Speaking notes for Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: An announcement on the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
June 14, 2019
Thank you, Mayor Provenzano. It’s great to be back in beautiful Sault Ste. Marie. It’s really a pleasure to be back here. I had a really productive visit last year, and I learned a lot about the economic priorities of northern Ontario, but especially beautiful Sault Ste. Marie.
And I mean, the Raptors are not Toronto’s team; it’s Canada’s team. Go, Raptors, go! It was an amazing, amazing run and I want to congratulate all the team members, the coach, and the leadership, and all Canadians who were cheering them on. It’s a miracle we showed up to work today. I thought everybody was going to call in sick.
But I want to thank you all. I want to thank my cabinet colleague, Bernadette Jordan, the Minister of Rural Economic Development, who couldn’t be here, who really wanted to be here, but she is in Ottawa doing important government business. And I want to thank my friend, Terry Sheehan, for bringing me to Sault Ste. Marie the first time, for keeping me in touch with the local economic priorities and how that interplays with immigration. And I want to thank you all for joining us today. As has already been mentioned, I’d like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Anishnaabek.
So whether we find ourselves in Sault Ste. Marie or Brandon, Manitoba, or Vernon, British Columbia – I think all Canadians agree that our country would simply not be the same without the contributions and the presence of rural and northern Canada. Canada’s smaller cities and communities provide and contribute almost 30 percent of our GDP, yet most newcomers go to the big cities. Rural Canada and northern Canada are an important part of our history and key to not only our current economic growth, but our future prosperity as a country.
As in the rest of our society, Canada’s population is aging in smaller communities. And these communities are also faced with the additional challenges, of youth moving out of their home towns, critical skills shortages in a number of economic sectors, and, more importantly, the presence of a lot of difficulties in attracting skilled newcomers and retaining them in rural Canada. Canada’s cities and larger urban centres have traditionally benefited from immigration, but smaller cities and rural communities have struggled to do the same.
The reality is that nearly 80 percent of all new permanent residents to Canada continue to settle in Canada’s ten largest cities. While each community faces its own unique set of challenges, employers in rural and northern Canada have told me – and Mayors – have told me that immigration matters to them; that immigration is key, is one of the most important tools to fill unfilled jobs, and to address labour market and skills shortages; that immigration is key and vital to growing their communities in the future; and, that immigration is important to support middle class and hard-working families.
So, although immigration is not the only solution, our government believes that, in communities such as Sault Ste. Marie, with healthy economies and a bright future, that in these communities immigration is key to help alleviate our country’s labour market challenges. And that is why we launched, in January of 2019, Canada’s first-ever Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program, to help serve the needs of rural and northern and remote communities. We will work directly with rural and northern communities to help attract and welcome newcomers to their region. More than 50 communities applied to this pilot program.
Today, I’m very pleased to be in beautiful Sault Ste. Marie to announce that, although it was difficult to narrow down the list, we were able to choose the following communities to participate in this Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program. And they are: Thunder Bay, Ontario; Sudbury, Ontario; Timmins, Ontario; North Bay, Ontario; Rhineland-Altona, Manitoba; Brandon, Manitoba; Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; Claresholm, Alberta; West Kootenay Region – they applied as a region – British Columbia; Vernon, British Columbia; and, of course, beautiful Sault Ste. Marie!
And thanks to these communities, we will be able to test new ideas and to test community-based immigration. What that means is that it will be up to the communities to create a blueprint for what works for them locally and how immigration can help them meet their local economic development plans. And what do we mean by this? We mean that the immigration plans that we’re putting in place with these communities will address local, unique needs. We will empower these communities to not only attract skilled immigrants and their families, but we will help them to retain these immigrants and their families, by having a welcoming environment for newcomers so that they will be able to call these communities their homes. We will also have the right settlement supports in place, because better settlement supports means better chances of retention in these communities.
I know first-hand, as a newcomer to Canada 23 years ago, how important it is to be able to access housing, to be able to access language training, to be able to have access to educational opportunities and schools. So we want newcomers to work and live here and become active members of the community. To do that, we need to invest in their settlement and integration into communities like Sault Ste. Marie. So the focus of this pilot program is not just on getting the person here who has the right skills; it’s also making sure that that person and their family feel welcomed.
By launching this pilot, we’ve also been able to identify certain gaps within the Territorial Nominee Program in the Yukon Territory. As such, we will be developing a tailored approach to the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program for the Yukon. A new stream that applies in a number of communities in the north, which is north-specific and diverse, to attract newcomers.
Our government believes that rural and northern communities are able to thrive from coast to coast to coast when we work with them, when we listen to them, when we listen to their local concerns and when we implement local solutions to local challenges. And we know that newcomers arrive to our country with a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed. These newcomers are ambitious, and they are determined. Immigrants bring with them new ideas, new customs, cuisines, and art. They become volunteers in the community, they become entrepreneurs, and they actively give back to their new communities and their new country.
Throughout our country’s history, immigration has enriched Canada economically, culturally, and socially. Immigration has been an important tool to fill unfilled jobs, but to also bring much-needed skills that create jobs for Canadians. I will give you an example of a company called Wave that used our Global Skills Strategy. They brought in three skilled immigrants to come and do critical work in that company. And because of the injection of those three highly-skilled individuals, there was the creation of a hundred jobs for Canadians. I’ve also been to Sackville, Nova Scotia, where a very enterprising Canadian was able to use our immigration system to bring a highly-skilled immigrant from Australia. And through that, 35 jobs were unlocked for the local community.
So immigrants create jobs, they fill unfilled jobs in our communities, and they add to our demographic and social mix. And this is why we’re one of the best countries in the world, because we found a way to balance the priority of keeping Canadians safe and secure, but also we are open to those who would come to our country to lend us their skills and talents, and to make Canada an even more prosperous and stronger country.
So I’m very excited to be back here. I look forward to mingling and connecting with all of you. But I can tell you that this Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Program will be a game changer. And I want to take 30 seconds to thank two special individuals who really ensured that today would happen. One is my friend Terry Sheehan. Terry has been an amazing Member of Parliament representing this area. And throughout my time as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, we’ve worked very closely together to see how we can connect the economic development plans of Sault Ste. Marie with the opportunities provided by our immigration system, to settle and integrate people into this community, but also to attract new people and to attract skilled immigrants and their families to Sault Ste. Marie.
The second individual is Your Worship, Mayor Provenzano, who has been amazing at pushing this idea of having a rural immigration pilot program specific to northern Ontario. Before any other mayor was talking about this, Mayor Provenzano was already on the ball. So thank you for your leadership. You’ve been amazing. You’ve added so much to the construction of this really important policy, what I think will be a game changer in our immigration history. Thank you, Mayor Provenzano, for your leadership, and thank you for welcoming me back, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.
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