Nova Scotia

Kenneth Rowe says immigration not the panacea for Nova Scotia

The head of one of Nova Scotia's largest and most successful businesses says the province needs to create jobs before it attracts immigrants.

IMP Group founder talks economy, job creation in Halifax

IMP Group founder Kenneth Rowe speaking to a crowd at Pier 21 in Halifax. (CBC)

The head of one of Nova Scotia's largest and most successful businesses says the province needs to create jobs before it attracts immigrants.

"It's all right bringing immigrants in, but you should get the jobs first. You know, what comes first — the chicken or the egg? In this case we should have jobs for them, otherwise they become a liability," Kenneth Rowe told a room full of business leaders and politicians at Pier 21 on Tuesday.

Rowe, the executive chairman of IMP Group International Inc., was the keynote speaker at a fundraising breakfast at Pier 21.

It wasn't exactly an uplifting speech.

"We all seem to be living in a fool's paradise in Nova Scotia," he told the crowd.

The province's workforce needs immigrants, Rowe said, but it's not an economic elixir.

"We have an aging and decreasing population so we need a continuing influx of suitable, taxpaying immigrants. But let me give a word of caution as I believe they should only be part of the solution," he said.

"Training our own young Canadians, including immigrants, in skill sets that match job openings available to them in our local industries keeps more of them in Nova Scotia."

The England-born businessman immigrated to Halifax in 1964. IMP Group International Inc. is known for attracting aerospace and aviation experts from the United Kingdom.

Trouble keeping people

Rowe also referred to the Ivany report, an economic development report that said the number of people admitted to Nova Scotia annually — currently about 2,300 — should be tripled.

"Immigration is a very important part of the workforce solution as is stated in the Ivany report. But for large employers, such as IMP, we have to be very careful how we hire them," Rowe said.

When his company was grappling with a worker shortage, he set his eyes on English-speaking, British-trained apprentices. He made 171 employment offers and accepted 94 applicants. Of the 94, only 67 relocated.

Rowe said many people couldn't sell their homes, battled immigration paperwork or didn't move because of family ties. Of those who did move, some people left because of homesickness and loneliness.

Now, Rowe's company concentrates on training people in Nova Scotia.

"It's disconcerting to me that the majority of the last 1,000 workers to join IMP over the last year or two do not live or pay taxes in Nova Scotia as we have grown across Canada," he said.

Lena Diab, the province's minister of immigration, said everyone agrees growing the economy is critical to Nova Scotia's future.

"We feel enhanced immigration is a crucial component in the future success of Nova Scotia and will help us grow the economy," she said in a statement.

"Mr. Rowe spoke to the importance of our business community playing a fundamental role in creating the growth that will keep Nova Scotians at home and attract people from around the world to our province."

Robyn Webb, director of labour market development with the Greater Halifax Partnership, also agrees with Rowe that the province needs jobs for newcomers, but adds there are lots of opportunities in the hidden job market that immigrants might not be aware of.

Her group helps immigrants and international students connect with job opportunities.

"Eighty per cent of the jobs are going unadvertised. It's quite often who you know to even find out about those jobs," she said.

"There are opportunities for immigrants searching in Halifax and we just need to make those connections for them in the hidden job market. And that's just one job at a time."

Fix the deficit, says Rowe

During his speech, Rowe also turned his attention towards Nova Scotia's finances and said he was frustrated "just watching our successive governments failing to balance their budgets and borrowing money on our behalf, which we irresponsibly cannot repay during our generation."

"Apart from stimulating immigration and new jobs, we have a major financial structural problem we must face with some degree of urgency, which is our growing provincial debt of $15 billion," he said.

"Nova Scotia reminds me of a quote from Ernest Hemingway on how did you go bankrupt, at two speeds: gradually, then suddenly."

Rowe said the incurring interest is better spent on health care, education and job creation.

"We should not continue to paint the mast we have a hole in the boat," said the former sailor.

"I think it's time for the three political parties to give their political agendas a rest for awhile and all work together with the private sector to get our economy afloat and growing again, like a war time effort — as no one will do it for us."

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