Nova Scotia

Scott Brison wants Atlantic Canada to drop come-from-away label

Nova Scotia's senior federal cabinet minister, Scott Brison, has provoked debate by suggesting the phrase 'come from away' should be banned from the Atlantic Canadian vocabulary.

CFA attitude discourages immigrants from coming to region, MP says

Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison is urging Atlantic Canadians to stop calling newcomers "come from aways". (CBC)

Glynn Williams remembers the wariness and distrust he faced 11 years ago when he started buying properties in Guysborough, N.S.

"There were some vocal people ... who said, 'Who's this guy from Toronto, and who does he think he is buying up the town?"' said Williams, who spent 20 years running a Bay Street equity firm before bringing his entrepreneurial zeal to the economically depressed community.

They called him a CFA — a "come from away."

Ban CFA from vocabulary

It's an enduring slight that — to some — speaks volumes about Atlantic Canada's apprehensive attitude toward newcomers and its legendary cliquishness.

Now, Nova Scotia's senior federal cabinet minister is on a mission to change that.

In recent weeks, Scott Brison has provoked debate by suggesting the phrase should be banned from the Atlantic Canadian vocabulary.

Glynn Williams, owner of Atlantic Seacoast, says people eventually warmed to his investments. (CBC)

"It's in our collective interest, economically and socially, to not use terms that reflect a negative view of people who choose to make Atlantic Canada their home," the Treasury Board President said in an interview from his home in Cheverie, N.S.

For Williams, local attitudes softened over the years as he invested more than $20 million into the town under his Authentic Seacoast brand.

But he said his experience — "There were quite a few folks who were either suspicious, hostile or indifferent" — led him to conclude Atlantic Canadians must learn to embrace newcomers if they hope to offset the economic fallout caused by a rapidly aging population.

Brison said a change in attitude is required as part of a larger strategy that includes new immigration measures aimed at changing what he called "a terrifying demographic trend line."

Nova Scotia's population, for example, is expected to decline over the next 20 years as young people continue to leave the province to search for work. By 2036, the province expects to have 100,000 fewer working-age people than it did in 2010, says a report released in 2014.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the oldest age profile of any province, and Nova Scotia is a close second, says the report, written by a panel led by Acadia University president Ray Ivany.

The report recommended that the number of immigrants admitted annually to Nova Scotia — about 2,300 — should be tripled.

"Nova Scotians appear to be very positive about newcomers from other parts of Canada but somewhat less welcoming to immigrants," the report said. "There is a segment of the population that believes that immigrants take away jobs from other Nova Scotians."

'It takes a while to fit in'

Earlier this week, the Atlantic premiers announced details of a first-in-Canada pilot project designed to boost the region's flagging economy by ensuring newcomers don't join the steady stream of outmigration to other parts of the country.

When the plan was announced, Brison made a point of wagging his finger at those who still speak ill of CFAs.

"I have been told repeatedly by people who have moved to Atlantic Canada ... that it takes a while to fit in. We've got to do more to welcome people here."

No warm welcome

Howard Ramos, a political sociologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said opinion polls suggest Maritimers are open to the idea of accepting more immigrants.

"But the one thing we haven't managed to grapple with is .... that, for newcomers, they haven't always felt that warm welcome," he said. "We have to realize that when we're a multicultural society, it's a give and take. It's not just a matter of everyone fitting in the same box."

The recent arrival of thousands of Syrian refugees in Atlantic Canada, which appeared to be handled with great efficiency, showed the region is eager to respond when outsiders need help, Ramos said.

As well, the professor said immigrants in the region typically land jobs at a higher rate than in other parts of the country.

According to Nova Scotia's Ivany report, the unemployment rate for immigrants in Nova Scotia was 7.4 per cent, compared with 10 per cent across Canada.

Economic reasons

Don Desserud, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island, said Brison may be on to something, but he suggested the minister's idea is misguided.

UPEI political science professor Don Desserud says mistrust of strangers is common to rural areas everywhere. (Kevin Yarr/CBC)

The insular notions that Atlantic Canadians have about outsiders — particularly those from other provinces — represent a symptom of a much larger problem: the region's economic stagnation since Confederation, he said.

"That insecurity gets triggered by people who [Atlantic Canadians] believe are looking down at them," Desserud said, adding that the solution to the problem is spurring economic growth, not making residents feel bad for the way they express their resentments.

"I don't know that repressing the symptom will actually alleviate the cause."

As well, the CFA phenomenon is not unique to the East Coast, he said.

The same sort of antipathy towards strangers can be found in virtually every rural community on the planet, he said.