a robust and well-thought-out immigration plan that this study will help us achieve. On the economic side, there are a number of reasons why this is the right thing to do.
Increasing immigration to Atlantic Canada will allow us to fill gaps in the labour force. I am working with a well-respected manufacturing employer in Pictou County in my riding. This company has an employee with a very specific set of skills. He is an industrial mechanic for certain kinds of equipment at its shop. He is dealing with an administrative hassle that is causing him to apply repeatedly for temporary work permits. He is a wonderful guy and he is the exact kind of person we should be bringing in, not only so we can welcome more people to our region but so we can support the needs of that employer who employs about 100 Canadians.
Similarly, in the seafood processing industry, the jobs that we were talking about for temporary workers do not just support the seafood processing plant, but they support the local fishermen in my communities along the Northumberland Strait and the eastern shore as well.
In addition to meeting the shortage in labour supply, immigrants are often entrepreneurs. There is a doctor in my home community who has invested significant personal savings to invest in a local business. He wants to further invest, but he needs access to capital. Without permanent residency status or citizenship in Canada, he is unable to access the kind of capital that he needs to open a new restaurant in my community. Again, he is an upstanding citizen who plans to be here for life. We should be welcoming him and encouraging him to invest so he can employ more people in our region.
Immigrants and refugees also provide new markets. When we are dealing with people who are coming from another place, we are often dealing with people who need to buy everything from pillowcases and toothbrushes to fill their home, to the hardware and the lumber they need to build their home. These people make purchases from local shops that support entrepreneurs on the local scene as well.
In addition, immigrants can provide a significant boost to trade and tourism. When we bring in people from around the world, they often have relationships with businesses in another part of the world that they can do business with and that will help bring in foreign investment and capital into our region.
If we make a plan that brings in immigrants in significant numbers to Atlantic Canada, we should expect to see that friends and family members of our newcomers will come visit as well and give a boost to the tourism industry, which is already a very important strategic economic industry in my home province of Nova Scotia and across the Atlantic region.
In my experience, we have also seen with the immigration efforts we have taken on, a real social boost to our communities. We have seen a new vibrancy that is a new experience for many of us who have spent our lifetimes in Atlantic Canada. In the town of New Glasgow the multicultural association not only provides a forum for newcomers to connect with one another but showcases everything they have to offer to the community. They are hosting festivals that I love to attend. It gives us an opportunity to meet vendors who prepare ethnic foods at our local farmers' markets, and it is a wonderful thing for the community at large.
It also allows us to recruit professionals, such as doctors. The idea that we are facing a shortage of rural family practitioners, at the same time as we are capping the number of foreign trained doctors who can come and practice in Nova Scotia, is quite confusing to me.
Right now, there are certain key opportunities that I see in the Atlantic region that we need to capitalize on. If I look at our post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia, we have 10 universities and the Nova Scotia Community College, which puts us at close to over 20 post-secondary education campuses in total. I see institutions that are attracting foreign students who fall in love with the region, who would love to stay, and who have a tremendous education and could become entrepreneurs in our communities. We make it very difficult for them to become permanent residents and citizens. This is an opportunity we must capitalize on for the sake of the future of our region.
I also see that there is a shift in attitude. We have had some great historical successes, like the Dutch farmers who came in the mid-20th century, including the family of the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria, who have made a real difference to primary industry in Atlantic Canada.
We have also had tremendous success, and I will point to the example my friend from Vancouver East made reference to. My friends from Antigonish, the Hadhad family, opened a chocolate shop, a small shed turned chocolate factory in Antigonish. However, it is not just the Hadhad family. Other new members to our community from this initiative are working for local construction companies, are performing with local theatre troupes in their first year they have spent in Nova Scotia. It is a tremendous thing because I know small communities across Atlantic Canada are sharing that similar experience.
This shift in attitude is something that is very heartwarming from my perspective, because historically I think certain small communities have a bit of a reputation in Atlantic Canada for labelling people who have not spent three generations there as “come from aways”. Now we have adopted an attitude where we are encouraging people to come from away. It is a wonderful thing, because over the past few years people have become acutely aware of the need to boost immigration. They recognize the demographic problem that we are all facing. We are seeing it in our own families, when our parents are having increased costs for health care, when our brothers and sisters and cousins are moving away for work because they cannot find it at home. People feel this in their personal lives.
I, personally, had to spend a few years moving out to Alberta to find work, like so many other people I went to school with. I have five sisters, each of whom have spent some time out of province. One is going to be an accountant in Halifax, and the only other one who stayed in the province has a husband who travels back and forth to the Middle East. Bringing more people in is not only going to create opportunities for them to come back but create opportunities for the newcomers to flourish as well.
I am going to be supporting the motion. I urge all other members of the House to do the same. Immigration is essential to the future of our region's economy and, quite frankly, our success. The cost of inaction is too great to ignore, and we will ignore it at our own peril.
The Atlantic growth strategy put forward by the government is an excellent first step that would see 6,000 new immigrants and their families in the region over the next three years, but we need to embark on this study to ensure we do it in the right way. We need to ensure that we create a plan to retain these immigrants once they call Atlantic Canada home.
Once again, I ask for the support of all members of the House for the sake of the future of the region that I care about most, Atlantic Canada. Please support the motion and undertake an initiative to promote immigration to Atlantic Canada.