This month I’m taking a closer look at our chamber’s third of five policy priorities for 2023: immigration and population growth. In previous years, we thought about population growth and workforce development as being a single issue, but our position has evolved to see these two as distinct enough and important enough in their own right to advocate on them separately.
Growing New Brunswick’s population is foundational to sustained economic growth and the Fredericton chamber addresses this issue primarily through working closely with New Canadians and post-secondary students/institutions. It is important to keep the population growth momentum of the previous five years going – growing the population is required to fulfill our current and future labour needs, but it has benefits well beyond the workforce issue.
We cannot sustain our population in the province without significant and consistent immigration – not even close. Stats Canada reported in 2020 that the average birth rate in New Brunswick was 1.42 births per woman – a population needs about 2.1 or better to maintain its current population. In fact, Nunavut is the only jurisdiction in the country that is over that mark. So, we really do need those planned 500,000 newcomers per year for the country (and New Brunswick’s proportional share).
Since the arrival of the Syrian refugees in 2017, New Brunswick has seen our population growth year-over-year – up about 40,000 people since that time. Our average age has decreased by six months. Both big wins – but this growth (much like the pandemic) has also exposed some fundamental issues that threaten our continued growth – big issues like delivering effective healthcare, building adequate housing for all and providing high-quality education throughout the province.
More people mean even more strain on these systems, but we simply have to figure it all out – we still need consistent population growth and to continue to get younger as a province – and adding more people is the only way to do that. Of course we also want to repatriate more New Brunswickers and retain more youth but a clear-eyed evaluation of the situation inevitably concludes that immigration is going to be the biggest net gain.
We need to focus on both improving the process to attract newcomers, but also to be better prepared to receive and welcome immigrants to improve our retention rates. The current government systems – especially at the federal level – are slow and cumbersome, which has negative effects on both attraction and retention.
Ultimately, a job or opportunity to financially support themselves and their families is the biggest factor to retention and employers do play an important role with retaining newcomers. To this end, I want to encourage every employer to look at their strategies for human resources and hiring practices to ensure that they are thoughtful and intentional about benefiting their organization through diversity, equity and inclusion.
Doing things the way we’ve always done them is over – and good riddance. If employers haven’t had previous experience hiring or working with newcomers, they sometimes express apprehension with how a person might fit in or they might be intimidated with immigration processes and regulations. I can understand these concerns, but the answer is simply to raise their game – do a better job of learning and welcoming. Don’t skip over a resume if it has a name you don’t know how to pronounce, or a post-secondary institution outside of North America or lacks Canadian work experience. It might be outside their comfort zone, but that’s how we learn and grow as people and it’s certainly how we’re going to learn and grow as businesses moving forward.
The government also has a role to play of course. In our most recent brief to the provincial government, we made the following recommendations:
- Work with the federal government to streamline and simplify immigration applications and accelerate the approval process.
- Re-instate the provincial family reunification stream.
- Establish an independent oversight body that includes business representatives for policy- and decision-making on immigration matters such as whether to shut down an immigration stream.
- Create an “Immigration Ombud” position within government to help newcomers access the right services and advocate on their behalf within government, particularly in relation to entrepreneurial immigrants.
- Expand the availability for cultural competency training throughout the public and private sectors.
- Extend municipal voting privileges to permanent residents to encourage retention.
- Work with educational institutions and professional associations to accelerate and simplify foreign credential recognition, including micro credentialing which may help close the gap between qualifications and provincial standards. We were pleased to see the government pass the Fair Registration Practices in Regulated Professions Act in June of last year and hope to see progress on this important file soon.
It takes the whole community – business, government, citizens to create the welcoming environment that will retain people once they arrive. We can all do a better job collectively at helping soften their landing – starting with educating ourselves. I would recommend that everyone complete any cultural competency training that is available to you. As New Brunswick continues to rely on immigration, we’ll become increasingly diverse, making this type of learning and understanding even more important.
Beyond formal training there are a growing number of opportunities to learn about and appreciate cultures – there are 17 cultural associations listed on the Immigration Fredericton website – many host events and other learning opportunities, the city hosts a cultural expressions festival annually in the summer, there is an ever-growing number of food options throughout the community and organizations such as the Multicultural Association of Fredericton host events and provide other great outreach services.
No question there’s plenty of work to be done – but it’s necessary. We need population growth and immigration for the very practical reasons outlined – but let’s not forget that increasing the diversity in our communities is also a worthwhile and valuable end in itself. Newcomers bring new perspectives, ideas, cultures and enhance the quality of our community in so many ways. We need them, we want them, and they make us better.
Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with more than 1,000 members, is an active business organization engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the Canadian business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity’.