That the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration be instructed to undertake a study on immigration to Atlantic Canada, to consider, among other things, (i) the challenges associated with an aging population and shrinking population base, (ii) possible recommendations on how to increase immigration to the region; and that the Committee report its findings to the House within one year of the adoption of this motion.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in the House of Commons today to speak to the motion requesting the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to undertake a study to explore ways to increase immigration to Atlantic Canada.
I would also like to speak today to the importance of studying the retention of those immigrants to ensure that we are achieving the goals of strengthening Atlantic Canada's workforce communities as well as the long-term economic outlook.
At this time, I would also like to recognize my many colleagues from Atlantic Canada and across the country who see the importance of this issue and who have become joint seconders to the motion. I look forward to hearing their insight on this issue during the debate.
Although immigration is not an issue that I hear about specifically at the doors in Fundy Royal, many of the priorities and issues relating to economic growth and sustainable rural communities lead back to Atlantic Canada's aging and shrinking population. Let me give a few examples.
The Bay of Fundy is a world-renowned tourist destination and a key economic driver in my beautiful riding of Fundy Royal in New Brunswick. In fact, we are now preparing for the completion of the Fundy Trail Parkway and a significant increase in visitors to the area over the next few years. These visitors are drawn to the area to enjoy the coastline, Fundy National Park, and a host of adventures and authentic experiences offered in the communities throughout the riding. This summer, I spoke to many of the tourism operators who told me that they had a difficult time filling the job vacancies they had this year. They are having a hard time planning for future growth because of the limited workforce.
In addition to the impact on businesses, I have also seen the impact of low population growth in communities. Rural schools are struggling to remain open because of dwindling enrolment. Last year in Fundy Royal, both Norton Elementary School and the Riverside Consolidated School were being considered for closure. Both communities lobbied successfully to keep their schools open, but they realize they need sustainable plans that will rely on maintaining and increasing school enrolment.
Communities and employers across the region are feeling the impact of the current demographics. Ultimately, fewer people of working age are supporting more people who require social benefits. Not only is this bad for economic growth, it means fewer services and higher taxes for residents in a weaker fiscal environment. This correlation was articulated well last winter in a Globe and Mail article authored by former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna. In his article, he urged the federal government to look at ways to increase immigration to Atlantic Canada as a means to move the dial in respect to the economy.
Since that time, the shrinking population of Atlantic Canada has been identified by all Atlantic premiers as the most pressing concern for the future of the region. The aging population in Atlantic Canada means that right now our workforce is shrinking. We have more people leaving the workforce than we have entering the workforce, and this is compounded by out-migration.
From a business perspective, if people are looking to invest, to grow, and to innovate in Atlantic Canada, one of the things they need to know is that they have the people available to do the work. The other facet to an aging population is that there becomes a need for more and more caregivers. Due to the noted out-migration and new ways of life, many families are not in a position to care for their senior parents and grandparents. This reality will mean a higher demand for home care workers and front-line health care workers at the same time that the workforce is shrinking.
To paint a picture for members who may not be familiar with the realities of the situation in Atlantic Canada, I ask them to consider these facts. Statistics tell us that in New Brunswick, we now sustain more deaths than births. The Atlantic region has the second-lowest fertility rate in Canada, and the population in the Atlantic region has aged twice as fast as Alberta since 1971, meaning that the median age is now eight years older than in Alberta.
The other factor we must consider is that Atlantic Canada has not kept up with the rest of Canada when it comes to immigration. In 2006, Canada received 250,000 immigrants. Although Atlantic Canada makes up roughly 7% of the total Canadian population, less than 2% of immigrants declared Atlantic Canada as their intended destination. Of those, only 40% were expected to stay, and 90% intended to live in urban areas of the region.
We have passed the point where we can repopulate without intervention. We will not naturally become a younger society again. Our workforce will not naturally expand, and investments will not come easily to our region if we stay the course.
The reality is that although the impact of this phenomenon is seen clearly in Atlantic Canada today, the entire country has an aging population, which is only compounded by the ease of out-migration to other provinces. Atlantic Canada is the canary in the coal mine, but we have proven time and again that we are nimble and adaptable and that there is still much room for optimism.
I recognize that the natural inclination to improve the economic outlook in Atlantic Canada may be for governments to remain laser focused on job creation. It clearly is a critical component of any plan for the future. However, the Ivany report states that we cannot sustain economic growth over time unless renewed population growth provides us with more workers, more entrepreneurs, and more consumers.
Over the last several decades, Atlantic Canada has tried to renew economic growth without a focus on immigration, and the result has been a continued loss of skilled workers and educated youth to other regions, and also limited investment.
After reading countless reports and studies on the population and economic issues of Atlantic Canada, the most promising news is that increasing immigration could quite possibly turn the tide. A research paper funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in December 2008, and written by academics from Saint Mary's University in Halifax and the University of Prince Edward Island, looked at the socio-economic profiles of immigrants in the four Atlantic provinces.
This report shows that immigration has actually already been working in our favour. The report states that immigrant inflows in Atlantic Canada have helped slow population decline. Had there been no immigration between 1996 and 2001, the region's population decline would have been 16.5% higher than the actual decline. From 2001 to 2006, this decline would have been 93.6% higher without immigration. My own research suggests that from 2006 to 2011, immigration contributed to 53% of the total population growth in Atlantic Canada.
