Tag Archives: Immigration

It could be worse

At this time of year, in this region of the increasingly Great White North, we have a pernicious habit of wearing our worries on our sleeves.

Call it a somber reflection on the year that was or an anxious anticipation of the one that looms before us, but our moods rarely improve with the promise of winter’s darkening skies.

Our kids are still leaving for sunnier economic climes. Good, sustainable jobs continue to evade us. Our public debts and deficits persist in vexing us, though we haven’t the foggiest notion of how to settle them. Meanwhile, the pundits and prognosticators among us sally forth like so many members of a chorus in a Greek tragedy with whispers and whines of imminent doom.

But are our lives in the Atlantic Provinces really as awful as we imagine them to be? Think of those we’ve welcomed from other, sundered parts of the globe. Specifically, think of the Syrian newcomers who have, in recent months, found new reasons to hope along Canada’s East Coast.

Last year, a BuzzFeed News report, relying on data supplied by the United Nations and assorted research groups, concluded that in 2014, “as the war enters its fifth year. . .the most shocking finding is that life expectancy in Syria dropped from 76 years in 2010 to an estimated 56 years in 2014. . .Syria’s population has shrunk from 20.9 million to 17.6 million during that time as people have fled overseas or been killed, the report says. The country is now the world’s biggest source of refugees. Over half of Syria’s pre-war population have fled their homes during the conflict. . . The bulk of that group have remained displaced within Syria. Around 200,000 people have died in the conflict so far.”

A problem that’s far less dramatic than any of these, but nonetheless troubling, is the rise of anti-immigration sentiment everywhere, it seems, except Canada. According to a New York Tomes article late last month, “(Donald Trump’s) promise to deport (2-3 million) immigrants who have committed crimes suggested that he would dramatically step up removals of both people in the United States illegally and those with legal status. If carried out, the plan potentially would require raids by a vastly larger federal immigration force to hunt down these immigrants and send them out of the country.

Added Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, for the Times: “If he wants to deport two to three million people, he’s got to rely on tactics that will divide communities and create fear throughout the country. He would have to conduct a sweep, or raids or tactics such as those, to reach the numbers he wants to reach. It would create a police state, in which they would have to be aggressively looking for people.”

Fear is the operative word these days. It is again becoming a media meme song. Still, here in Atlantic Canada, we may count our blessings – however minor we often perceive them to be – on our sleeves frayed with worry. Even the Conference Board of Canada says we’re doing pretty well, all things considered.

Says Marie-Christine Bernard, Associate Director, Provincial Forecast: “All three Maritime provincial economies are expected to perform better in the new year. This largely boils down to growth in the tourism, forestry, agriculture, and fishing sectors, as well as increasing exports to the U.S. and abroad boosted by a lower Canadian dollar.”

So, buck up my fellow New Brusnwickers. It could be worse. . .much worse.

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Away in a manger

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, that federal and Atlantic provincial leaders chose to meet in a barn the other day. After all, as any farmer will testify, barns are where the action is.

In fact, this particular barn was more of a renovated convention space located on federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s bucolic property in rural Prince Edward Island, but the significance of the location wasn’t lost on anyone observing the rare conclave of government officials. They had come, ostensibly, to get things done. And, by all accounts, they succeeded.

According to a news release, “The Government of Canada and the governments of the four Atlantic Provinces are working together to build a vibrant economic future for Atlantic Canada by focussing their efforts and resources to stimulate the region’s economy, support the middle class and address both long standing and emerging regional challenges.”

Specifically, the group – which included premiers Stephen McNeil, Brian Gallant, Wade MacLauchlan and Dwight Ball, and federal ministers MacAulay, John McCallum, Scott Brison, Dominic LeBlanc, Navdeep Bains, and Judy Foote – announced a new plan to “stimulate the region’s economy, support both innovative and resource-based industries, and increase job opportunities for Atlantic Canadians.”

