Legend has it that when Persian refugees first landed on the shores of India, they were met by the Raja’s (king) messenger who was holding a full glass of milk.
The messenger told the refugees that the Raja has sent the glass of milk to represent India and that like the full glass of milk, India was also full and had no room for newcomers.
The Persian leader then took the milk, added sugar, stirred it until it dissolved and then returned it to the messenger.
He then said, “Tell your Raja, that we will be like the sugar, we won’t take up any extra room but we will sweeten what is already there.” They kept their promise.
The Persians thrived and today, continue to contribute to India’s cultural, industrial and civic landscape. Perhaps you have heard of a few: Freddy Mercury, Rohinton Mistry and Tata Industries (which owns a few small companies, such as Jaguar, Land Rover, and Air India).
So what does an Indian legend have to do with the election campaign in New Brunswick?
As with most elections, the upcoming New Brunswick provincial election has its key words: jobs, education, deficit, outmigration.
We’ve heard from each of the leaders, their plans to grow the economy, keep people in the province and tackle our new bankrupt economy.
These are honourable goals and certainly are reflective of our current political situation. However, among all of the strategies that have been delivered, debated and even derided, one word has received very little attention – immigration.
Like the Indian Raja, New Brunswick is ignoring the potential of immigration.
And why is that? Even a cursory glance of research on immigration (including that which comes from our own Population Growth Secretariat) strongly demonstrates that an increase in immigration will, not might, but will, help tackle one of New Brunswick’s biggest problems: the economy.
If this is the case, why doesn’t immigration have a place at the political table?
Take a stand
Immigration is a complicated topic for politicians. Not because of substance.
In fact, it’s pretty simple. Bring in people who are willing to start all over again to improve the lives of their children and future generations to a province that needs people, jobs and an increased tax base.
The complicated part is the misinformation. The flawed, and even hateful, arguments that immigrants take jobs, use more than they create and change our perceived identity.
These beliefs exist even when there is an abundance of examples to the contrary. For some reason, the illusion that our glass is full over takes the reality that immigrants could sweeten New Brunswick.
The role of our political leaders is to take a stance on immigration.
Each party needs to articulate in an honest and direct manner their thoughts and plans for immigration.
And they owe it to the voters to provide real and credible data on immigration so that we understand what’s at stake by not making immigration a priority in this election.
Invest in cluster immigration
Unfortunately, the majority of immigrants who do come to New Brunswick, don’t settle here.
Some of this has to do with limited opportunities but a lot more has to do with a lack of community and cultural supports.
Things have improved somewhat. Items such as ethnic foods, foreign films and newspapers are a lot easier to find that they were a decade ago.
However, everyone needs to feel a sense of community and part of that sense comes from being with people who share some our your history or culture.
Cluster immigration encourages not just one family, but rather multiple families from the same location to immigrate to the same place.
Research shows that in these situations, immigrants tend to stay. A perfect example is the vibrant Filipino community in St. George.
They arrived for jobs; however, rather than moving to urban locations, Filipinos in St. George have developed a sense of community that includes citizens of both their native and new countries.
They are staying, working, growing and adding to the economy.
I was recently involved in a study that examined newcomers’ experiences in New Brunswick.
'Let’s hope that our own leader has the same ability to realize the potential of newcomers to our shores and invite them, rather than turn them away.' - Manju Varma
Interviews and focus groups revealed services for newcomers as a labyrinth of offices, non-profit organizations and paperwork. Newcomers spoke of frustration, mistrust and wasted resources in their attempts to access the services that our government’s shiny immigration website promised them before they arrived.
Rather than spread the funds and energy through a variety of service providers, why not follow the Service New Brunswick model where all newcomer services are at one location?
Not only is this a more economically sound model, but also allows for the centralization of expertise and a higher chance of newcomer integration and success.
Support the structures that invite immigration
The greatest and saddest irony in this issue is that our province already has the structures in place to promote immigration: excellent universities, a bilingual province, a choice between rural and urban lifestyles, world-renowned companies and ACOA-funded programs for innovation and business
A premier who truly is committed to economic growth would seize the opportunity to support these structures as vessels of immigration.
This requires a close look at what policies can enhance the chance of newcomers coming and staying and working and building New Brunswick.
At the same time, we need a strong voice to speak out against decisions that can threaten immigration.
For example, the recent changes to the Foreign Worker Program deeply impacted many New Brunswick businesses and stemmed the possibility of foreign workers staying in New Brunswick and becoming contributing citizens, yet our provincial political voice was pretty quiet.
Unfortunately, some of the businesses were not so quiet and spoke of the possibility of moving to locations where they could find workers. How does this benefit our province?
Had the Raja not looked at his own newcomers from a different perspective, his country would have lost out on a lot of innovation, culture and opportunities.
Let’s hope that our own leader has the same ability to realize the potential of newcomers to our shores and invite them, rather than turn them away.