As the number of immigrants settling in other parts of Canada continues to climb, New Brunswick needs to take "leaps" to catch up and attract newcomers, the province's multicultural council says.

The 2016 census numbers show that immigrants in Canada have reached their highest level in almost a century, making up 21.9 per cent of the population.

In New Brunswick, however, only 4.6 per cent of residents were born outside Canada, barely an increase from 4.5 per cent in 2011.

Just over 9,000 immigrants arrived in New Brunswick in that time-frame.

"That's a sign we're doing the right things and the investments are working, that more people are attracted to New Brunswick and more people are staying," said Alex LeBlanc, executive director of New Brunswick's Multicultural Council.

"We're really just taking steps in this direction towards growing our population … the time for steps has passed and really New Brunswick needs to take leaps towards growing our population."

'If we're not all rowing in the same direction, people might have negative experiences when they come, and choose to move elsewhere.' -Alex LeBlanc

Across Atlantic Canada, immigrants make up 4.8 per cent of the population. The national proportion is five times that, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data. 

Ontario has the highest proportion of immigrations, with almost a third of its population, 29.1 per cent, born abroad.

"The time for steps has passed and New Brunswick needs to take leaps towards growing our population," he said. "We need to be more ambitious."

So how does New Brunswick catch up?

LeBlanc said it's important immigrants find opportunities when they arrive in New Brunswick, so they feel at home and there's a full understanding of Canadian culture.

A group effort

While there needs to be investment in the services that would help this process along, the broader community also needs to play a role in reaching out and making people feel welcome, he said. 

If not, he said, people might have negative experiences and choose to move elsewhere. 

"It takes all public institutions and a broader community in reaching out and making people feel welcome, including government departments that provide, municipalities, whether those are employers educational institutions," he said.

"If we're not all rowing in the same direction, people might have negative experiences when they come, and choose to move elsewhere."

LeBlanc also applauded the New Brunswick provincial nominee program, which selects and nominates qualified business people and skilled workers from around the world to will live in New Brunswick and contribute to the local economy. 

"We didn't have direct streams to bring people to our province," he said. "We had national streams … and naturally going to the places they knew in Canada."

Right now, he said, the council is becoming more precise in aligning people that are coming with specific opportunities and communities.

LeBlanc used the example of thousands of jobs that aren't being filled in New Brunswick's local labour market. Employers are trying to use immigration as a means to solve the shortage, but if they can't, they might relocate, he said. The ripples would affect taxpayers, businesses and government. 

Now, employers will play a larger role in helping families come and integrate into the workforce, housing and supporting the whole family.

"It's finding people internationally looking for what we have to offer and engaging stakeholders in New Brunswick so we connect those dots," he said.​

 

With files from Éric Grenier