New Brunswick should raise the number of immigrants it takes to 1 per cent of its population each year, or around 7,500 newcomers annually, if it wants to grow its economy, a report by the New Brunswick Multicultural Council (NBMC) recommended.
Last year, the province welcomed around 4,100 newcomers.
“You can’t have a plan to grow the economy if you don’t have a plan to grow the population,” says Alex LeBlanc, NBMC’s Executive Director.
Increasing immigration levels is one of the key recommendations made by the non-profit organization following a 15-community New Conversations tour, which included presentations on New Brunswick’s labour needs by economists David Campbell and Richard Saillant.
NBMC also recommended developing a provincial strategy to boost the recruitment and retention of international students and will push for immigration streams that are specific to New Brunswick.
Immigration should be a key pillar for population growth to deal with labour shortages, LeBlanc said. This is because 110,200 New Brunswickers will leave the workforce permanently by 2026, mainly due to retirements. Meanwhile, the province will produce only 76,000 high school graduates in that same period.
“Even if we can get all 76,000, we would still have a major shortfall. So our thinking should go beyond retaining our youth, beyond bringing New Brunswickers back home, to really getting serious about immigration as the pillar for population growth in New Brunswick,” LeBlanc said.
But there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for all regions. That’s why NBMC recommends municipalities to take a leadership role on their immigration strategies.
“It’s very different realities in different regions, and we need those regions to lean in and put some skin in the game and take control of that part of their future,” he said.
Municipalities Take The Lead
Rural regions see a more severe population decline. In the north-west, Edmundston and the surrounding Madawaska region are seeing some of the lowest unemployment rates in the province.
“That means the pool of available workers to fuel business needs is smaller,” LeBlanc said.
Statistics Canada reported that Edmundston’s unemployment rate fell from 3.6 per cent to 3.3 per cent in May. Mayor Cyrille Simard said while the economy is growing and companies in key sectors like manufacturing are also expanding, there’s trouble when it comes to available labour.
He said Edmundston has already been experiencing a shortage of skilled workers for a while, despite being hosts to branch campuses of New Brunswick Community College and Université de Moncton.
Graduates often leave because they couldn’t find opportunities that fit their skillsets. But now, the city is also facing a shortage of lower-skilled workers due to an aging population.
“Right now [shortage is] experienced in every single sector. It’s not only the manufacturing sector, which is a good, very large employer. But it’s the same in the services area, hotels, restaurants, small boutiques. Everybody is now almost at a critical situation,” he said. “I mean, people are poaching jobs between each other at this point.”
Even though we could bring all the children that were born and raised in Edmundston the last 20 years, we wouldn’t have enough [people]. We know that. The data is obvious.”
With most of its population being French speakers, Edmundston is targeting primarily bilingual and Francophone newcomers through programs like the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.
Mayor Simard said the city is part of a recruitment mission in Paris this month, in which it will offer 100 jobs. Overall, 400 positions are vacant in Edmundston and the surrounding Madawaska region.
Working with its partners, Edmunston plans to revamp a roadmap that includes a regional immigration strategy for Madawaska county to ensure gaps are addressed, the mayor said.
“An area where we have to increase and be better is integration. To be more welcoming. Not that people are not, but [we need to] make sure it’s more visible and address the specific civics engagement of immigrants,” he said.
Moncton’s population growth depends on immigrants
Moncton is another municipality taking a proactive approach to immigration. It’s at the end of a five-year strategy with its neighbours Dieppe and Riverview, and is looking to implement a new one in 2019. It also works with Local Immigration Partnerships, which includes various sectors of the community, including the Chamber of Commerce and 3+ Corp.
“We think it’s too valuable to not have control over our own economic and population growth,” said Immigration Strategy Officer Angelique Reddy-Kalala.
Under the strategy, Moncton launched an immigration website, held job fairs for newcomers and international students, and carried out international student retention initiatives. Recently, Moncton committed $500,000 to a new International Students Integration Fund at Université de Moncton.
“Over 51 per cent of our population growth is now coming from immigration. And since the early 2000s, we’ve actually seen a 500% increase but we still need more people in our community,” she said.
The city needs 2,500 newcomers annually, nearly double the current 1,300.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Reddy-Kalala said. “It’s all about making sure that we’re attracting the right people for the jobs, and also look at the whole family and how best to integrate them into the community. It’s about taking a holistic view of what we need to do to make our communities the most attractive region for people to come to.”
The non-existent political discussion
Although labour shortage and the need for population growth are two of New Brunswick’s most important issues to solve, it hasn’t been a big part of the political discussion – not during elections, not in the throne speech, LeBlanc said. Instead, much of the political debate revolves around the lack of paramedics and other healthcare professionals.
But LeBlanc said they all stem from the same structural problem: New Brunswick doesn’t have enough people.
We have a labour shortage problem. It’s across the board. And when it hits those critical services like healthcare and emergency services, obviously it’s very concerning. But we need to be addressing our population problem with the same urgency that we’re addressing our paramedic problem.”
New Brunswick can either choose to manage decline or growth, LeBlanc said. But managing decline will mean choosing which schools and hospitals should close, and which taxes should be raised to pay for healthcare costs.
“We really have no choice but to pursue population growth and to embrace it and to recognize that this is both an economic project and a social project. We’re talking about bringing new families and new people into our communities to become New Brunswickers alongside us,” he said.
Employers in New Brunswick who are thinking of using immigration to bring in workers should have a plan for their labour needs months ahead so they can prepare for recruitment, settlement and integration of the new workers, he added. This includes making sure staff is prepared for more diversity in the workplace.
“Immigration is not an overnight solution. So, if you need workers tomorrow, immigration is not going to help you. But if you know you have a need in six-to-12 months, then this is a serious, viable option for you,” LeBlanc said.
He also suggested international students around the province could also be matched to opportunities in smaller communities.
“It starts with the job, but we also have to prepare the communities and make sure they are all playing a role in making it a success. At the end of the day, they need opportunities to recreate and participate in the community just like anybody else,” he said.
Businesses should play a role in promoting immigration, said Don Mills, the outgoing chairman and CEO of Corporate Research Associates who has advocated for this issue for years.
“Every sector that’s part of the economy needs to say, ‘we support immigration. It’s good for us. We support diversity in our workforce,’” he said. “Because too many Atlantic Canadians still feel that immigrants are there to steal their jobs, which is not true at all. We need to break that myth. And we need many voices to do that and constant voices, every day, until it just becomes normal. Right now, it’s not normal.”