New Brunswick

Parties break 'silence' on immigration questions — except for PCs

Amid concerns that immigration hasn't become an issue leading up to Monday's election, the New Brunswick Multicultural Council now has some insight into where the parties stand.

Progressive Conservative Party did not respond to questions about immigration, but other parties did

Four of the five parties responded to questions from the New Brunswick Multicultural Council about where they stand on immigration. Frome left, NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, Green Party Leader David Coon, People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin and Liberal Leader Brian Gallant. (Marc Grandmaison/The Canadian Press)

Amid concerns that immigration hasn't become an issue leading up to Monday's election, the New Brunswick Multicultural Council now has some insight into where the parties stand.

Economist Richard Saillant has called the silence around immigration during this campaign "deafening" and said it is crucial that New Brunswick communities ramp up the number of newcomers from about 3,000 per year to 9,000 or 10,000 a year.

Alex LeBlanc, executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, took part in a tour of 15 communities this spring with Saillant and economist David Campbell and said it is a mystery to him why immigration isn't a priority.

"For some reason this issue of immigration or labour market growth hasn't been a prominent issue in the election, so I guess those would be questions for the parties themselves, why aren't you talking about these issues?"

Parties are asked 5 questions

"There really is no example of a growing economy around the world without also having a growing population," LeBlanc said.

Alex LeBlanc, executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, says the province should be aiming to recruit one per cent of its population, or about 7,500 immigrants every year. (New Brunswick Multicultural Council)

"So if we are talking about growing the economy in New Brunswick, we're not having a full discussion unless we're talking about how we're going to bring more people here, and how we're going to grow our workforce and our tax base."

In an effort to find out more about where the parties stand, the multicultural association sent five questions to each political party.

The responses to the questions are published in full on the association's website, with the Progressive Conservative Party failing to respond by the deadline.

Liberals focus on pilot project

In its response, the New Brunswick Liberal Association focused on the province's participation in the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project.

The federal project, launched in March 2017, was introduced to bring more skilled workers to the region by quickly identifying employers who need workers and reducing permanent resident processing time to six months or less. 

New Brunswick's quota for 2018 under the program is 1,046 spots for immigrants and refugees. So far 796 spots have been filled.

The Liberals, led by Brian Gallant, say they're already bringing newcomers to the province through a federal pilot project on immigration. (James West/Canadian Press)

The Liberal association said it would target immigrants to work across the province as home-care workers and to attend New Brunswick schools as foreign students.

"A re-elected Liberal government will also work with professional associations to develop fair, reasonable and consistent practices to recognize foreign credentials."

Green Party to lobby Ottawa

In its response, the Green Party of New Brunswick promised to lobby the federal government for more provincial control over immigration.

Green Party Leader David Coon says he would press Ottawa for more control over immigration in the province. (Jonathan Collicott/CBC News)

"We would ensure our immigration strategy targets enough francophones to maintain New Brunswick's 2/3s anglophone and 1/3 francophone makeup … as was recommended by the Official Languages Commissioner," the Green Party said.

"Reaching an agreement with the federal government ... would help us achieve this goal."

The Green Party also promised to set up newcomer services in at least six locations, to review rules around foreign qualifications, and to increase access to translators and psychologists for refugee children in New Brunswick schools.

NDP sees its policies luring immigrants

The NDP believes the same strategies that will stop young people from leaving the province will also encourage more immigrants to come.

The NDP, led by Jennifer McKenzie, says policies aimed at keeping young people in the province would also be attractive to immigrants. (NDP)

"Our platform commitments for a $15 minimum wage, affordable childcare and affordable post secondary education, including free community college and interest free student loans … not only will keep N.B. students here but will attract students from across Canada," the NDP said.

"These measures will be available to not just New Brunswick residents but all students from Canada and internationally who will come to New Brunswick."

In addition, the NDP would ask Ottawa to give New Brunswick more money to make the province an "immigrant destination."

"Immigrants must be supported in getting long-term stable employment and not just pushed to rural communities without adequate support."

People's Alliance answers 1 question

The five questions the N.B. Multicultural Council asked the political parties ranged from what the party's objectives were for population growth to how it would support newcomers in rural areas.

Kris Austin, leader of the People's Alliance delivered the party platform in Riverview to about a dozen supporters. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

The People's Alliance answered only the first question, about its strategies related to future immigration levels.

"The People's Alliance supports our immigrant community as well as the need to fill vacant job postings with skilled immigrants. We believe in the variety of cultures that make New Brunswick rich and vibrant and we will continue to work with those who are new to this province."

Canary in the coal mine

LeBlanc said the multicultural council will not support an individual party.

Instead members will work with the next government to address the "serious and urgent" issue of immigration.

Everybody knows one another — your parents went to school together, when you run into people at the grocery store they ask how your cousin is … and when you're a newcomer it's really hard to break in.- Alex LeBlanc , New Brunswick Multicultural Council

"We're actually the only province across Canada that saw a decline in population between 2011 and 2016, so many refer to us as the canary in the coal mine," LeBlanc said.

"This is really about welcoming new workers, new entrepreneurs, into our economy … so it's both an economic project and a social project."

LeBlanc said rural areas can struggle to welcome newcomers simply because small communities are so tight-knit. He pointed to a study of the Acadian Peninsula that showed 93 per cent of the people in the area are at least third-generation residents.

"It means that everybody knows one another — your parents went to school together, when you run into people at the grocery store they ask how your cousin is … and when you're a newcomer it's really hard to break in.

"We have to talk about all of those pieces as part of a discussion about immigration, which is part of a discussion about the economy."

About the Author

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for nearly 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please e-mail: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

with files from Shift