New Brunswick

Immigration alone won't solve economic woes, says prof

A political scientist at Mount Allison University says while encouraging immigration to Atlantic Canada is a good thing, it's only a Band-Aid solution to long-term economic prosperity.

Mario Levesque says more details also needed on how credentials from abroad will be recognized in N.B.

Mario Levesque teaches in the Politics and International Relations Department at Mount Allison University. He says immigration alone won't solve Atlantic Canada's underlying economic problem of an ageing and shrinking population. (Mount Allison University)

A political scientist at Mount Allison University says while encouraging immigration to Atlantic Canada is a good thing, it's only a Band-Aid solution to long-term economic prosperity.

Mario Levesque told Information Morning Moncton that immigration brings lots of benefits, but unless new Canadians stay in Atlantic Canada, it won't address the underlying regional issue of an aging and shrinking population.

"So that's why I say it is just a Band-Aid, because we are not going to foster any large growth … we'll just basically spin our wheels," said Levesque.

Levesque said no one in government seems to be looking at long-term population trends and how that will affect everything from health care and education to roads, especially if the provincial population drops to around 700,000 in the next 30 years.

Levesque said the government's plan seems to be to bring people in and hope the population stabilizes after immigrants arrive in the province.

Statistics Canada reports the province had a population of about 753,900 in 2015 and while New Brunswick set a 70-year record for population growth this year when it accepted about 2,000 Syrian refugees, the total population only went up by about 1,300 people.

Pilot project to boost immigration light on details

On Monday, the four Atlantic premiers and Ottawa announced a three-year pilot project to boost immigration to the region by admitting up to 2,000 immigrants and their families in 2017.

But Levesque said the announcement comes with little detail on how the program will work, especially when it comes to attracting skilled workers from abroad.

"I'd like to see some more details into exactly what type of skills shortages exist and how they will be attracting people to come here to fill those skills shortages," said Levesque.

Levesque said the province presumably has figures on what professional or critical skills are needed in New Brunswick, but said a quick internet search did not uncover a single document about that.

"It's not well publiciized. I think we have to do a lot of digging trying to find it," said Levesque.

"They all talk in general terms about a skills shortage. That could mean anything." 

Levesque said to attract the right people, the province needs to be more specific about what skills are missing from the current labour force and how the skills and professional credentials of immigrants will be recognized once they arrive.

Recognizing foreign credentials

"When we have large barriers between interprovincial labour mobility in Canada and someone from another province has great difficulty in getting their professional credentials recognized here in Atlantic Canada," he said. "If we can't do that within Canada, how are we going to try and do it with someone from another country?"

"We've all heard the examples around Canada where we have a medical doctor, for example, who comes here and ends up driving a cab. It's just a wastage of their skills."

Levesque would also like to see some assurances that immigrants who are considering Atlantic Canada as a new home are clearly told if and how their professional credentials will be accepted or verified here.

"Are they being told the correct thing, or is it after the fact, after they arrive here, then all of a sudden they find out all these intricacies and that their skills are not properly recognized," he said.

Typically, within three to five years at least half of immigrants to this region move to other provinces, said Levesque, either for better jobs or because there's a larger community of people from their home country elsewhere.

He said the province should try and foster better relationships between new immigrants and local communities to make newcomers feel more welcome so they'll be less likely to leave.