Speaking notes for Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: An announcement on a Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot

Speech

As delivered
Sudbury, Ontario

Thank you, bonjour, bon matin. I was supposed to be here yesterday. I really wanted to make the announcement yesterday here in Sudbury, but the weather wouldn’t cooperate. I spent last night trying to convince Air Canada to make a special flight for me to arrive in Sudbury but here we are.

I’d like to begin by thanking Cambrian College for hosting us and for Your Worship the Mayor for Sudbury for hosting us for this really important announcement that is really transformative in the history of immigration in this country.

I’d also like to begin by acknowledging that we are in the Robinson-Huron Treaty territory and on the land on which we are gathered today is the traditional territory of the Atikameksheng Anishnaabeg peoples.

Our government is committed to growing Canada’s middle class and creating more jobs for Canadians across the country, including in rural Canada.

Over the past three years, 800,000 jobs have been created and we have the lowest unemployment numbers in 40 years, but this is in thanks to the hard work and determination of Canadians and our local businesses. We know there’s always more work to be done.

Canadians living in small communities claim to be happier than people living in large cities. After meeting with some residents, I understand why.

You only need to look as far as Sudbury’s Big Nickel to feel the cultural pride that comes with living in a smaller community. Local businesses were the pillars of this region’s economy, the mine, the grain elevator, the paper mill, the food processing plant. These were the employers of both established and newly-arrived Canadians.

In a country that was built on resources, smaller economies didn’t only fuel their own economies. They fueled the economy of the entire country. But across Canada you see that our labour force participation and our labour force itself is getting older. Many smaller communities are losing their young people to larger cities.

Overall, the Canadian labour force is getting older. If you look to 1972, you would find that almost 7 Canadians were working to support each Canadian retiree. By 2012, that number had dropped to 4 to 1. By 2036, if we don’t become ambitious in immigration – which is less than 20 years away – we will only have 2 working Canadians supporting each retiree.

That means it will be increasingly challenging to sustain our cherished social programs like our universal healthcare, our infrastructure programs, our public transit, and our Canada Pension Plan, let alone introducing new programs and remaining ambitious in the delivery of social services.

In parts of Canada, that ratio is even more acute. If you look at Newfoundland and Labrador, for every 100 workers who have joined the workforce, 125 leave the workforce and retire. As we have seen in rural Canada, the population is aging as well and the workforce here has seen a decrease. Between 2001 to 2016, the number of potential workers in rural Canada has decreased by 23 percent while the number of potential retirees has increased by 40 percent.

Moreover, in 2001 there were approximately 1.5 potential labour market entrants for each potential retiree in rural Canada. By 2016 that number had already decreased to approximately 0.7 labour market entrants, 0.7 people coming in for each potential retiree in rural Canada. We understand that rural Canada faces particular challenges when it comes to labour market growth and labour force participation.

Left behind are the many jobs that still need to be filled in rural Canada. At the same time, a new generation of businesses in rural Canada in places like Sudbury are creating jobs, so that these communities and these economies in rural Canada can grow but there are no people to fill those jobs.

Last year, local employers in Sudbury, when I visited Cambrian College and many other parts of this city, told me that they cannot meet the needs they have for labour and skills with local workers. The local demand is not enough to fill the unfilled jobs right here in Sudbury. Sudbury’s largest industry sector, the mining industry, will also soon face a serious shortage of workers.

This doesn’t just impact employers. It impacts regional economic development more generally. That is why Anthony Rota is here today, because he knows this is important to his region as well. The human resources council says the mining industry will be short more than 106,000 workers in the next 10 years unless the situation is turned around.

It is not just in Sudbury that this is a challenge. I’ve visited communities right across Canada, from other parts of northern Ontario including Sault Ste Marie, to parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Whitehorse, Yukon. They’re all saying we need more people. We need more workers to support our local economy, our growth in the businesses filling unfilled jobs, but also bringing much needed skills to the local economy.

A recent survey by the Business Development Bank of Canada states 39 percent of small and medium sized enterprises said it was difficult to find new employees. The hardest hit industries are manufacturing, retail and construction. Companies based in small towns or rural areas tend to have it even tougher than the rest of the country.

Our government wants to help our smaller communities to not only survive. We want them to thrive. That means getting them the workers they need, making sure the immigration system facilitates the growth in those businesses and making sure we address not only the labour market gaps, but also the skills shortages.

Our government believes that immigration is an important tool that helps places like Sudbury to alleviate the economic and demographic challenges faced by rural Canada. Although immigration is not the only solution, we have other levers like economic opportunity, innovation, investments in skills development, and the involvement of the community in all these aspects.