High on the list was a commitment to boost immigration to the region. According to the post-meeting communiqué, “The first area of action focuses on skilled workforce and immigration with the introduction of a new three-year immigration pilot project aimed at addressing the unique labour market challenges in Atlantic Canada.

“When in place, the pilot project will help to better match the needs of local employers with the skill sets of immigrants while helping to improve the attraction and retention of newcomers in Atlantic Canada. Through this project the Government ‎will admit up to 2,000 immigrants and accompanying families in 2017, with rising numbers in the following years depending on performance. This is a substantial increase, amounting to almost half the current number of provincial nominees in Atlantic Canada. The federal and provincial governments will continue to undertake cooperative actions that will bring stable and long-term economic prosperity in Atlantic Canada and additional joint actions will be unveiled over the coming months.”

This is eminently good news, and for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, it demonstrates, for the first time in a very long time, that federal and provincial leaders are both able and willing to work together. Gone, one hopes, are the days of table-thumping and hand-wringing that were so unproductively numerous during the years of Conservative reign in Ottawa.

Secondly, and even more importantly, the decision to actively increase immigration to the region – a crucial bulwark of long-term prosperity for each of the Atlantic Provinces – is a clear indication that our elected officials not merely understand the key challenges facing the economy, but are actually equipped to do something about them.

Said Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island, in a statement: “To build on our successes and create sustained prosperity for Prince Edward Island, we must grow our workforce and continue to foster an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship. Working together with our Atlantic, federal and community partners, we will grow our population and create economic opportunities for the Atlantic Region.”

This might not sound like much. But consider the rising tide of acrimony, anger and outright hate welling in other parts of the world. The Atlantic region, and Canada as a whole, stands in sharp contrast to the vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States and Europe – a beacon of light, as it were, from a barn by the bay.

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N.B.’s immigration Catch-22

As New Brunswick needs immigrants the way a marathoner needs water, crossing the economic-development finish line is a goal that’s proving increasingly elusive.

Now, it seems, the province’s own systemic weaknesses and failings are taking a bitterly ironic toll on its ability to bolster its population and, therefore, productive workforce.

While spokespeople of either level of government are loath to publicly admit it, the problem is an outcropping of federal-provincial relations.

Ottawa sets the quota of newcomers for which each province and territory qualifies. These caps are largely, though not exclusively, based on demographic trends. Jurisdictions with relatively high populations, and growing job markets, qualify for correspondingly high numbers of foreign residents. In this context, New Brunswick finds itself queasily parked behind the immigration eight ball.

According to a CBC report last summer, “The departure of young people has quietly helped transform New Brunswick into Canada’s fastest-shrinking province. Statistics Canada says while Canada has grown by a million people in the last three years, New Brunswick has shrunk by 3,497.

“That’s equivalent to the entire population of the Town of Dalhousie, and double the decline experienced by Canada’s other two shrinking provinces – Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Statistics Canada’s Patrick Charbonneau says the most recent numbers, which show the province lost 941 people during the first three months of 2015, is not only the biggest decline in the country, but the worst quarter the province has recorded in 35 years.

‘It’s the strongest decline since 1980,’ said Charbonneau.”

Meanwhile, according to another CBC report last month, “New Brunswick’s unemployment rate jumped to 9.3 per cent in January as the economy shed 1,100 jobs, (said) Statistics Canada. The monthly labour force report showed the province lost 4,600 full-time jobs to start 2016 and gained 3,500 part-time jobs. The overall unemployment rate rose to 9.3 per cent up from 8.9 per cent in December. . . The participation rate, which is the number of adults in the labour force or actively trying to get a job, of 62.3, is lower than provinces with stronger economies.”

All of which militates against New Brunswick’s chances of boosting the number of immigrants it can welcome to its shores – a requirement Premier Brian Gallant, himself, has said will be crucial to rebuilding the provincial economy.