I understand people's reservations concerning the need for more immigrants in Atlantic Canada at a time when people are leaving the region because of the lack of meaningful employment. However, studies have shown a direct correlation between economic growth and immigration. In fact, one only needs to look back over the history of Canada to realize that Canada has always experienced growth by welcoming immigrants. We have seen time and time again that those who take the initiative to move to the greatest country in the world not only settle and make their way but often invest, grow businesses, and employ people.
In Fundy Royal, we only need to look as far as the nearest farm, our successful local chain of hotels, popular eating establishments, the arts community, and industrial suppliers to see what healthy, diverse, sustainable immigration can do for the region and how many jobs can be created through increased immigration.
The Ivany commission report also states that one rarely hears serious arguments that higher rates of international immigration have been bad for Canada over the long term. Immigration and economic expansion are mutually reinforcing, and both are necessary if the future outlook is to improve.
We need to start talking about the success stories related to immigration to counter the most common fear of immigration in Atlantic Canada. The President of the Treasury Board has said that this fear is often simply the fear of the unknown.
The recent welcoming of Syrian refugees in Atlantic communities has demonstrated that Atlantic Canadians can be warm and welcoming to newcomers. In many cases, it has given them the opportunity to experience the value newcomers bring to a community.
We also must consider that in 2001, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency analyzed the regions of Atlantic Canada where immigrants settled and suggested that immigrants settle in counties with higher unemployment rates, yet they experience a lower unemployment rate relative to the total resident population. This observation points to the possibility that often immigrants are working in jobs that local residents are not willing to take or that in these particular counties, unemployment levels may be of a structural nature and that local labour pools do not possess the qualifications to fill the vacant jobs.
What we are seeing now is that while federal and provincial governments have many policies and programs in place to help workers receive training and education needed for the jobs available, the projected vacancies are far more than can be filled by Atlantic Canadians alone. Immigration can help address the skill shortages holding back economic development and improve the region's prospects.
For example, just last week I visited J.D. Irving, Limited's Maritime Innovation Limited laboratory in Sussex, New Brunswick, where I was advised that the company is looking to hire 7,278 people over the next three years for its diverse operations in Canada.
Achieving this goal for them means a focus on keeping New Brunswickers at home, as in the case of the company's recent hiring of 47 workers who worked at the closed potash mine. As well, they are looking at growing talent at home through partnerships with local universities and community colleges.
Welcoming newcomers to make Canada home is also part of their strategy. A good example is Mr. Mullai Manoharan, a scientist employed at the laboratory. Mullai came to Canada from India to study agriculture at the Truro campus at Dalhousie University. He achieved his Master of Science degree and was hired by the company to contribute to research and innovation here in New Brunswick. He is currently applying for permanent residence status in Canada.
Two of the fastest growing cities in Atlantic Canada are Halifax and Moncton, and both mayors are looking to immigration as a means of growth, because they project that job vacancies in their cities will exceed the current workforce. In the words of Mayor Mike Savage of Halifax, instead of calling people “come from aways”, we need to tell them “come from away”.
It is also important to note that building more diverse communities in Atlantic Canada will help us in repatriating friends and family who have migrated to other parts of Canada. Those people still come home every chance they get, because they do love the lifestyle of Atlantic Canada. In order to bring them home again permanently, we are going to need outside sources to match the thousands of jobs that have gone unfilled for over a year with existing businesses that have the potential to create new economic opportunities.
As a country, we have an opportunity right now to study the narrative of Atlantic Canada as we develop immigration policy applicable in the region today and other provinces in the future.
I am very pleased to inform the House that since I began work on this motion, a whole-of-government approach, the Atlantic growth strategy, was announced on July 4, 2016, as a series of evidence-based, collaborative actions to enhance Atlantic Canada's economic performance. I would like to think that my work on this motion, and the work of my team and colleagues, has contributed to the government's decision to include a three-year, employer-driven immigration pilot program to attract and retain newcomers in Atlantic Canada as part of the strategy.
Currently, the federal government and the provinces are working together to identify policies that impact immigration, such as credential recognition and legislation like Bill C-6, which would allow 50% credit for time spent in Canada for international students wishing to continue on their path to citizenship.
The Atlantic Canada immigration pilot is an opportunity to test innovative approaches that will help to enhance retention, and potentially could be replicated in other provinces and territories, depending on results. The pilot project will accept up to 2,000 more applications from immigrants, plus their family members, in 2017, with rising numbers in the following years depending on performance.
In addition to the immigration pilot program, the Atlantic growth strategy focuses on four other important areas: innovation, clean growth and climate change, trade and Investment, and infrastructure.
The initiative has been well received by the Atlantic provincial premiers, the Atlantic business community, and think tanks such as the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council. More importantly, it has sparked a conversation that has people in the streets talking about where we need to go to really change our prospects for growth.
In fact, just last week, I hosted a round table with local business, community leaders, and stakeholders, who praised the initiative. After concluding the round table, I was very encouraged by a local business that wanted to continue the dialogue about how it could start thinking outside the box in order to welcome newcomers to the workforce and include immigration as part of its recruitment strategy. The group came up with ideas, such as having clusters of newcomers working together with support from other employees and management to make sure they felt comfortable and had the opportunity to share ideas concerning safety and efficiencies.
Given the government's swift action on this file, I would be open to a friendly amendment to the motion that would focus the committee's work on the examination of retention and settlement, with a view to bringing forward recommendations on best practices. This would include examining experiences flowing from the immigration pilot.
Atlantic Canada has a long history of being resilient, a region settled by a distinct mix of British, Scottish, Gaelic, and French immigrants. The time has come for us to encourage the new visitors to stay and begin a new chapter in the history of the east coast.