Canada Is Not Fulfilling Its Refugee Promises

Nova Scotia immigration numbers for the first half of 2016 are up sharply, already exceeding 2015’s full year numbers. Good.

Growth in some of the province’s nominee programs and an influx of Syrian refugees were the key contributors. The federal government has an important role in each.

Success in attracting and retaining qualified economic migrants is crucial to our long term prospects. When provinces don’t play an active role, the vast majority of immigrants go to Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and, until recently, Alberta. The federal role has been primarily to screen people—a filter, not a facilitator.

Manitoba was the first of the other provinces to understand that actively seeking immigrants who would fit is much better than just waiting to see who shows up. They pioneered provincial nominee programs seeking people who would fit their economy’s needs. Starting before the immigrants arrive, they work with them to ensure a warm welcome and successful integration.

Other, smaller provinces have gradually followed this good example. Nova Scotians have been slow to recognize the importance of immigration to our future but, helped by the Ivany report, there is growing support.

Ivany called for 7,000 immigrants per year, a number less than 3% of Canada’s total—but was almost triple the average for 2009-2013.

Nova Scotia has developed nominee programs that enable foreign workers and students who are already here, and skilled foreign workers who have offers from employers unable to fill the jobs with Canadians.

Strangely, the federal government puts a cap on how many of these we can attract. The limit this year is 1,350 workers, who can bring their families. Manitoba has a much larger number—based entirely on the history, not the relative need.

The Nova Scotia limit is likely to be reached. One of the streams has been closed since December because of the flood of applications. In July, Ottawa announced a new program for Atlantic Canada that ‎will admit up to 2,000 additional immigrants and accompanying families in 2017, with rising numbers in the following years depending on performance.

This is moving in the right direction. The refugee numbers are going the wrong way.

Prime Minister Trudeau was applauded at the United Nations for announcing that Canada has taken in 31,000 Syrian refugees, a number that includes both government supported and privately sponsored refugees. He did not mention that the pace has slowed dramatically since March 1st and is far below the government’s commitments.

The government promised to bring 25,000 government supported refugees to Canada. Originally that was to be by the end of 2015, then by the end of February, then by the end of this year.

In fact, the end of 2016 number is unlikely to exceed 21,000. More government supported refugees arrived in the last week of February than have arrived since then.

Privately, sponsors have taken up some of the slack. In fact, since March 1st, there have been more refugees supported by them than by the government.

There is need and opportunity for Canada to do more. The northern European nations (for example, Germany with about a million, Sweden with 200,000) that were such generous receivers last year have had to largely close the doors due to political backlash; with the benefit of hindsight, they probably took too many too quickly.

Meanwhile, the need in Syria is still enormous. The week-old ceasefire has collapsed following the appalling bombing of a relief column destined for Aleppo. Millions of refugees are stuck in camps with nowhere to go. Canada can do far more.

Nova Scotia received 1,079 refugees in the first half of 2016, about triple the number in all of 2015. Lots of them came as big families, so we had 403 new students in our schools, most of them in Halifax. Among other benefits, that meant good work for about 20 teachers and teaching resource personnel.

Given the dramatic slowdown in arrivals, this success is not going to be repeated in the second half of the year—we averaged about 50 per month since February. At that rate, our numbers will fall far back next year.

We need to move in the other direction. Having harvested congratulations for making a tiny dent in the population of displaced Syrians, Ottawa needs to rediscover interest in being a leader.

As of September 11th, there are 3,754 approved refugees awaiting travel to Canada and a further 19,475 applications in process.

Nova Scotia alone could support and benefit from 1,000 or more refugees per year. For the country, we should aim for at least 2,000 per month, two and a half times the pace since February.

News reports tell us that Trudeau’s touting of our brief stint as a pace-setter for refugee acceptance was all about getting a UN Security Council seat in 2020. It shouldn’t be.

It is first and foremost about helping people living in desperate circumstances. In the process, we are also helping ourselves.

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