“New Brunswick is facing a number of significant population challenges, including youth outmigration and a population which is aging at one of the fastest rates in Canada,” he said last year, as reported in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal. “When retirees leave the workforce, we must access new workers to ensure our economy thrives. As youth outmigration trends are projected to remain high, we are looking towards immigration as a tool for building our workforce.”

In fact, though, the federal government has only recently refused to reconsider the number of immigrants allocated each year, through the Provincial Nominee Program, to New Brunswick.

Said a spokesperson for Immigration Minister John McCallum in a Telegraph-Journal piece earlier this month: “Provinces and territories were consulted on 2016 levels in the summer and fall of 2015 and in early 2016. Their views were incorporated into the plan and the Provincial Nominee Program levels were maintained at 2015 levels.”

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Opening doors, and hearts, to newcomers


A community’s commitment to humanitarian aid is judged, in the final analysis, not so much by its words but by its deeds.

That’s why a story, detailing Moncton’s efforts to accommodate Syrian refugees, published earlier this week by Moncton’s Times & Transcript should warm the cockles of even the most curmudgeonly hearts.

“Moncton fire Chief Eric Arsenault, who is. . .the city’s director of emergency planning, quarterbacks (a) meeting of about a dozen people in a small room on city hall’s sixth floor,” writes reporter Jim Foster. “He keeps his questions short and expects answers that are equally concise.

“What solution has been found for the issue. . .about finding Syrian newcomers proper medical care? What’s been done to reach out to potential corporate donors?”

Says Mr. Arsenault: “I tell people that the future of our community depends on us doing a good job here.”

He’s right, of course.

The challenges, right across Canada, have been enormous. Hurdling linguistic barriers, finding affordable housing, locating and deploying even the most basic social services have not always met with success. And there are some legitimate questions about the federal government’s follow-through with the provinces, cities and towns that have agreed to welcome Syrian newcomers.

Still, this goes with the territory. The alternative is, in any case, far worse.

According to a Government of Canada website, “The ongoing conflict in Syria has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. The United Nations (reports that) 13.5 million people inside Syria need urgent help, including 6.5 million who are internally displaced. It is estimated that well over 250,000 people have died in the conflict, with hundreds of thousands more wounded. Almost 4.6 million Syrians have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Thousands more have made the harrowing journey to Europe in search of a better life.”

This country’s response has been broadly laudable. “Canada has given generously to the various international efforts to support the Syrian people, including those living as refugees in neighboring countries,” the government site notes. “To date, Canada has committed over $969 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance.”

What’s more, “As millions of Syrians continue to be displaced due to conflict, the Government of Canada (is working) with Canadians, including private sponsors, non-governmental organizations, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees. This is in addition to 23,218 Iraqi refugees resettled as of November 2, 2015, and the 3,089 Syrian refugees who have already arrived in Canada from January 1, 2014, to November 3, 2015.”

In fact, the Syrian crisis is of a piece. The UN refugee agency recently confirmed that the number of people around the world displaced from their homes and driven from their native countries due to war and famine has reached 50 million for the first time since the end of World War II. These malevolent forces are indiscriminate arbiters of misery, affecting victims from every social and economic class.

Last year, the Washington Post reported, “The rapidly escalating figures reflect a world of renewed conflict, with wars in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe driving families and individuals from their homes in desperate flights for safety. But the systems for managing those flows are breaking down, with countries and aid agencies unable to handle the strain as an average of nearly 45,000 people a day join the ranks of those either on the move or stranded.”

It’s good to know that Moncton’s band of volunteers is demonstrating, by their actions, that they are, indeed, handling the strain.

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Yankee come home!

Oh to be a bluenoser now that the three-minute-long spring becomes us

Oh to be a bluenoser now that the three-minute-long spring becomes us

New Brunswick’s department of tourism (or whatever they’re calling it these days) should take a page from one Cape Breton radio personality’s playbook on luring wandering Yanks to these shores.

