Speaking Notes for the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Announcement of the Permanent Atlantic Immigration Program

Speech

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser announces the Permanent Atlantic Immigration Program to attract workers and drive economic growth

Ottawa, Ontario

December 17, 2021

As delivered

Good morning everyone. I am happy to be here with you today for a great announcement. 

(Indigenous language)

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge that I’m joining you here virtually from the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. Look folks, I would much rather be there with you in person today, but if the past year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that we need to treat the threat of COVID-19 seriously in order to protect our communities against the spread of this serious illness. So today, you get me live from my basement in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia as opposed to Pier 21, where we had hoped to conduct this event. 

Before I go any further, I’d like to welcome some of my colleagues and provincial counterparts. From my home province of Nova Scotia, Tim Houston. Tim, look, so good to see you here today. I know today’s announcement is something that you’re a big supporter of. From Newfoundland and Labrador, Premier Furey, our first official event together. And I’ll let folks who are tuned in know it took him about 30 minutes after my appointment before he started hassling me to get more people to come to Newfoundland. 

From PEI, Minister MacKay, and from New Brunswick, Minister Dunn. Your presence here really communicates to me the fact that you’ve bought into the importance of immigration as a growth strategy for Atlantic Canada and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have your presence here for our announcement. And of course, last but not least, my friend and colleague, Minister Petitpas Taylor, an absolute champion for our entire region and not only the Minister of Official Languages, but the Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, which is a key driver of economic growth for the region that we both care so much about. 

Look, we are here to talk about one of my favourite subjects: immigration in Atlantic Canada. And I’ve got to say that the timing of today’s event is particularly appropriate, given that my home province of Nova Scotia passed a very important milestone just the other day, achieving a population of one million people this week. This is no small thing. It’s something we’ve been chugging forward toward for quite some time. Tim, I know it’s only been a number of months on the job, but to get a million people this quick, no small feat, no small feat at all. 

I got to say this has been an extraordinarily challenging time for immigration right across Canada. Over the course of this pandemic, we’ve embarked on an effort to welcome the most permanent residents in any given year in the history of Canada at a time when our borders were closed to travellers. You can imagine the conundrum we find ourselves in trying to get creative to find ways to ensure that we continue to grow our population in a way that will support our communities and our economy. When we had great difficulty moving people into Canada in order to protect the public’s health and wellbeing. But I am thrilled to share that this past month, Canada has welcomed more than 47,000 new permanent residents, which is an all-time record for a single month, and we are now on our pace to meet our target of 401,000 new permanent residents by the end of this year, which will be the most newcomers in one year in the history of Canada. 

Now, I want to move on to the subject of, of today’s announcement: the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program. You know, when I was first knocking doors as a candidate in 2015, it was apparent that communities across Atlantic Canada were experiencing an extraordinary demographic challenge. We were facing an aging workforce, limited growth in our communities, labour shortages, and we had difficulty frankly retaining newcomers, particularly in our smaller rural communities. In my first few years as an MP, in fact, in the first few weeks as an MP, my colleagues and I had many discussions about the need to take a new approach to solving some of these long-standing problems that faced our region. 

After a few early discussions, my friend and colleague, Alaina Lockhart, the former member of Parliament for Fundy Royal, used her Private Member’s Bill to launch Motion 39, which calls on Parliament’s Immigration Committee to launch a study on how to boost immigration to Atlantic Canada to solve some of these demographic issues. And Alaina, if you’re tuning in today, I want to say thank you personally. I remember the opportunity to participate in the debate, the committee study that took place because that motion laid the groundwork for the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, which launched the following year. 

Attracting newcomers and helping them find jobs, settle and integrate successfully into needed communities, the collaboration of many partners: this is the reason why, together with provinces, regions, municipalities and employers, we have worked to develop programs to extend the impact of immigration to more parts of Canada.

Everybody came to the table. Various federal departments, provincial partners and employers in the region as well. We decided to test out a new model, an employer-centric model that matched newcomers to jobs before they arrived here. We got some of our region’s biggest companies on board across important sectors like health care, accommodation, food service and manufacturing and before long, smaller businesses were jumping at the chance to take part as well. Finally, we built an enhanced settlement services so newcomers could lay down roots when they got here and hit the ground running to set themselves up for success in the long term. 

And I got to tell you, it worked. The Atlantic Immigration Pilot has now brought over 10,000 newcomers to Atlantic Canada and already, we’ve seen 9,800 job offers through the program. This has helped businesses, large and small, get the talent that they need to succeed and to grow. And Saint-Quentin, New Brunswick, Groupe Savoie, which also has a presence in Tim and my’s backyard in Pictou County, they were expecting to lose a third of their employees to retirement over the next decade. Thanks to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, they’ve been able to get some of the workers they need to run their plant and sawmill. 

