P.E.I. needs more power to attract immigrants, premier tells chamber

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 22, 2014

Premier Robert Ghiz

©Canadian Press photo

Premier Robert Ghiz and his Atlantic counterparts are pushing Ottawa for more power when it comes to immigration.

Ghiz told the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that the Atlantic premiers, who will be meeting in Charlottetown this summer, would like to bring more immigrants in.

Right now, the federal government caps the number of immigrants provinces are allowed to bring in. In P.E.I., the number is around 460 this year.

“We believe if we’re going to grow our economies, grow our populations that immigration is extremely important,’’ Ghiz told The Guardian after speaking at the chamber’s annual general meeting. “We want to see our numbers be able to rise so that we’re able to grow.’’

Most immigrants these days tend to prefer the larger cities such as Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

“I think if the federal government was able to give us more of a cap in terms of the amount of immigrants that we’re allowed to bring in per year it would give us more of an opportunity — one, to grow our population and also to retain those immigrants.’’

Ghiz said the province’s economy is in pretty good shape overall, with real GDP growth expected this year around 1.5 per cent. The labour force, he noted, has expanded by 2.4 per cent while the number of jobs created is up 8.4 per cent since 2007.

The bioscience sector is one area of the province’s economy that’s growing. Employment has increased from 750 people in 2009 to nearly 1,000 last year.

The premier also noted that the IT and aerospace sectors are growing as well. But, he said, P.E.I. can’t rely on natural resources like Alberta, Saskatchewan or Newfoundland and Labrador.

So Ghiz says one of the areas that the province needs to focus on is bringing more people in.

The premier said auto sales rose 12 per cent in 2013 and immigrants are buying a lot of them.

Tingting Hu, an immigrant who graduated this month from UPEI, was at Wednesday’s chamber meeting. Later, she told The Guardian that P.E.I. would retain more immigrants if there were more opportunities for them here.

“I think we need internship opportunities because we always get asked ‘Do you have related work experience in the position you are applying for?’,’’ Hu said, noting that many are just coming out of school and haven’t had the chance to gain experience.

“That does not mean that we don’t learn or that we’re not capable of doing the things in the job description. We just need the opportunity to start and learn and then we’ll be good to go.’’

Hu said she would like to see more entry-level jobs, to start with, that don’t require Canadian citizenship.

“A mentorship would be nice. I think the chamber is trying to do something about that.’’

The chamber is putting emphasis on mentorship for entrepreneurs but Hu wants to see a program for those coming out of UPEI and Holland College.