As Canadian Press playfully reported last week, “The creator of a cheeky website that encourages Americans to move to Cape Breton before Donald Trump can be elected president says he’s been shocked by the response. . .Traffic to the website has increased steadily, reaching over 35,000 unique visits on Wednesday (February 17).”

The spillover effect has also been pretty commanding. Said the CP story: “The site includes a link to Destination Cape Breton, which promotes tourism on the island. CEO Mary Tulle says U.S. traffic to her website over the past three days has jumped from almost 1,300 visits last year at this time to almost 12,000 this week.”

The man behind the fuss, Rob Calabrese, was, himself, gob smacked by the reaction. “I’m in disbelief,” he told the wire service. “I wish everyone from Cape Breton could read them (emails from Americans), because they really make you proud of living here. Some are writing about how it feels nice to know that they are welcome somewhere. A lot of Americans think that they’re not very popular in the eyes of the world.”

Heavens to betsy! Wherever did they get that idea?

Here, then, are a few collected quotes (courtesy of the CBC) of Mr. Trump from 2015:

“I don’t need anybody’s money. . .I’m using my own money, I’m not using the lobbyists, I’m not using donors, I don’t care. I’m really rich.”

“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.”

“When Mexico sends its people they’re not sending their best. . .They’re sending people that have lots of problems. . .They are bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”

“Obamacare really kicks in in 2016. Obama’s going to be out playing golf, he might even be on one of my courses. I would invite him. . .I have the best courses in the world.”

“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. I will bring back our jobs from China, from Mexico, from Japan, from so many places. I’ll bring back our jobs and I’ll bring back our money.”

“I’m a free trader, but the problem is you need really talented people to negotiate for you. . .But we have people that are stupid.”

“I like China. . .I love China. . .Their leaders are much smarter than our leaders.”

Need we say more?  Or, as Heather from Missouri points out on the ‘Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins’ website, “As an American who has spent time in Nova Scotia exploring new opportunities and the idyllic landscape over the last three years, I would highly recommend a visit Northeast – destination Cape Breton Island. Fair warning, though, you WILL be charmed and delighted. Political asylum seeker, curious traveler, or modern nomad seeking jaw-dropping beauty, rich culture, and inspiring collaboration value, oceanside? Pack your skill set, and explore island life beyond the confines of a tourist/visitor visa. Consider the NAFTA Skilled Workers Program as a path to legal residency for American immigrants.”

In fact, the website has received an enormous amount of publicity over the past few days, having received write-ups in mainstream print and online news organizations across North America, including The National Post, Winnipeg Free Press, Vancouver Sun, Fortune, and the Huffington Post.

All of which may only prove that Mr. Trump is the greatest gift God ever created for improving Atlantic Canada’s anaemic immigration record.

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The exodus conundrum


As Canadians wring their hands and gnash their teeth over the arrival of as many as 25,000 refugees from strife-ridden Syria, the conversation inevitably turns to a sometimes irresponsible and xenophobic question of whether we want them.

To be clear and to our credit, most of us say we do. Our country is, after all, one of the world’s last remaining go-to places for people who are, through no fault of their own, in deep trouble.

Lately, though, the other shoe has fallen: Do Syrians want us?

A rather distressing, yet revealing, report in the Globe and Mail earlier this month suggests that more Syrians than we’d like to admit are saying “no” to the Great White North – fearing the effect of cultural and linguistic differences, the lack of good, durable employment opportunities, and even Canada’s rather parsimonious social policy regarding the disposition of foreign nationals in this country over the past decade.

According to the Globe piece by Sara Elizabeth Williams, reporting from Amman, the capital of Jordan, “Omayma al-Kasem. . .is one of a sizeable number of Syrians turning down the chance to become permanent residents of Canada. UN figures (show that) just three out of every 10 households contacted about resettlement in Canada go on to relocate.”

Although Ms. al-Kasem – a well-educated, 26-year-old, fourth-year law student – readily describes her life and that of her family, effectively hiding from harm’s way in Jordan, as “the lowest level of hell”, apparently that’s better than taking a chance on a cold, strange nation half-a-world-away from everything she knows and still cherishes.