But I can assure you that immigration is a major contributor in addressing this particular challenge that Sudbury and many other communities face. That is why we want to attract more skilled immigrants to these smaller communities. We want them to feel welcome, so they can work and live here.

I know the work that’s already been done in Sudbury to make sure that community organizations are equipped to not only settle, but integrate newcomers and help them find the jobs they need to contribute to this community.

We want these newcomers to put down roots in Sudbury and beyond, and become actively involved in life in this community. Therefore, it is with that in mind and with the advocacy of MPs like Marc Serré, Anthony Rota, Paul Lefebvre, and my friend in Sault Ste Marie, Terry Sheehan, who advocated for this initiative.

I am so pleased today to join you to announce the Government of Canada is creating a new federal immigration pilot program to support the economic development needs of rural and northern communities in Canada.

Your Worship, Mr. Mayor, you should be proud of the fact that it was Sudbury that pushed really hard for Immigration to introduce this pilot program. Sudbury played a leadership role in putting the idea on paper. Sudbury played a leadership role in advocating for this, pushing it forward and reminding me constantly, including a week ago to make sure this happens because time is of the essence.

As with our Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program that is expected to have growth in Atlantic Canada, this pilot program for rural and northern communities will have the selection criteria that will lead to economic success, to newcomer economic success as well as the regional economic success.

We want to be able to use this pilot program to meet the unique labour market needs of this region and other regions like it in Canada. A new feature of this pilot program that is different from Atlantic Canada is that it will be driven by the community. It will be driven by this community. That is because communities know best what they need. They also know best how to welcome and integrate newcomers into their labour market and into their larger community.

We know that when newcomers find a job and move to a smaller community, it is the community who welcome these newcomers and help them settle in their new home. The focus of this Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program is not just getting the person with the right skills to places like Sudbury.

We want to help that person and their family – not just the skilled worker. We want the skilled immigrant and their family to come to places like Sudbury, to feel welcome so that when they come to these regions and find employment and add to the local economy, that they will stay here, that they will not move from these rural communities.

That is why this pilot will provide a new community-led approach to economic immigration, to help communities meet their diverse labour market needs and develop their local economies through immigration. That is why it’s community led. It’s the community that knows not only how to welcome these newcomers and their families, but they also know their local economic needs. They know the diversity of their economy.

As of today, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is pleased to begin accepting applications from interested communities that are outside of Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Our aim is to select a small number of communities in rural Canada to participate in this immigration pilot program.

We will make that selection in the spring of 2019. We will then develop new partnerships with the selected communities, working with them in attracting and welcoming newcomers and their families to their regions. What we learn and achieve together with these new partnerships will assist you and many communities across the country in considering how immigration can work to address the needs of regional economies. This will not be a program that will be determined in Ottawa. It will take shape in local communities like Sudbury.

More than 100 years ago, to show you that the roots of immigration in Canada were initially based in rural Canada in places like Sudbury, 100 years ago Clifford Sifton, a Minister of the Crown like me, went abroad in search of people to settle our less populated parts of Canada including the prairies.

He asked them to come and build Canada, build new communities and work the land. We all owe Minister Sifton and others a debt of gratitude, because it is because of them that generations of immigrants have taken advantage of Canada’s open, welcoming and inclusive immigration policy, which has led to these people bringing much needed skills and talents from all over the world.

They have in turn shaped Canada into a vibrant, strong and prosperous country that we are proud to call home. The goals of Canada’s more recent newcomers remain the same with the goals of those earlier settlers. I see them every day and so do my colleagues. These newcomers are ambitious. They are keen, they are skilled. They come to our country with a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed.

They build a new life here in places like Sudbury. With its aging population and low birth rate, Canada is increasingly reliant on immigrants to fill labour and talent shortages in communities across the country. Immigration is more important than ever. It ensures the growth of the population, the economy and innovation, as well as job creation.

Just as immigration has benefited large cities across Canada, by creating a Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program aimed at places like Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie and others, we are looking to ensure that the benefits of immigration that Canadians enjoy in large cities are also shared in smaller communities.

That is because rural Canada is important to us now and in the future, to continue our great economic growth. We know that rural Canada has helped our country to flourish, as rural Canadians from places like Sudbury contribute 30 percent of our GDP. We hope this pilot program will allow these communities to grow even further through immigration.

We all know that immigration matters to Canada. I’ll end with one final point. We know that newcomers will succeed. The faster they can succeed is based on the opportunities they get and that is based on the tools they are given to be equipped to succeed in their new life in Canada.

Why? Because it’s not enough to talk about integration and settlement. You have to invest in it. As Canadians, we know that those investments pay for themselves over and over and over again. We also know that when newcomers succeed, Canada succeeds. Thank you very much.


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