Decling population must be addressed

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As the population of the Maritimes continues to shrink, more energy needs to be put into attracting and retaining immigrants to the Atlantic region.

As the population of the Maritimes continues to shrink, more energy needs to be put into attracting and retaining immigrants to the Atlantic region.

That was the recurring message from several prominent speakers during a session at Mount Allison University's Atlantic Canadian economic conference on Friday afternoon.

Stephen Dempsey, president of the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce, said the Maritimes are lagging behind when it comes to population growth and "that's something we need to be taking seriously."

Although the Atlantic provinces held their own in the recent Statistics Canada population statistics, with a .5 per cent average growth rate, the other Canadian provinces saw much larger increases in their population.

As well, the immigration growth rate in the Atlantic region is on the lower end of the scale, said Dempsey, with immigrants only making up one per cent of the population.

"That's nowhere near what it should be," he said. "And we've got a lot of work to do on this issue….there's a lot of opportunity for us to grow in that area."

George Maicher, chair of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council and a lecturer at UNB, said the province is faced with an aging and shrinking population and putting more effort into immigration is a large part of the solution.

Maicher said the Atlantic provinces will benefit from greater immigration by having a more diverse population, more access to improved opportunities, further globalization, and an increase in entrepreunerial risk-takers.

Unfortunately, he said, the region has problems attracting immigrants here because they have no knowledge about the Maritimes and are instead more inclined to move to larger urban centers in Canada.

And that's where Nabiha Atalla comes in. Atalla, the chair of the Halifax Immigrant Learning Centre, helps new immigrants find their way into the workforce in the Atlantic provinces. And, she insists, that is the most effective way to ensure they stay here.

Through a work placement program and language courses, Atalla says most of the immigrants benefit from the 'short-term customized support' provided by the learning centre and are able to find appropriate employment based on their skills.

"We have extremely skilled, educated and flexible people coming here," she said, "and we have to think more about how to retain our immigrants. Because if we can retain our immigrants, then we can attract more immigrants."

Buquan Miao, another speaker at the seminar, spoke about what he thinks could be a solution to improve retention of immigrants - a Moncton China Village.

This pilot immigration cluster, located in Moncton, would be a great way for the Chinese community to develop in the region, he said, leading to retention and possibly attraction of more immigrants.

Organizations: Mount Allison University, Statistics Canada, New Brunswick Multicultural Council Halifax Immigrant Learning Centre

Geographic location: Atlantic, Moncton, Canada

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