The New Brunswick Multicultural Council is hoping to start new conversations around immigration with a cross-New Brunswick tour that will give communities big and small a personalized look at immigration and the labour force in their region.
The “New Conversations” tour will take place in 15 communities throughout the province starting this week in Shediac and Moncton. Alex LeBlanc, executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, says the idea for the tour came from the realization that discussions around immigration in the province has always been broad, and always featured the same people.
“Essentially we’ve been having the same conversation about immigration and population growth and the economy, but it’s largely happened in a bubble or echo chamber,” says LeBlanc “We’re often talking to the same people, we’re trying to figure out how to grow the conversation and get more engaged, and it occurred to us that perhaps the best way to approach that is to go out into local communities and engage people at a local level.”
Each event will feature a presentation of a customized labour demographic profile of the community prepared by Richard Saillant and David Campbell. The profiles will look at why the community’s labour force is in decline, recent immigration trends and what’s at stake in various communities.
“We’re going to dig a little deeper in what you could call the ‘economic fabric’ of the various regions and look at the types of jobs that are at risk given the demographic profile of those regions,” says Saillant. “We’re going to be providing that province-wide information, but also community-specific information.”
Campbell says it’s important to look at the statistics of each community because different communities have different industries and challenges.
“The conversations will be different,” he says. “On the Acadian Peninsula, they’re going to be different than they are in Saint John, but we think this approach, zooming in on 15 different regions is going to be a better way to do it because it’s tailored to the economy in each region.”
But the conversations will not just focus on labour challenges and attracting immigrants. There will also be discussions on how to retain them and make them feel included in their new communities so they will stay. Every audience will also hear from local newcomers and employers about the challenges they face in the region, and their vision for the sustainability and vitality of their communities.
“Ideally, we want to engage people who are not already in the conversation, hence the name ‘New Conversations,’ ” says LeBlanc. “We want to engage local leaders, we want to engage businesses, we want to engage people working in the schools and social sectors and any opinion leaders or influencers in the community that may be interested in learning more about this issue and how it’s impacting their region.”
When people talk about immigration in New Brunswick, the focus is often around the three major cities of Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton. But LeBlanc says it’s important to pay attention to the province’s smaller communities too because they are also the home to industry and are facing the problem of population decline
“There are labour market opportunities in all these communities. There are jobs available in food processing and manufacturing, in forestry, in food services. There are positions there that there is simply no people for, or people are not applying. So employers are faced with tough choices. We’re hearing from employers that if they can’t find the workers locally, then they’ll have to look at potentially relocating their operation,” says LeBlanc.
“It certainly put them at a competitive disadvantage if they don’t have the workforce to fuel their productivity. This is something we know is happening across the province, so we thought we would bring this demographic and immigration conversation to those communities so they understand with some precision what the realities are and are aware of the different options such as immigration.”
LeBlanc says he home the New Conversations Tour will help communities look inwards at how they can address their labour challenges and make their communities grow and prosper through immigration.
“Immigration may be controlled federally, but integration is entirely local,” he says.
“That’s where the real horsepower is. If we discover how to unlock it and create a culture of welcoming more people, I think we’ll see a real turning point for our province.”