Published: May 09, 2019 at 6:31 p.m.
With an aging population and a lack of workers in rural Nova Scotia, immigrants seem to be the only solution to the labour shortage crisis, says Frank Anderson.
“We have expansions to do,” says Anderson, the corporate affairs officer for Riverside Lobster, Meteghan River. “We can’t do the expansions because we haven’t got enough employees to do what we’re doing right now.”
“In the private sector when opportunity knocks, you best take advantage of it or you’ll lose it,” he says.
The median age of the population in Nova Scotia is increasing and the baby boomers are all going to retirement. The big question is: “Where are we going to get workers,” says Anderson.
For many employers, immigration is the answer. They attended the Atlantic Immigration Summit Wednesday in Halifax. Almost 300 people representing corporations, non-government organizations, government agencies and immigrants, sat around tables to exchange ideas and experiences.
Anderson says his company has struggled for years with the limit that the federal immigration department put on the number of temporary foreign workers Canadian employers can hire.
The temporary foreign worker program was a “Band-Aid program,” Anderson says. “They put a cap … based on the formula they fixed up your cap is 10 per cent.”
His company has 300 positions. “ ‘You can bring 30.’ Well! I need 70,” Anderson says. “You have to look at this and say: Why are you doing this?”
However, companies can bring as many seasonal employees as they want for a maximum of six-month contracts.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Anderson says. “The government should always support the year-round companies by virtue of the fact, a year-round (company) … is more revenue for the government and for everybody.”
“In Atlantic Canada we are in a different context than the rest of Canada. We have the demographic challenge and we do not have a long history of diversity,” says Susan Chalmers-Gauvin, the CEO of Atlantic Ballet Canada. “We need to, very quickly, immigrate a lot of people and the IRCC (the federal immigration department) structure is not set up for that.”
The big breakthrough was the Atlantic immigration pilot put in place by Ottawa in 2016. “That was a recognition that Atlantic Canada was in a unique position, and needed a program could fast-track newcomers coming in,” Chalmers-Gauvin says.
Employers pushed politicians for that pilot.
“I know that program like the back of my hand because I fought to get that program,” Anderson says. “Every single year, more and more workers will come to us under that program, become permanent residents, and then we rebuild a labour force and the community in rural Nova Scotia.”
Immigration programs try to deal with labour shortages and gaps in labour but with making sure that immigrants won’t take jobs from locals, says Colin Fraser, the member of parliament for West Nova.
“There has been issues with the temporary foreign workers program … Myself along with a number of other MPs from Atlantic Canada advocated to start an Atlantic immigration pilot,” he says.
The pilot was initially launched as a three-year pilot, but the government extended it to the end of 2021 last March.
As of February 25, this year, there were 1,896 employers in the Atlantic provinces who made over 3,729 job offers to foreign workers, and there are already 2,535 approved permanent residents as a result.
“This has translated into 1,747 workers and their families, already in Atlantic Canada, to fill job vacancies and to help grow the economy,” the government announcement said.
“We want the Atlantic immigration pilot. It does work,” Anderson says. “It has problems still in it — the processing time … We’ll work on the problems.”
Anderson says the government should make it a “permanent program.”
The employers in rural Nova Scotia are working hard to keep the immigrant workers at the province after they land in Canada.
“We’re going to stay connected to our employees,” says Anderson. “We don’t bring urban to rural; it’s not going to work.”
To keep them in rural Nova Scotia, companies like Riverside Lobster start providing daycare and buses to work for the immigrant workers. These services “are cost of doing business” for Anderson.
His company looks for employees in the agriculture industries in countries like Chile, Mexico, Jamaica, Taiwan, Thailand and Philippines.
“Our competitors are U.S.A. … They can grab that same product,” Anderson says,
Working in rural Nova Scotia, Riverside Lobster is the first of its kind. Anderson says, “You’re looking at the capital for the country for lobster.”