She must, she says, “think like a mom.” In her case, she reveals, “In Jordan we are already separated from my two sisters who are in Syria. If we went to Canada we would have to leave my brother, his wife and their baby. I don’t want to separate my family any further. . .Even in the move from Syria to Jordan, we lost some connection to our religion. If we go to Canada, how can I raise my little sisters in a language and culture I don’t understand?”

Aoife McDonnell, an external relations officer at the UNHCR refugee agency in Jordan, provides the broader context: “Some families are still hoping to return home, others are concerned about their ability to integrate into another country.”

Still complicating matters is the recent transition in Canada’s federal government, from avowedly Conservative to Liberal, just since October. What are potential newcomers from every background to make of the molten lava of our national policy towards them?

For New Brunswick, which has agreed to welcome hundreds of Syrian refugees, the response must be something better than the national standard.

We have jobs that need filling, homes that need building, ideas that need spreading, and hopes that need fulfilling. We must craft the ways and means to assure the next wave of immigrants to this province that we understand – and are prepared to deliver – what they need to survive in the short term and thrive in the long one.

What, in fact, do we have to offer Syrians in New Brunswick? Winter coats and boots are fine. But what of the job and career opportunities? What of educational, linguistic and cultural assistance initiatives?

The single imperative on which all intelligent citizens in this province must concur is immigration. To achieve our commercial and fiscal goals, we simply need more people from around the world to find our friendly place economically efficacious. And we want them to stay.

The question is: How do we persuade them that we’re serious?

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Runaway foot-in-mouth disease


And they all fall down, right on cue.

Nowadays, it seems, a hard-working, right-wing politician just can’t get his mojo on without, first, publicly blurting nonsense that offends a large number of Canadians and, second, immediately apologizing on social media.

I give you Exhibit A:

A couple of weeks ago, New Brunswick Tory MP, John Williamson told a friendly crowd in Ottawa, “(In) my part of the country, I deal with temporary foreign workers and the interaction with employment insurance, and it makes no sense from my point of view – I’m going to put this in terms of colour, but it’s not meant to be about race – it makes no sense to pay ‘whities‘ to stay at home while we bring in brown people to work in these jobs. . .When I have 10 to 12 per cent unemployment rates in my province, I’m not going to abide by a policy that encourages people to stay home and collect an EI cheque and bring people from overseas to fill these jobs.”

In less time than it takes to kick oneself in that part of the body one tends to use for sitting, Mr. Williamson was issuing mea culpas to anyone who would listen. “Today I used offensive and inappropriate language regarding the Temporary Foreign Workers Program,” he tweeted. “For this I apologize unreservedly.”

To Saint John Telegraph-Journal reporter Chris Morris, he went further. “I don’t think there is any explanation for the words I used, which is why I unreservedly apologized,” he said. “This is the worst mistake I’ve made as an elected member and also over my 20 years of writing and commenting on public policy. . .I am deeply disappointed in myself.”

I give you Exhibit B:

Last week, in light of a Federal Court judge’s decision to allow women to wear face-covering niqabs when they take their oath of Canadian citizenship, Ontario Tory MP Larry Miller told a radio talk-show host, “I don’t know what the heck our justice people. . .that isn’t right. Frankly, if you’re not willing to show your face in a ceremony that you’re joining the best country in the world, then frankly, if you don’t like that or don’t want to do that, stay the hell where you came from, and I think most Canadians feel the same.”

Faster than a speeding bullet slicing through the thin rhetoric of intolerance, Mr. Miller pivoted and was suddenly sorry. . .eh?    

According to a CBC item, posted online last week, “In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller said that he stands by his views that those who wish to be sworn in as citizens should uncover their face. ‘However, I apologize for and retract my comments that went beyond this,’ he said.”