In PEI, Whisperwood Villa could never hire enough personal support workers locally and found hiring temporary foreign workers to be a difficult process. Through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, they’ve been able to attract the kind of people they need to help take care of seniors in Charlottetown. In King’s Point, Newfoundland, Green Bay Fibre Products produces world-class boats and through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, they’ve been able to hire skilled tradespeople to help build them who’ve come from Brazil and the Philippines and beyond to contribute to the success of a traditional sector. 

In my home province of Nova Scotia, in addition to the example of Groupe Savoie I mentioned, the Dartmouth Child Development Centre was in danger of closing because it couldn’t find enough staff. And thanks to the pilot, they’ve been able to help recruit four early childhood educators and the centre can take care of the community’s youngsters for years to come. And I see Mr. Shannon who’s joined on the call today. The importance of immigration to the care workers in his business, which I hope you’ll hear more about today, is something we had the opportunity to discuss recently that I know is going to help set them up for success in the long term in our region. 

Now look, it’s one thing to get people here, it’s another thing to keep them and I’m really pleased to share that the Atlantic Immigration Pilot has demonstrated a successful model to retain newcomers once they arrive. After one year, more than 90% of newcomers under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot were still living in Atlantic Canada. And this is a much higher rate than all of the other immigration programs we have on offer in every single Atlantic province. 

So what does this mean for our region?  In one word, growth. In cities and in rural communities across Atlantic Canada, the labour force has grown considerably over the past few years. If I look at Moncton, for example, Minister Petitpas Taylor, you’ll be pleased to see it’s increased by a staggering 18%. More broadly, over the course of the past few years, Atlantic Canada’s population has grown at the fastest clip since the 1970s, or perhaps a bit earlier, and the Atlantic Immigration Pilot is part of the reason why. As I mentioned just this week, Nova Scotia’s population topped a million people, the first Atlantic province to reach this important milestone. 

And all of this came from what was, of course, a pilot program. Pilots are, by their very definition, temporary. They are a test run to see if something should continue. And I’m very pleased to share — and this is the precise reason why we’re here today — that based on the success of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, I am thrilled to announce that we’re going to be making it a permanent feature of Canada’s immigration system. As of January 1st of this coming year, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot will become the Atlantic Immigration Program.

Thanks to the success of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program and the overwhelming response it has received, I am delighted to report that it’s being made a permanent program. As of January 1, 2022, this program will become the Atlantic Canada Immigration Program.

The new program will begin with at least 6,000 dedicated spots in the upcoming year. It’s going to complement and enhance existing initiatives like the Provincial Nominee Programs, and with labour shortages top of mind as we seek to exit this pandemic recession, it’s going to help businesses attract the skilled newcomers they need. You know, we’ve recovered across Canada 106% of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic, but when I talked to local employers, and when I look at data across Canada, they’re still looking to hire more people. 

This change is going to help set us up for success so we can boost out of this pandemic recession more quickly than most other developed economies across the entire world. And I’ve got to say as a member of Parliament, as a, and as a proud Atlantic Canadian, it’s been heartening to see the difference that the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and now Program has made. And just the past five years, between this program, between our effort to welcome Syrian refugees and the embrace of immigration by people across the political spectrum from different provinces, from different parties, I witnessed a serious change in the attitudes toward newcomers. 

You know, we are notoriously friendly in Atlantic Canada but I don’t know that we’ve always been as welcoming as we could be. And when I think of some of the attitudes that were a little more prevalent when I was a kid, that I don’t hear as much of, I don’t hear about the attitudes where people believe newcomers are trying to take their jobs. I hear about the attitudes of needing newcomers to sustain jobs for Canadians. This is a, an extraordinarily positive change and to see this welcoming attitude coming out of rural Atlantic Canada is the kind of thing that makes me incredibly proud to be from here. 

Look, I’ve got to say folks, I’m thrilled to share with you today this program is being made permanent. I can’t wait to help write the next chapter of immigration to Atlantic Canada and I’m so thrilled to have our provincial counterparts here today so we can help write it together. 

Thank you. Merci tout le monde. It’s a pleasure to be here with you, and I look forward to hearing from some of my counterparts. And with that, I’m so happy to pass the microphone to my friend and neighbour, Premier Houston from Pictou County, Nova Scotia. 

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