ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

At a News Conference to Announce settlement funding for Bow Valley College

Bow Valley College
Calgary, Alberta
October 18, 2013

As delivered

Thank you very much, Elza, for that introduction and how wonderful to be with all of you here this morning.

I don’t want to keep you from your classes or whatever else you may have for terribly long, but I do think we have an exciting announcement to make today, and I’m really excited to be here with Sharon Carry, your President and CEO of this great institution, and to be here for the first time in my new capacity as Canada’s new Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

It’s a real pleasure to be in Alberta, in Calgary, to see the beautiful view that one sees landing at the airport on a day like today, and to see even from the air, the resilience and the strength of this place that came through literally, not fire and water, but a lot of water earlier this year, and I know everyone here was touched by that and everyone in this city contributed to that amazing recovery. And we felt for those affected and those who lost possessions and lost lives.

But we are all in Canada, I think, in awe at the ability of this community to come together and produce great results even in tragic circumstances. And this institution is part of that story. It’s part of the brilliance of Calgary, which is a great city in this brilliant country.

And in today’s competitive labour market, we know that for all of you, for new Canadians and for people born here, it’s never been a more demanding environment and that we need, all of us, to have the skills that will allow us to succeed, to find the jobs of today and tomorrow. And that means, first and foremost, that we must have language skills.

To be successful in the labour market or integrating in Canadian society, speaking English or French is really integral. It’s part of our story as a nation, so far, and it’s certainly a key to our part of the global economic prosperity, of which we are proud to say we have a growing share in this country, having come through a dramatic economic downturn so well, having strong economic engines like Alberta, like Western Canada, like our energy sector to drive us forward. And also having visionary leadership taking us into new realms, as we saw today with the news from Brussels, of Prime Minister Harper concluding negotiations with the European Union, the world’s largest trading block, on a comprehensive economic and trade agenda.

In today’s competitive market, the ability to express yourself in English or French is essential for newcomers to successfully integrate into Canada and, subsequently, for Canada’s overall economic prosperity.

So, our government has recognized this, the role of language, and we’re committed to ensuring that newcomers can easily adapt to both the Canadian labour market as well as their new communities. Now, of course, the essential, important work of fostering integration into our society can’t bedone by government alone. It is also the work of communities across Canada, of individual citizens, both newcomers and those born here, of immigrant serving agencies, employers and certainly, of educational institutions like Bow Valley College that help to facilitate the transition that newcomers go through.

And we’re grateful for our partnership with you, for the work that you do, for the work that each of you do to help others in your families, in your communities, in your places of study and work, find their way into this community, find their way into a new life in Canada. And in recognizing the importance of this, of Bow Valley’s work, of Calgary’s work, of your work, I’m pleased to announce that the Government of Canada is providing just over $16.2 million over three years to Bow Valley College, to deliver language instruction for newcomers to Canada.

This is what you know and we know as the LINC Program to newcomers in Calgary. Ladies and gentlemen, the federal government provides funds to organizations like Bow Valley to provide many settlement services. But language training is of particular importance.

Language skills are key to the economic outcomes of newcomers and future generations. And studies have shown, this is not just our impression, this is the subject of rigorous academic research, that time and time again, a newcomer’s success in Canada is largely determined by their ability to communicate in English or French. And those with limited English or French abilities are more likely to earn less, to be unemployed or to live in poverty.

So a lack of skills in either official languages can be the greatest hurdle that newcomers face in furthering their education or seeking employment. The Government of Canada recognizes this and that’s why 43 percent of our federal settlement funds now go to providing language training and assessment services under the LINC Program and its French-language equivalent.

And let’s be clear how important the assessment is, as well as the training, because we can all claim to speak our first, second or third language to some level, but we need objective measures of how well we’re doing and we need objective incentives to go further in whatever language we’re learning.