The CBC report added, “According to a post on the Broadbent Institute-affiliated blog Press Progress, Miller – who was once described by National Post columnist John Ivison as ‘the voice in [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s ear” – made the comments during an open-line talk show on local radio station CFOS on Monday.”

Kevin Menard with Citizenship and Immigration apparently emailed the public broadcaster that “These comments do not reflect the position of the government.”

Perhaps not. But, something’s going on here, and it’s not entirely due to backbenchers flapping their gums and freelancing their views unbeknownst to the Prime Minister and his people.

This is, after all, an election year, and no party in this country understands its support structures and voter base better than the Tories, where the politically incorrect take on hot-button issues is not always the politically unwise course of action. 

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In Canada, once a citizen always a citizen



Chris Alexander is a young man on a mission. And as all young men do on missions he makes mistakes, for which the rest of us must surely pay.

Canada’s 45-year-old citizenship and immigration minister apparently believes his beloved country is under siege. Droves of dual citizens (Canadian and pick-a-nation) are queuing up to undermine the foundations of this perfect democracy that perches between the Niagara escarpment and the Arctic Circle.

Says he: Off with their imperfect, great-white-northern heads. 

“This. . .is historic because it addresses an asset that Canadians consider absolutely fundamental to their identity,” he opined in Ottawa as his Bill C-24 was set to pass its third reading in the House of Commons last week. 

In fact, he insisted, Canadians think his proposed legislation is “absolutely essential” to counter treachery against the state in this country – activities that are, apparently, rampant among young, downwardly mobile scions of upwardly mobile immigrants to whom this government has, until now, opened up its hearts and pocket books.

Specifically, Bill C-24 would, as the Canadian Press reports, “strip dual nationals of their Canadian citizenship if they commit acts of treason, terrorism or espionage. . .the federal bill would increase the scope to those born in Canada but eligible to claim citizenship in another country – for instance, through their parents – and expand the grounds for revocation to include several criminal offences.”

As for that, says CP, Mr. Alexander elaborated: “The Conservatives (are) fixing flaws introduced by the Liberals in 1977 – legislation that ‘actually cheapened Canadian citizenship, opened it to abuse and put to one side the whole question of allegiance and loyalty to this country’.” 

Clearly, from this perspective, rot must fester at the root of our system.

The important question, though, is whether a duly elected government has the right to determine whom among those who may or may not cleave to “allegiance and loyalty” and “country” is worthy of citizenship.

Unfortunately, there are no legal precedents available to answer that question, a circumstance which tends to arise when politicos are entitled to freelance their ideologies over and above their responsibilities to protect the rights and freedoms of all  their fellow countrymen and women. 

Still, no evidence, whatsoever, exists to suggest that rougher, more punitive citizenship laws will preserve law and order in Canada. Generally, perpetrators of crimes against the public well-being are local fools and maniacs who were born and raised in communities that are both ostracized and forgotten by ‘polite’ society. Generally, these disenfranchised individuals are not immigrants. Rarely, are they dual citizens.

And yet, facing stiff opposition from federal Liberals and NDP, Mr. Alexander now drapes himself in the finest Harperite raiment: denial. 

According to the Canadian Press, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett asked last week, “How can the minister justify this abuse of power which trample on the rights of Canadians, even those who were born here in Canada?”

NDP multiculturalism critic Andrew Cash added: “This is nonsensical and it’s most likely unconstitutional. Why did the government turn down every single suggestion put forward to try to fix this bill?”

In turn, Mr. Alexander accused Mr. Cash of being “lost in the thickets of his own ideology,” which is, if ever there was one, a perfect pot-kettle-black moment in recent Canadian politics.

In 1977, Mr. Alexander was exactly eight years old, just wise enough to recognize that a two-wheeler was marginally better than a trike. I was a hopeful political science aspirant at Dalhousie University. Even then, though, I knew the difference between callow indifference to the gravity of truth and a flat tire.

