Immigration programs target rural Canada

BLYTH, Ont. — Manitoba is having success attracting more immigrants to its rural communities, says Naomi Finseth of Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute.

“We have been able to get 20 percent of newcomers arriving to Manitoba to settle in rural areas — that’s everywhere outside of Winnipeg,” she told the recent Rural Talks to Rural conference in Blyth.

“Most of the other provinces have only been able to get about six percent to do that.”

Jobs need to be filled in Manitoba, and immigration helps revitalize communities and maintain or build their population.

Success is also measured in how newcomers are welcomed and accepted, regardless of their cultural background or faith.

Finseth pointed to the annual Winter Festival in Brandon as one of several efforts to make it easier for newcomers to become part of the community.

Most newcomers to Canada settle in the big city, but there are also rural opportunities that in many cases are the preferred option.

Oliver Pryce, training and development co-ordinator with the Rural Employment Initiative, is working to connect immigrants in Toronto with Ontario’s rural communities.

Pryce, who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica, where he worked as a college professor, said newcomers often have a rural background like himself.

“They think when they’re in Toronto, ‘this is big city, I should be able to get a job,’ ” he said.

Unfortunately, the jobs often taken by newcomers do not match their skills and potential.

“When people come to the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), they go into survival mode,” he said.

“They take any job that comes along.”

The Rural Employment Initiative is collaboration between Ontario’s 60 Community Futures Development Corporations and the Newcomer Centre of Peel and funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Its services are open to immigrants who are permanent residents or have been designated as a Convention Refugee, who are unable to return to their country of origin for fear of persecution. They must be job ready, actively seeking work in their profession or willing to establish a business in rural Ontario and have sufficient English language skills.

Support is also available for potential employers and the communities where their businesses are located.

“If there are no settlement services in your community, our objective is to work with you,” Pryce said.

Gemma Mendez-Smith, executive director of the Labour Market Planning Board that serves Huron, Grey, Bruce and Perth counties, said it’s important that newcomers realize there’s more to Canada than its cities.

“As we look to fill those job shortages, we could look at a different ways of filling that gap, and one way is to look at newcomers and the talents they bring with them,” she said.

Al Lauzon with the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development believes more should be done to attract migrants to rural communities.

“We’re really looking for migrants to help with our work force, but rural communities have had a hard time attracting immigrants,” he said.

Lauzon sees rural Canada, which represents 31 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 31 per cent of its population, as an often neglected but essential part of Canada.

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