This week Wade MacLauchlan, president emertis at UPEI, played host to public policy leaders from across the nation at the third annual Palmer Conference. The subject of discussion was "Canada as a Leader in Immigration Policy and Practice" -- a subject of some familiarity to the Island and clearly of critical importance to our economy and medium-term sustainability.
One speaker suggested, "Immigration was as Canadian as hockey."It was not lost on conference attendees that all their ancestors had immigrated to the 'country of hockey' and helped to forge this nation; the only point of difference between attendees was how recent the migration to Canada.
On Thursday evening the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, presented his personal perspectives on what he felt respective regions of Canada required to succeed in attracting newcomers. His presentation distilled to three principles: policies, programs and people, the latter represents the results on the success of the two preceding strategies.
There were great examples of how provinces have assertively managed their population challenges through immigration. In Saskatchewan between 1970 and 2000 the province lost 800,000 people. Today the province views immigration as an imperative and their economy is flourishing as a result of policies, programs and people (and natural resources). In 2012 they were successful in attracting 12,000 newcomers to the province.
Manitoba experienced a similar challenge. In 1998 the province was in a bit of a funk, the Winnipeg Jets had just left the province and a burst of enthusiasm was required to advance the economy. A group of progressive business people got together and considered creative methods tostimulate their economy, immigration was acknowledged as a pillar for theirfuture.
Today, Manitoba accepts 12,000 PNP applicants and boasts a retention rate of 85 per cent, Saskatchewan proudly has an 86 per cent settlement rate. After five years of residence, newcomer home ownership exceeds Canadian citizens' average. Newcomers are adapting and greatly contributing to these progressive economies. The commitment to the province is not only represented in population growth, but experiential growth and creativity expansion.
In both the above examples population growth is based on policy decisions and strong program delivery. P.E.I.'s challenges are unique only in the criticality of the situation. We are behind our provincial counterparts and more needs to be done now.
P.E.I. has a population deficit today. A deficit that cannot be replaced by localized births. We are well over a decade late to try and impact our population through births. As one presenter stated, "It takes 20 -years to create a 20-year-old." P.E.I. will need another method to stabilize our population and workforce; immigration has been demonstrated as the most effective method.
There were many progressive policy and programs offered at this year's Palmer Conference. My takeaway was that Canadian provinces all recognize the importance and criticality of progressive immigration policies. As a society, we need to have creative dialogue amongst all community leaders on how to develop effective programs if we are sincere about attracting andretaining people.
It is also abundantly clear that the time for action is now and our short-range future will be reflective of the vision, commitment and approaches we develop today.