No Canadian asks his brethren to declare fealty to the state; rather he demands that the state produces democracy as a condition of his participation. If the state fails to comply, then it is the right of every citizen to object. 

Mr. Alexander’s measures would, by extension, turn this objection into sedition. And that, in his own words, is no “asset that Canadians consider absolutely fundamental to their identity,”

Lawyers and scholars are already having a field day with this proposed legislation, as others have had with the Harper government’s similar forays into constitutional engineering. 

What remains to be seen, however, is the degree to which citizens embrace the nobility of their enfranchisement as among the luckiest people on Earth, before their luck runs out thanks to a young man “lost in the thickets if his own ideology.”


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Keeping our own economic promises



The premiers of Canada’s least economically promising provinces display a marvelous esprit de corps, becoming a cheerful band of battle-ready brothers, when their mutual enemies in Fat City rattle their swords.

So it was this week when New Brunswick’s David Alward, Nova Scotia’s Stephen McNeil, Prince Edward Island’s Robert Ghiz and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Tom Marshall emerged from the semi-regular gabfest they dub rather self-importantly, Council of Atlantic Premiers, with agreements to, in effect, throw down the gauntlet on Ottawa’s front yard.

Having agreed to harmonize apprenticeship programs across the region (finally), they raised their voices en mass and called for Ottawa to stop pushing its immigration and jobs-protection agendas in the absence of any credible research or consultation on the subjects. 

Referring to a pending report he and his provincial counterparts commissioned on the impact of federal changes to the Employment Insurance system in the Atlantic region, Premier Ghiz told the Telegraph-Journal, “What this is really about is the Atlantic provinces putting together evidence-based research to take to the federal government that will indicate how the EI changes have negatively affected our region based on the seasonal industries that we have.”

Added Premier Alward: “It’s not just about EI. We can talk about any other changes. When they impactt regions, when they impact provinces, there needs to be a level of consultation before.”

Indeed, said Premier McNeil, the federal government must stop functioning as if it were in a partnership with only itself. “There needs to be a broader consultation between governments. The national government needs to make the provinces part of the decision making that has a huge impact on the regions or programs that are affecting regions.”

Well said, and bully for all of them. Now what? 

It’s true; since snatching power from the wobbly, scandal-riddled Liberals, federal Conservatives have displayed a dreadful lack of respect for the provinces, and not just the ones that hug the East Coast. Our region has, however, always seemed to earn special contempt from the callow, black-hearted, centre-obsessed boys and girls who populate the Prime Minister’s Office. 

Government of Canada reforms to EI seem almost deliberately crafted to cause the most inconvenience and disruption possible in the Atlantic provinces, where seasonality is, alas, one of the defining characteristics of the labour market.

Meanwhile, Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s ban on temporary foreign workers in the restaurant trade will hit the region’s tourist trade disproportionately hard, as the industry draws from an immigrant labour pool that is, alongside all the other evaporating ones, shrinking.

Still, Atlantic Canada’s premiers have complained about these and other slights for years and largely to no avail. Lamentably for Mr. McNeil, et. al, this is not a national government that feels any compelling need, whatsoever, to make the provinces part of its decision making. 

In fact, the federal Tories sometimes leave the impression that if they could shut down this messy Confederation of ours and run the whole show from glass towers impressively arranged along the banks of the Rideau Canal, everyone would be much happier. 

Poorer, for sure; but happier.

In fact, a more profitable use of our regional premiers’ time and energy – given the central government’s utter intractability – would be a full-sail vision quest, the purpose of which would be to translate their periodic displays of unity and filial bonding against a common foe into pragmatic commitments to formal socio-economic cooperation in the region itself.

Atlantic Canada’s real enemy doesn’t dress in blue pinstripes and speak with an Ottawa Valley accent. 

Our real enemy is our own parochial notion that our sputtering engines of growth are somehow stronger functioning apart from one another than they are operating in concert, together. 

Our nemesis is our pride, which cleaves to centuries’ old commercial conventions, long past their best before dates, that helps maintain an ossified culture of inter-provincial barriers against the movement of trade, people and skills.