The government’s number one priority, as you know, is jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for this country. Immigration is part of that. Immigration is a central part of that, and we want our immigration to be driven by our economic needs, to be driven by the skills deficit that we know Canada has, and Alberta has in far too many areas. So our government’s immigration policies ensure Canada selects the immigrants most needed by our economy and those best positioned, as you are, for success.

And that’s why our Settlement Program is inextricably linked to our Immigration Program. It’s not entirely well known across the country, but we are the government that has tripled support for integration services, settlement services across this country since coming to, into office in 2006. It’s gone from less than $200 million to almost $600 million for 2013-2014.

And we know this is not just a story of numbers and zeros. It’s the quality of the effort. It’s the quality of the training. It’s the partnership we have with private institutions, with provincial governments, territorial governments across the country that makes this a powerful investment. And, with announcements like today’s, it’s getting more powerful every day.

So that large figure includes an increase of settlement funding for Alberta, from only $15.8 million in 2005-2006, to a record $79.5 million, almost $80 million for the current fiscal year. We’re proud of that record. It reflects the fact that Alberta is becoming more and more central, more and more dominant in our immigration story as a nation, which continues to include all provinces, including many provinces that hadn’t had immigrants for a generation or more and are now getting them in larger numbers. But Alberta, with the dynamism of its economy, is obviously in a category of its own, and our support reflects that upwards trend line.

We must work together in order to bring about maximum results for newcomers. We must work with newcomers and new Canadians across Canada. We must work with immigrant serving agencies, employers and certainly, educational institutions such as Bow Valley College. Together, we can ensure that immigrants have the language skills and the soft skills, the adaptation skills that they need, that we know are necessary for them to succeed.

For more than 20 years, LINC has provided newcomers to Canada with high-quality language training and assessment services. The program offers services at all levels of language proficiency, and is designed to meet the diverse needs of learners. We all learn in different ways. We need to respect that. We need to find our own ways forward to mastering the language skills that we know are so crucial.

LINC also provides newcomers with information about Canadian traditions, values, citizenship and civic duties, so they can improve the skills that they need to better participate in Canadian society because this is what we’re looking for. We’ve always expected the successive waves of immigration to Canada, from the waves of newcomers that have built this country, to not just have their boots on the ground, not just their economic effort, their hard work, but their participation in our society as citizens.

And there is that pathway open to everyone who comes to Canada as a permanent resident, to earn the right to be a citizen, the privilege to be a citizen, but also to take up the duties and responsibilities that come with citizenship, and we saw Calgarians fulfilling those duties in magnificent fashion, helping each other out, only a few months ago, and it’s still happening.

Settlement is the first step towards Canadian citizenship. Belonging to the Canadian family means knowing and understanding the values and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship, where they came from, how they developed over time, the guidance offered in language program speaks to Canadian principles and character, giving newcomers an idea of the community they will be joining.

And we’re absolutely under no illusions, it’s a community that’s changing with every year, that’s getting stronger, that we are proud to be pushing forward into a future that is one of great potential, but which we will all influence, you will all influence, as citizens with your language skills, with your hard work, through your families.

The benefit of language training for newcomers is obvious, but the benefits for the communities that welcome them and for the Canadian economy are also enormous. And that’s why we have a stake in ensuring that newcomers have the tools they need to be successful in Canada, why we have an interest in helping them to understand what it means to be Canadian so they can integrate quickly and easily into our Canadian fabric, and contribute to our growth as a nation which values knowledge, skills and culture that newcomers offer to Canadians.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the cities where so many of our immigrants go, where so many of our immigrants succeed, where so many of our immigrants learn good English are some of the most desirable cities in the world to live in. It was not long ago that the Economist magazine was ranking the most livable cities in the world, and I think three of the top five, including Calgary, were Canadian cities.

So this is also why the government is committed to assisting immigrants and refugees in overcoming the challenges specific to the newcomer experience, why we emphasize the importance of language skills.

And in closing, I’d simply like to thank and commend everyone for your commitment and dedication to helping newcomers succeed, for the efforts you make each and every day for the betterment of Canada.

Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup et félicitations.

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