It began in 2003 with the Hamm government’s rightful recognition of our ticking demographic time bomb. In order to defuse it, Nova Scotia desperately needed to attract more immigrants who would root themselves, their businesses and their families here.
But the fast-track solution spawned by those best of self-interested intentions quickly got tangled in our politics as all-too-usual. Untendered, closed-door contracts. The greed of too many in the business community who saw the newcomers as cash cows to be milked instead of potential colleagues to be welcomed and mentored. And then, of course, the government itself refused to be transparent or accountable about what it was really up to until the mess of its own making was beyond fixing.
Only about 300 of the program’s 800 newcomers stayed, and many have nothing good to say about their $130,000-welcome-to-Nova-Scotia experience.
Friday’s tentative settlement of a class action lawsuit by the last 336 unsatisfied economic-stream immigrants puts a final, welcome coffin nail in a botched program the province shuttered in 2006.
But it doesn’t change our desperate need for more immigrants. Thanks to Nova Scotia’s declining birth rate, aging population, out-goers and lack of in-comers, our current half-million-strong labour force is expected, according to one study, to shrivel by 150,000 able bodies—30 per cent—in the next 25 years. By 2015, Nova Scotia will have reached the point at which “the availability of labour hits zero.”
Immigration alone can’t solve that elephant-in-the-room problem. But it will play an important role in any solution.
Which is why the current government’s “Welcome Home to Nova Scotia” immigration strategy is welcome. Aiming to double our number of new immigrants to 7,200 each year by 2020, it focuses—finally—on identifying and targeting compatible newcomers instead of counting the quick bucks we can take from anyone with bucks to spare, then matching their skills with our community needs.
Nova Scotia’s average farmer, for example, is 58 years old. Can we attract immigrant farmer-entrepreneurs to take over and expand the province’s agricultural sector? What about temporary workers and international students who’ve already experienced Nova Scotia’s charms? Can we make it easier for them to stay? How about more easily confirming the credentials of those trained abroad? And welcoming family members of those already here?
Let’s hope we’ve got our priorities straight this time. We probably won’t get another chance to make a good first impression.