Federal election candidates in Sault Ste. Marie share their views on immigration programs and what their party would do to meet the city's goals if elected Oct. 21.
The city’s top officials believe that if Sault Ste. Marie is able to develop and enhance the city’s labour market, the community will grow.
Part of the city’s plan includes attracting immigrants with specific job skills through a federal immigration pilot project.
Federal candidates seeking to represent Sault Ste. Marie in Ottawa all agree that the city has a welcoming community and organizations, volunteer groups and churches working to help immigrants settle comfortably in the Northern Ontario city.
Liberal incumbent Terry Sheehan, Conservative challenger Sonny Spina, New Democrat Sara McCleary, Green Party candidate Geo Mclean and Peoples’ Party of Canada’s Amy Zuccato agree immigration could help the city’s demographic woes.
Sheehan said the Liberal government has worked closely with municipalities on the immigration issue.
“I have worked closely with the mayor and council and know that this is a priority for our community and I advocated for the pilot project and we have been successful,” he said.
Sheehan says he’ll continue to work with the municipality to ensure that the pilot project is implemented and that immigrants quickly experience the welcoming community.
Sheehan said he brought the immigration minister to Sault Ste. Marie where a round table was held to show him the services available here and how business, industry and community comes together to create a good environment. It was business that drove the call for the pilot project and the Liberal government responded.
“One direct job creates about 12 others so we know that this pilot project will strengthen our economy which in turn makes our community more vibrant and welcoming and makes for a stronger Canada,” he said.
Spina, whose family immigrated to Canada in 1967, said he’s done his own work to ensure that immigrants feel welcome in Sault Ste. Marie. He led a hockey day where new Canadians played Canada’s sport with police and military personnel. The event showed immigrants that police and military in Canada differ from other countries and are approachable and helpful and immigrants got to learn the game of hockey. It also resulted in sharing and teaching each other, he said. “It’s something I definitely want to continue.”
“I love the response Sault Ste. Marie has had to immigrants. We’re an opening and welcoming community,” he said. “I will continue to support immigration to Sault Ste. Marie and Canada as a whole so that we can grow.”
McCleary wants to see the pilot project made permanent. She also believes greater efforts need to be made to ensure that immigrants know there are jobs in Northern Ontario and that they don’t have to stay in the larger cities.
“Communication and sharing the information and making sure they know they are welcome in the Sault is key,” she said.
Mclean believes it is vital to ensure that there is good transportation flowing across Canada. Whether immigrants land on the east or west coast or in Toronto, they can easily get to other communities, including those in Northern Ontario.
The Green Party will also review licencing requirements for immigrants to ensure that professional licencing requirements are streamlined and immigrants can meet those qualifications.
It’s also important, he said, to allocate more funding for English and French language training for immigrants.
Zuccato said the PPC wants to increase the number of economic immigrants to fill the gaps left in the workforce by retirees and have the skill set to fill the jobs that Canadians cannot fill.
She also believes it is important that workers learn by experience, not just through text books, especially in the manufacturing industries like steel and lumber.
“Apprenticeships and coop programs need to be expanded or else we will have 44 per cent of our workforce retiring and that knowledge will go with them,” she said. “These retirees don’t have book knowledge. They have specific on-the-job knowledge that needs to be transferred to young workers.”
It’s the role of the federal government to ensure that criteria are set to allow immigrants to work in Canada. That’s a factor that’s paramount to the success of the pilot project to be launched in Sault Ste. Marie.
Sheehan agrees it is necessary for immigrants have the necessary skill set needed to fill the jobs available here, including all skilled trades, doctors and health care professionals.
He said the immigration pilot project works well with the recent health care announcement that will ensure doctors and health care professionals come to communities like Sault Ste. Marie to fill the void.
Spina said Canada currently has a major process to transfer skill sets to use here and a Conservative government will simply that process but still ensure that Canadian standards are met to allow immigrants to transfer their skill sets here and find jobs they are qualified for.
It’s also important, he said, to ensure that there is English and French language training across Canada to help immigrants and many programs are already occurring through church groups or local organizations. It’s also important that the language skills be developed in order for immigrants to understand and communicate the terminology used with specific jobs and skills.
Spina said that in order to help businesses, the Conservatives also believe that it is important immigrants have necessary licencing before receiving jobs – like driver’s licenses and safety training certificates – so it doesn’t cost businesses money to get them ready for the job.
