Cape Breton Voices | New Dawn’s Goal? 2,000 Newcomers Per Year
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New Dawn’s Goal? 2,000 Newcomers Per Year

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New Dawn’s Goal? 2,000 Newcomers Per Year

Erika Shea, vice president of development for New Dawn Enterprises

Erika Shea

Erika Shea, vice president of development for New Dawn Enterprises, says the community development organization plays two roles when it comes to immigration in Cape Breton.

The first is as the home of the Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration, which employs one of three settlement services counselors on the island, is funded by the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration, opened on 1 April 2016 and grew out of the Rural-Urban Immigration Pilot for Cape Breton (which the Spectatordiscussed with CBRM Councilor Amanda McDougall, who had worked on it, in the first installment of this series.)

Shea, who spoke to me at New Dawn’s Townsend Street offices last week, said the Rural-Urban project “identified the need for more settlement services face-to-face on the ground in Cape Breton” and, as a result, the island now has three settlement counselors — one at New Dawn;  a second employed through the Halifax-based YREACH program at the YMCA in Sydney and a third employed through YREACH in Port Hawkesbury.

The role of such counselors is to help immigrants to Cape Breton “get to know the community and get oriented,” said Shea:

Once newcomers arrive in the community, as long as they have their PR [permanent residency] or they’ve made application for their PR…or if they’re an applicant in the new Atlantic Immigration Pilot, then our settlement counselor can help them with housing, transportation, enrolling their kids in school, getting healthcare, a health card, driver’s license, grocery store…

Of course, immigrants to Cape Breton don’t all settle near settlement services counselors. I asked Shea what services were available to newcomers located in some of the island’s more far-flung communities:

Our settlement counselor and the settlement counselor in Port Hawkesbury both have a lot of discretion and budget so that they’re able to travel across the island and that’s been a role that we’ve really picked up with the Syrian families, in particular, who have kind of settled all over the place. Our settlement counselor will travel to Mabou, Port Hood, Chéticamp, periodically, to check in with them and provide the resources that they’re looking for based on the stage of settlement that they’re at at that time.

As you may remember from the first installment in this series, the need for more face-to-face services for immigrants was one of the chief concerns of Councilor McDougall. Another, though, was that the services on offer through the YMCA and the Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration are not available to the hundreds of foreign students studying a Cape Breton University (CBU), many of whom, she said, had expressed interest in staying here. McDougall laid the blame at the feet of the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration, which she said does not see foreign students as potential immigrants.

It’s a concern New Dawn shares, says Shea:

[W]e would absolutely see [foreign students] as potential immigrants but it doesn’t fit the nice, neat boxes of the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration. [Students] don’t have their permanent residency permits because they are students who are studying in the country. Now, if those students make it through their education, they graduate and they decide that they are going to give this a try, life in Cape Breton, and they get their post-graduate work permit…at that point, our settlement counselor can then start working with them.

But…it seems a little bit absurd that we would not be able to intervene and to begin the connection process the second that their plane lands at the airport. If we are desperate for people and they are here and they are prospective future residents…we should be connecting them with employers, identifying those businesses that are projecting a real succession problem in the next two to five years and, through their studies or through part-time employment, begin making those connections and helping those relationships to flourish.


CB Nominee Program

Shea characterizes the second role played by New Dawn in Cape Breton immigration as “a broader organizational mission and vision based on interest in depopulation and immigration.”

As a community development organization whose vision is a self-reliant people in a vibrant community, it becomes increasingly impossible for us, at…both an emotional and an intellectual level, not to be dealing with depopulation and immigration. So, we’ve assembled a small, internal team and have held a number of small, intentional community conversations about what is going on with depopulation and with the way in which the Nova Scotia government is administering immigration for the province.

As a result of these deliberations, New Dawn has spent the last year working to generate interest in a regional nominee program. It’s an idea the Spectator began exploring last week with McDougall, who made a pitch for it to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in October. Shea says New Dawn has been pitching it to local councils. The evening before we spoke, they’d been in Port Hawkesbury where she said the idea met a warm reception:

[W]e thought that we would really have to go out and sell…this nominee program and it was going to be quite an uphill journey…and it’s been such the opposite. When we started talking about our depopulation challenges and when we talk about our position — that we think that we need more authority to be able to attract the types and numbers of immigrants that we need — …it resonates immediately in a way that you know they’ve been thinking the same thing for a long, long time.

No discussion of Cape Breton population is complete without scary graphics, so here are a few from New Dawn’s regional nominee program pitch:

They reinforce what I was told about immigration by Daniel McNeil, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration:

Since 2012, Nova Scotia has welcomed over 16,000 immigrants. Of those numbers, close to 700 newcomers indicated they were settling in Cape Breton. That being said, the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration does not track when or where newcomers move. We recommend that you speak to a representative from Statistics Canada for that information.

New Dawn’s presentation, based on information from Statistics Canada, shows that between 2011 and 2016, Cape Breton received 3.50% of immigrants to Nova Scotia.

