SYDNEY, N.S. — Immigration is one of the key components when it comes to stimulating the economy, says the head of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
ACOA president Francis McGuire, who delivered the keynote address at the Unama’ki Immigration Summit that was held at Cape Breton University’s Verschuren Centre on Thursday, stressed the importance of newcomers who bring with them the skills, people and determination needed to bolster the Nova Scotia and Cape Breton economies.
McGuire, who has spent 40 years working in the government and private sectors, kicked off his address with an observation.
“I haven’t seen as much change in my whole life as I have seen in the past five years — it’s dynamic, it’s continuing and we’re just at the beginning of this,” he declared, going so far as to predict that in five years most of his audience would be shaking their heads in wonder.
And, he added that the future of immigration will be guided by the private sector as opposed to by government and special interest groups.
“In this case, we are going to see the private sector drive the whole immigration movement and cultural adaptation, not because they want or because they like to, but because they have no choice,” said McGuire, who added that automation is the other key to future development.
“It all comes down to shortages, I’ve probably seen 700 employers over the past year and a half and I only found one that didn’t have an employment or labour problem — the number one issue is lack of labour, the lack of workers is limiting growth.”
About 100 people gathered at Cape Breton University’s Verschuren Centre on Thursday for the Unima’ki Immigration Summit, a presentation of the Cape Breton Partnership. The conference focused on the positive contributions that newcomers make in our communities and in the economy.
And McGuire noted a few industries that are already facing labour shortages. He said the JD Irving empire is expected to hire as many as 10,000 people over the next two years, while there’s already a demand for both airline and marine pilots.
Carla Arsenault, CEO and president of the Cape Breton Partnership, a private sector organization dedicated to increasing economic prosperity, echoed the ACOA president’s comments.
“For our businesses to grow and flourish we know we need more people, we need more young people who grow up here to stay here to live and work, we need people who move away to come back, and we need more newcomers,” said Arsenault, whose organization sponsored Thursday’s conference that brought together academics, business leaders, social agency representative, students, newcomers and locals.
“We need immigration to help us reverse the population trends we are experiencing — more newcomers will help us grow our creative island and strengthen our community to become the most creative place on earth.”
Another speaker, Shelley Bent, director of programs with the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration, opined that the province’s Syrian refugee initiative has changed the way the average Nova Scotian looks at newcomers and their place in the community.
“I think we are changing the conversation where folks are more engaged, more welcoming and more apt to stop and have a conversation or have someone in for tea,” said Bent.
“I think everyone who is involved in the immigration world does it because of a passion whether it’s a passion for helping people or a passion for making people welcome in their community — it’s ensuring that everyone feels included, because everybody wants to be included and a smile and a nod go a long way.”
She said the area has to continue to sell itself and its unique nature to prospective newcomers looking to emigrate.
Bent also noted that about 71 per cent of immigrants who come to Nova Scotia are staying in the province, that the newcomers are twice as likely to work in their field of choice and that Nova Scotia has the lowest wage gap between immigrants and non-immigrants in Canada.