In this regard, the Atlantic premiers’ decision to take the handcuffs off apprentices   is right and correct. 

But what more can this battle-ready band of brothers do for themselves, for the people they represent, for the region whose economic promise is not yet kept?


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Where are our new adventures in enterprise?


Down the rabbit hole of unemployment

Down the rabbit hole of unemployment

In coming to grips with what ails the Canadian job market, the nation, the region, our cities and towns have tried it all, only to conclude that the 21st Century is looking less like the 20th and more like the 19th.

A piece in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal yesterday brilliantly evokes the wild west that is Fort McMurray. “Go and spend a week (there) and see what life is like,” a local family lawyer, whose juggling several divorce cases, says. “From what I understand, and what’s described to me by women, it’s Dodge City, circa 1870. There are bars, strip joints, hookers.”

Such are the familiar lures of a boom town hooked on the almighty petro-dollar. In fact, most good jobs in this country are going this way (sans strippers and prostitutes as signing bonuses).   

Forget environmental engineering; think geology and hydrology. If that’s too academically rich for your blood (and if you can drive a stick) consider that an oil sands worker with a high school diploma can earn between $90,000 and $120,000 a year base salary. 

Consider, also, that federal government labour policies explicitly encourage people to work in this sector – to leave their homes in their less promising regions and lasso their own personal moons in Big Sky country. 

Yet, lest we fully become a nation of truckers and wildcatters, a few are issuing one last, possibly quixotic, call for reason in the job market. Weirdly, they are bankers who, one could argue, have the most to gain from unalloyed oil and gas prosperity.

Still, writes Gordon Dixon, chief executive officer of the Royal Bank of Canada and chair of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, “Diversity and immigration are important parts of Canada’s past, present and future.”

His commentary appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Globe and Mail: “Our diverse population is only an advantage to the extent we are inclusive. Full inclusion means means everyone feels enabled to bring their perspectives, knowledge and experience to the table. Diversity, together with inclusion, plays a central role in driving productivity, innovation and growth.”

And here I thought productivity, innovation and growth had only to do with how much oil you can squeeze from a stone. At least, that’s what I read on the packaging before I drank deeply of the Kool-Aid. 

Not that there aren’t immigrants labouring away in the oil sands. It’s just that there aren’t many opportunities in the new west’s resource industries to demonstrate one’s native proclivities for diversity. Fortunately, we don’t have that particular problem in merry old New Brunswick, where our primary industries (such as they are) are failing both to retain existing residents and attract new ones. 

Last week, Statistics Canada (yes, it’s still alive and kicking after the federal government’s latest round of cutbacks, though just barely) reported that New Brunswick had lost 5,400 jobs (or, at least, 5,400 fewer people were working) in April. That pushed up the overall provincial unemployment rate to 10.5 per cent.

Imagine the entire population of Sackville – home of sweet Mount Allison University, alma mater to my grandfather, father and daughter – suddenly packing up their things an hitting the road en mass like a caravan of Okies from Muskogee. 

Charlie Coffey can imagine it. He’s a guest speaker at this week’s provincial jobs summit. The title of his address is “People Power is the Competitive Advantage: Building a Diverse Workforce in the 21st Century.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, he’s a former executive vice-president of the Royal Bank who retired after 44 years. Again, he says, coming to grips with what ails us in this region is all about recognizing the importance of diversity.

Let’s not put all our eggs in one industrial basket. Let’s open up our hearts, minds and borders to different perspectives, new entrepreneurial opportunities, new adventures in enterprise.

“Since diversity is an integral part of business success, leveraging diversity has little to do with compliance and legal requirements and more to do with good business – smart business,” Mr. Coffey told the Telegraph-Journal recently. “Sometimes people find it hard to see how diversity and the bottom line are related.”

Of course, that’s only natural when, on any given day, the future of our conjoined economies looks very much like their past.


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