Shea says the problem is that Cape Breton has no authority to recruit its own immigrants and must depend on the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration:

[W]e’ve asked [the NS Office of Immigration] ‘When you are overseas and you are at job fairs and you are looking to attract newcomers to Nova Scotia, what does the case for Cape Breton look like? What is it that you are doing in particular to draw people to this region?’ And their response is, ‘Well, it’s not our responsibility to market Cape Breton…We are marketing the province.’ But we see what happens when they market the province — everyone settles in Halifax.

New Dawn’s proposed solution to this imbalance is a regional nominee program for Cape Breton:

[O]ur conclusion is that without a major policy structural intervention, there is nothing that would lead us to believe that that kind of disparity is going to naturally even itself out. And so, what we are looking for from both the province and the federal government is…the authority to operate a regional nominee program for the island of Cape Breton. It would be a pilot project for 10 years and every year we would have the authority and the capacity to go out and recruit, welcome, settle 500 permanent residents.

Shea says that assuming each of those applicants has a spouse or “a couple of children” they would be looking at bringing in 2,000 newcomers a year, which she says would “help to offset and then slightly turn back our average out-migration of 1,500 people a year.”


Recruit, retain

I asked the obvious question: if Cape Bretoners are leaving the island because they can’t make a living here, what will all these newcomers do? Shea said:

[I]mmigration can and does lead to economic development. Whereas, traditionally, I think the mainstream paradigm or perspective would be, you need economic development and then you can bring in immigrants — so, ‘You show me you have four jobs and I’ll let you have four immigrants if you can demonstrate that that job couldn’t possibly be filled by anyone near or far in the country.’

And we would contend that with a really well-designed immigration program, you could attract and settle people who were inclined to start small businesses and employ other people. And when we look at the data on Prince Edward Island, [which] has had a focused population and immigration strategy for the last 10 years, since 2006, what we see is two things: as their immigration levels have gone up, so have their total employment levels and in the Atlantic provinces right now…PEI is leading both in immigration and in the growth of its provincial economy. And the growth in the provincial economy began after their immigration numbers got bigger…

Shea also noted that PEI’s immigration program has four pillars — recruit, retain, repatriate and rural (apparently there is no verb that starts with ‘r’ that means “attract immigrants to rural communities”). The “rural” pillar was added recently in response to complaints from the province’s rural communities that they weren’t benefiting from the increase in immigration. Says Shea:

[T]he Prince Edward Island government…said that they were going to hire recruiters whose sole work was to recruit people to the rural areas of the province and to make those good matches between some of the seven billion people in the world and what rural Prince Edward Island has to offer.

Everything newcomers should know about PEI: official bird (Blue Jay), official flower (Lady Slipper), favorite literary character (Anne of Green Gables), official tree (Red Oak). Source: Online Guide for Newcomers to PEI 

I’d been reading about PEI’s success in attracting immigrants but had also read that it has been having problems retaining them. I asked Shea if retention is an issue New Dawn has considered:

I think in…PEI, it’s reasonable to watch and see if…their retention rates will improve over time. I think part of having good retention rates in the medium to long-term is attracting those people who are a good fit and who really understand what they’re coming to and who see…an opportunity and challenges that they’re willing to take on. And I think we would have to assume that, like PEI, the retention rates [in Cape Breton] might not be that great in the first couple of years but that it is something that would improve over time.

Coincidentally, Shea says the Cape Breton Partnership has recently launched a program that could help anticipate and solve retention issues. The Cape Breton Local Immigration Partnership program or “CB LIP,” which sounds like something you’re not supposed to give your mother but is actually a 30-member, cross-island council, has a mandate to:

…dig into what we’re doing now to integrate, welcome and settle newcomers and how we can do that better over time…[A]lthough it wasn’t planned as such, that is a nice complimentary piece that that soil is being tilled now and those conversations are happening now — with librarians and school teachers and police officers and doctors and nurses. How can we…become a more healthy, more diverse, more welcoming place?

Another lesson that could be learned from PEI — and could ultimately help with retention — says Shea, is to focus our recruitment efforts:

We’ve…learned from watching PEI but also from talking to people who are reflecting on PEI’s experience… if you could really focus your efforts on two or three countries, then you will be able to build those communities and the critical mass in those communities that allows them to internally support their own economies.

Shea points to the CBRM’s Asian grocery stores and businesses like Mian’s restaurant in Sydney as evidence that there exists “an increasing number of people on the island who would let those businesses be sustainable and be profitable.”

But mostly, Shea says the secret to retaining people will be to choose people who actually want to come to Cape Breton — people for whom the island is their first choice, not a gateway to a bigger center:

I think even here, anecdotally, increasingly you are meeting people who have somehow, they found their way here and they could never imagine leaving. So we know that with seven billion people in the word, if all we’re asking for is 500 of those seven billion, surely with some focused effort we could make a bit of a dent in this.

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