I participated in the Ward 5 Forum on Monday night with the other Ward 5 candidates for city council. It was great to meet the other candidates in person, and talk with constituents and respond to their questions. One thing that really struck me as I listened to the stories of each of the candidates, is that almost half of us began our lives in Canada as immigrants.
My family arrived in Edmonton from South Africa in 1974 when I was 7 years old.
We left a troubled country. It was a huge change for us: starting a new career for my father; for my Mom, engaging in a new community; for the kids, going to a new school and making new friends in a new culture.
These are not easy transitions, and take courage, but my parents brought us here because they believed we could create a better life. And we did. I believe each one of us – my parents and siblings – have felt a responsibility to contribute in return.
There are many people around the world who, like my family, come from far away to live and work in Canada:
- Investors and business owners/operators who see the opportunity in our politically stable and growing economy; these people in turn create jobs for Canadians, and contribute to Canada’s prosperity.
- Educated or highly skilled workers who do not have opportunity to put their trades to work at home; these people fill gaps in areas, such as health care, where demand for workers in Canada outstrips supply.
- Temporary foreign workers who come to earn a living, hoping perhaps to make Canada a permanent home; these people bring the dignity and willingness to work that our economy desperately needs to avert billions of dollars in lost productivity and foregone profits.
All of these newcomers come to Canada for the opportunity, and enrich our country in return. They help sustain economic growth, add to our cultural diversity, and often become very active and vibrant members of their new communities.
In Alberta, it is projected that there will be shortage of almost 100,000 workers by 2020. Alberta’s Occupational Demand and Supply Outlook provides a detailed breakdown by profession or trade. Of course, we must train and put to work those within our city, province and country who can help fill this, and be creative in doing so. We also must access marginalized groups who need support to get back in the work force, as well as stay-at-home parents and retirees who wish to re-engage in something less than full-time. But still, that will not be enough.
The programs and processes under which newcomers are permitted in Canada are under the federal government’s immigration jurisdiction, and not within the city or province’s direct control. We must therefore make our needs known to the federal government, since in the next four years alone the shortfall is projected to have an opportunity cost in Alberta of $33 billion dollars, and foregone personal tax revenue to the province and country of $6.8 billion.
Edmonton competes for newcomers with many other fine and inviting Canadian municipalities. As a city, we must ensure we have the infrastructure that will continue to attract newcomers and serve the growing population. As citizens, we must welcome newcomers, recognize their contributions, and make them feel at home and want to stay.
I will ensure that the newcomers to our city have opportunity: opportunity to work, opportunity to participate, opportunity to have as high a standard of living as possible, and opportunity to build a great life in Edmonton.