Skilled immigrants and Ontario small business: A natural fit

Provincial governments are offering small businesses hiring and other incentives aimed at employing skilled immigrants, seeing this is a benefit for both groups.

The Ontario Liberal leader's fairly modest election promise in September — a one-time, 10 per cent wage subsidy to hire new immigrants — certainly kicked up a political fuss.

Editorial writers, bloggers and especially Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak all complained mightily about the affirmative action precedent that this $12 million in tax credits would create.

But regardless of who wins the Oct. 6 election, some version of Liberal Dalton McGuinty's incentive plan is almost certain to be enacted in the months to come.

That's because, stripped of partisan rhetoric, McGuinty's (maximum $10,000) incentive for business to hire and train skilled new immigrants is not far off Hudak's own newcomers' employment opportunity plan. A Hudak government would subsidize business (again 10 per cent of wages) to teach occupation-specific language and other cultural skills to new employees.

Skilled labour: a regional look

  •  In Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax roughly 80 per cent of immigrants are working age (15-64), compared to 60-70 per cent of native-born Canadians.
  • Montreal's recent immigrant population is younger on average, 55 per cent are between 25 and 44.
  • Calgary and Toronto receive the highest number of professionals, about 55 per cent of new arrivals.
  • Halifax receives the highest proportion of managers, about 33 per cent of new arrivals.
  • In the larger centres, about 30 per cent of recent immigrants have a bachelor's degree; about 15 per cent have a master's or PhD.


More importantly, what all these plans have in common is a desire to link what are often the two most popular themes in modern-day political campaigning — immigration and small business — in what some say is a natural fit.

"Ontario has a choice," businessman/philanthropist Alan Broadbent said recently. "We can treat immigration as a cost or a benefit."

If we choose the latter, he said, "we benefit from education that we have not paid for, we benefit from talent that is truly global in a rapidly globalizing economy."

Broadbent is the head of Avana Capital Corporation as well as the Maytree Foundation, a non-profit group interested in social issues that funds, among other things, a program called ALLIES (Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies).

ALLIES has sponsored on-the-job mentoring programs for new immigrants in about a dozen Canadian cities and is also developing local groups called immigration employment councils to help businesses get a better understanding of just what skilled workers are out there and what they can do.

A campaigning Dalton McGuinty, the Ontario premier and Liberal leader, visits a solar plant in Toronto in September 2011. (Canadian Press)

It is aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses in particular, not just because these enterprises do the most hiring but because small concerns often don't have sophisticated HR or recruiting techniques to find and train immigrant labour.

That is where local employment councils and incentives, like the kind McGuinty and Hudak have put forward, play their part.

Incentives for new arrivals are not a new or un-Canadian thing, Broadbent argues. In an editorial on the Maytree Foundation website he points to the land grants to settle the Prairies in the early part of the last century as one example.

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More recently, Nova Scotia set up a special immigrant business loan program in 2009 to assist immigrant entrepreneurs who were having trouble establishing a credit history at Canadian banks.

The program allows immigrants who have lived in Nova Scotia for less than five years to borrow up to $150,000 to start and expand their small businesses and was expanded in August 2011.

In the Ontario vein, Quebec established a tax credit for new immigrant hires about four years ago. Some of the statistics from that: 64 per cent of the businesses involved had fewer than 50 employees; and 80 per cent of those hired were still employed three months after the subsidy ended.