Province wants to triple immigrant numbers
By DAVID JACKSON Provincial Reporter
Sat, Apr 30 - 4:54 AM
The provincial government wants to triple the number of immigrants to Nova Scotia by the end of this decade and will press Ottawa for help doing it.
Premier Darrell Dexter and Immigration Minister Marilyn More released a new immigration strategy at Pier 21 in Halifax on Friday.
It sets targets of 5,000 new Nova Scotians annually by 2015, and 7,200 by 2020. There were 2,424 new immigrants in 2009, according to the provincial Office of Immigration.
Dexter said the province will continue lobbying Ottawa to lift the cap on the provincial nominee program, now set at 500. That doesn’t include the nominee’s family.
"It doesn’t make any sense, if we all agree that immigration is critical to economic development and then place a limit on that development," Dexter said.
The program allows the province to nominate immigrants who help meet the province’s labour and economic needs to have their entry to Canada fast-tracked by Ottawa.
Dexter said it’s unfair that Manitoba, with a population slightly larger than Nova Scotia’s, can nominate 5,000 people — 10 times as many as this province. There are about 1.2 million people in Manitoba, about 33 per cent more than in Nova Scotia.
Manitoba attracted 13,500 immigrants in 2009, more than five times as many as Nova Scotia, according to that province’s Labour and Immigration Department.
Tom Peck, a provincial immigration spokesman, said the big reason Manitoba’s numbers dwarf Nova Scotia’s is the prairie province’s nominee program started in 1998, seven years before Nova Scotia’s was up and running.
Dexter said, to be fair to Ottawa, that 2010 was the first year the province hit the cap for 500 nominees, but that underlines the need to remove it.
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told The Chronicle Herald in December that removing the cap isn’t a simple matter. He said other provinces and groups also want limits lifted, but Ottawa didn’t want to increase the number of immigrants — 265,000 — it planned to allow in the country in 2011.
Dexter said the program is important but not "the linchpin to a successful immigration strategy."
The province is putting another $790,000 into programs supporting immigration. The strategy promises improvements to settlement programs, encouragement for temporary foreign workers to stay here, and earlier recognition of foreign workers’ credentials.
There will also be a bigger effort to provide prospective immigrants with information about life here, from the cost of homes to getting children into schools to required work credentials. Making that type of information easily accessible can make a big difference in attracting people, said Claudette Legault, director of programs and services with Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services in Halifax.
"Whichever province can get that (pre-landing) piece down right first is going to be the draw for immigrants just coming to Canada," Legault said.
Liberal immigration critic Michel Samson said he’s cautiously optimistic about the strategy, but he wanted to hear more from Dexter about efforts to lift the nominee cap.
"I realize the premier’s indication we can’t put our eggs all in one basket, but the nominee program has, by far, proven to be the most successful tool used in the province of Nova Scotia, not only to bring immigrants here, but to actually keep them here," he said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said he’d prefer a target of at least 10,000 new immigrants a year. He said that’s projected as the minimum required to maintain the province’s population, never mind growing it.
"It is no time to be incremental or modest. It’s a time to be bold, and the strategy in my view is not bold enough," Baillie said.
He said he would like to see the province emulate Manitoba, which has settlement offices in rural parts of the province and a targeted approach to attracting immigrants.
The strategy says there will be a focus on countries and regions that have workers with the skills and transferable credentials to meet labour market needs.