PORT HOOD: Cape Breton is losing, on average, 800 people every year. The Cape Breton Partnership wants to change that.
“As the number of deaths exceeded the number of births in Canada, immigration will become a priority source of population growth and labour-force replacement,” said Omar Tag El-Din, of the Cape Breton Partnership (CBP).
The CBP has three initiatives in the works to draw immigrants to the island. Council was told about those initiatives during its December meeting last week.
El-Din is the Program Lead of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, an approach to address labour market challenges by attracting and retaining recent graduates and foreign workers.
Presenting with him were Kailea Pedley, coordinator of Cape Breton Local Immigration Partnership (CBLIP), and Elva Zhou, coordinator of Cape Breton Connector Program (CBCP).
The immigration partnership is a collaborative initiative fostering welcoming and inclusive communities. The connector program looks to match businesses with working professionals.
“Immigrants are more likely to start their own businesses than the Canadian born and export to countries other than the U.S.,” Tag El-Din said. “Economic immigrants tend to be healthy professionals between 20 and 55 years of age, who depend less on social assistance and health care than the Canadian average.”
Council was in generally favorable to the idea of having newcomers come to the island, but they had some specific questions about how Inverness County could benefit.
Councillor Jim Mustard noted immigration calls for building communities in ways that overlap with infrastructure requirements.
“Besides getting a job, how do you get around? How do you meet people? How do you feel included in the community? I’m just saying our advocacy for this whole picture needs to come together,” he said.
“We’re at the research and planning stage now,” Pedley said. “From there, we’ll develop an island-wide settlement strategy that defines how we welcome new people.
“I think we can choose a couple of priority areas and start a couple of projects while we do our due diligence on the research piece.”
Deputy Warden Alfred Poirier mentioned that the fish plant in his area is in desperate need of seasonal workers. Such workers are also required at a number of other county businesses, such as Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs.
Tag El-Din said that the immigration plan is looking to match individuals with full-time jobs in Atlantic Canada, but those individuals often come with families.
“If you get one or two families with children, they can fill the seasonal jobs while you have the principal applicant fill the full-time job,” he said. “So, the opportunity is there, but we do need to fill the full time position.”
Councillor John MacLennan asked what the chances of recruiting doctors to rural areas would be, under the CBP’s programs.
“We have to extenuate what Cape Breton as a whole has to offer,” Tag El-Din said. “It’s their [the contractor’s] job to market themselves saying they want a doctor who wants the outdoor life. It’s an employer responsibility.”
Zhou mentioned that her Connector Program makes sure that good candidates are connected to employers.
All three presenters said the municipality can help the effort in a number of ways.
Participating in CBLIP working groups and communicating those values to the community is one way, setting up a committee that addresses diversity and inclusion is another. Sharing information about immigration and newcomers in the community would also be valuable.