MONCTON – Around 250 newcomers and locals gathered at the Crowne Plaza to discuss immigration in New Brunswick Thursday night. Adejare Adedeji flew from Toronto especially to attend the New Brunswick Multicultural Council’s (NBMC) New Conversations event.
Originally from Nigeria, Adedeji found out about the event when he met a City of Moncton staff at the Canada Newcomers job fair in Toronto earlier this month. The marketing professional has been working in Canada for nearly four years. He’s currently seeking employment and was encouraged by the city’s pitch in Toronto.
“I just booked my ticket last week and I came for [New Conversations]. Because I’m planning to move,” he said. “That’s the reason why I came, so I can explore opportunities, I can meet potential employers.”
Since the Toronto job fair, Adedeji has been applying for work in Moncton. But he hopes employers would consider hiring people from away because making a trip could be costly.
Adedeji spent his own money for the trip to Moncton. He was immediately taken by the friendly taxi driver that drove him from the airport, the short commute around town and the low rent.
“So why am I not coming here? Why am I not saving? And you also have a lot of tourist attractions. The city just needs to communicate more about it because people don’t know about Moncton,” he said. “I don’t have any [job] offers yet. But I have the interest. If I have the offer tomorrow, I just take two of my bags and I’m here.”
Young workers like Adedeji are what Moncton needs. At the event, economists Richard Saillant and David Campbell presented about the need for immigration to stimulate New Brunswick and Greater Moncton’s economies.
With 21 per cent of workers across the Westmorland and Albert Counties heading towards retirement, and one-third of entrepreneurs being over the age of 55, the region is facing serious economic challenges, they said. A decline in the workforce threatens various sectors key to Greater Moncton’s economy, including the $400-million financial, insurance and business service centre industry.
“Because if we don’t have the people, the entrepreneurs and businesses will not be able to grow their businesses,” Campbell said in his presentation.
But it’s not always easy for newcomers in Moncton.
A panel of four newcomers spoke about their experiences at the event. They highlighted the positive impact of a welcoming environment from the moment a newcomer steps into Moncton. But Erika Cantu from Brazil noted the challenges of integration, even when a newcomer is highly-skilled and speaks both official languages.
Cantu, the Diversity Champion at the local United Way, came to Canada with her Belgian husband and their baby after having lived in Belgium. She had faced a difficult time integrating into the job system and the larger community. The family even thought about moving away.
“I felt like I lost my identity. I felt I didn’t belong anywhere,” she said in French, with simultaneous translation provided by the event organizer. “Why couldn’t I integrate myself? We were bilingual. We couldn’t understand the difficulty.”
It was only two years ago, after her two children started going to school and she started connecting with their friends’ parents, that she felt more connected to Canadians who were born in the country.
The round-table discussions that followed sought to find ways to better welcome and integrate newcomers. Each table was a mix of immigrants and people who were born in Canada.
Some of the ideas included creating a one-stop shop immigration office, providing cultural sensitivity training for employers and employees, a database to easily connect immigrants and employers seeking workers, and a call to action to push for more diversity. One table suggested providing a better understanding about immigration to New Brunswickers who are fearful of change.
NBMC executive director Alex LeBlanc said conversations are a good starting point to change, especially as public awareness remains the biggest challenge to immigration. It’s important to hear the lived experiences of people in local communities, including employers, municipal leaders and newcomers, he said.
“Ultimately, it’s them who will lead the solutions,” he said. “Our hope is that at the local level, some of the communities run with the ideas that are generated in the conversations.”
The New Conversations tour started in Shediac on April 18, and will take place in 13 other communities after Moncton.