McCleary said streamlining credentials of immigrants to ensure they are working in their profession is important. She believes that too often, getting proper licencing and credentials for immigrants takes too long.
Mclean says there are already about 200,000 people across Canada who do not have official status here.
“We need to provide pathways so those people can get their permanent residency a little easier,” he said.
The Green Party also wants to establish criteria for environmental refugees. With climate change and its effect on rising sea water or shifting lands, Mclean said there will be the surge of the environmental refugee in coming years.
“We need to advocate for their inclusion and establish criteria for them to immigrate here,” he said.
Zuccato said her party believes that immigrants should only fill the holes within the economic system and that systems need to be put in place to ensure they can integrate in society and understand Canada’s values.
She said encouraging immigrants to move to the North is one of the greatest challenges and better promotion of the services and lifestyle of smaller communities is important.
Immigrants can’t come into Canada and be successful on their own. They need support networks to help them settle here.
All the candidates agree that support networks need to be developed at the municipal level and Sault Ste. Marie has many already in place to help immigrants settle comfortably.
“I support these programs and the guidance they give to immigrants and we would guide immigrants towards them so they can get the assistance they need to settle in our welcoming and caring community,” Spina said.
Sheehan said the Liberal government has “created a grassroots approach by ensuring the services are readily available in the community to help immigrants settle,” and that’s why Sault Ste. Marie was one of the chosen communities to participate in the pilot project.
“We have some advanced programs here and we are very strong in that area,” he said.
In order to help bridge the gap for immigrants, the Green Party wants to increase English and French language training funds.
It also wants to work with municipalities to help integrate new Canadians into communities.
Mclean said by increasing funding for multi-cultural associations and linking those associations to social services, immigrants will have an outlet for commodore and have easier access to the services or counselling they need to adapt to their new home.
McCleary said that while the city’s newcomer settlement program in Sault Ste. Marie is good, it’s important that those programs are properly funded and the federal government should support those programs.
Zuccato said the federal government’s role is to promote integration and ensure that municipal programming exists to help immigrants settle in a community.
“We wouldn’t put up any barriers to anything like that because we want to see them integrated into our community and we all get along,” she said.
Most of the candidates agree that there is no magic number of immigrants that should be permitted into Canada annually. That number needs to fluctuate depending on a number of circumstances ranging for Canada’s jobs needs to global issues.
Zuccato said the PPC’s policy is that immigrant limits should be set between 100,000 and 150,000 annually, depending on Canada’s economic situation.
“If the flood gates are open, then we risk having inflated numbers of immigrants and that will diminish the fabric of Canadian society and we don’t want to lessen our values or put undue hardship on our social or health care systems,” Zuccato said. “It’s dangerous because we could do harm to Canadians.”
Instead, Sheehan counters that it’s the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that immigration is happening in a responsible manner by offering a robust application process with proper screening procedures.
As chair of the Northern Ontario Liberal Caucus, Sheehan said he’s pleased Sault Ste. Marie and other Northern Ontario communities have been selected to be part of the pilot project and it will help the growth of the economy.
“It’s important for the economy, now that we’ve made strong investments in infrastructure and through FedNor announcements which total close to a quarter of a billion dollars. Now we need the skilled trades and other professionals to fill those jobs, those roles, to continue growing Canada,” he said.
Spina said it’s been well documented that Canada – and Sault Ste. Marie’s – population is shrinking and immigration is needed to fill the jobs available and grow the Canadian economy.
But, the said, it’s also recognized that government needs to put an end to illegal border crossings to ensure that Canada’s system is fair and equitable.
“We need a system to prioritize the refugees that are suffering from true prosecution and at the same time restore fairness, order and compassion to our immigration system,” he said.
The process has to be fluid and government needs to ensure immigration policies change as needed.
“Our diversity is our strength,” Spina said. “We are faced with the retirement of our baby boomers and right now we need to invite the best and brightest from around the world to come to Canada to fill those positions.”
McCleary said “we recognize Canada is stronger when we welcome immigrants and we need that population to fill jobs and sustain our population and grow it.”
She believes that immigration should be a large part of any government’s policy and should focus on what is right for Canada as a whole.
Mclean also expects that number to constantly shift, depending on the needs in Canada and the shifting needs of other countries.
The federal election is Oct. 21.