Attracting newcomers requires a team approach, says DeFehr

Staff ~ The Guardian
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CHARLOTTETOWN - One of the country’s more well known immigration activists says encouraging newcomers to come to P.E.I. and stay is a team approach.

Art DeFehr was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce annual president’s luncheon.

Art DeFehr was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce annual president’s luncheon.

By team, DeFehr is referring to the province’s business community and Islanders in general.

“Business needs to take a strong role and say we have to create the environment with jobs,’’ DeFehr said in an interview with The Guardian following his keynote presentation. “Government can manage the program but I think if they need to have that push behind them and support (from business).’’

DeFehr is the chief executive officer of Manitoba-based Palliser Furniture but he was also a catalyst behind Manitoba’s nominee immigration program which sparked a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants to the province since the late 1990s.

Attracting and retaining immigrants has become a major issue on P.E.I. as business leaders and government worry about declining birth rates and demographic changes.

DeFehr said society can help simply by making immigrants feel welcome, making them feel loved.

Craig Mackie, executive director of the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada, said it could be something as small as turning around and having a conversation with them, thanking them for being here.

“You’ve got a lovely spot here and because you’re small you have a better chance of being together,’’ DeFehr said, also noting that the flipside is that the province’s economy is also small and, thus, doesn’t create quite as many opportunities for newcomers.

He also noted that families tend to integrate into thecommunity better than individuals. Parents will put children into school, into groups and the parents themselves will become part of the community.

Not making immigrants feel welcome creates what DeFehrrefers to as “ghettos’’, where newcomers tend to associate with their own cliques.

“They form a social life outside of the mainstream and that’s not healthy. Europe has done that. Very tight-knit groups and a low level of skill and then you have ghettos. It’s not that they want to be loved, it’s that they want to find their place in society.’’

He said the cultural shock in getting used to life in a western society can be a jolt to the system.

“Someone from Ethiopia was telling me when they first came over here they went to McDonald’s and they ate a hamburger, including the paper (it was wrapped in). Those are the types of cultural (barriers) that peoplehave to cross.

But one thing is clear, as far as DeFehr is concerned:“Immigration is critical to the future success of Canada’’.

Organizations: Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, Palliser Furniture, P.E.I. Association for Newcomers

Geographic location: Canada, Manitoba, Europe Ethiopia

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  • Wingman
    June 27, 2013 - 10:53

    Instead of trying to bring every immigrant in the world into Canada why not try putting our own people to work first and there are plenty of them hanging around our local coffee shops. I am a pensioner tired of having part of my pension taken from me to support people who don't want to work while the governments solution is to bring immigrants in then take more money from me to support them. Immigration is also draining our already over taxed health care system.