Federal immigration minister Ahmed Hussen was in Sault Ste. Marie this week as part of his ‘Why Immigration Matters’ tour of northern Ontario.
Hussen was at the Sault Community Career Centre Wednesday, where he participated in a 90-minute, roundtable discussion with Mayor Christian Provenzano and a number of stakeholders.
Hussen told SooToday that stakeholders at the meeting were “very happy” with the federal government’s incentives to attract newcomers to Canada.
“We increased settlement and integration money by 30 per cent since we got into office, so that’s very critical to the settlement and integration of newcomers in every part of Canada, including northern Ontario,” Hussen said.
Keith Brown, communications specialist for the Sault Community Career Centre, told SooToday via email that one of the challenges brought up by stakeholders was a shortage of specialized workers - an issue that could potentially be addressed by the settlement and integration of newcomers to Canada, as well as the retention of international post-secondary students locally.
“There seemed to be a consensus amongst the group that the community needs more workers, particularly specialized workers, in northern Ontario to fill present skills shortage gaps, that we need more international students coming to the community for their studies and that we need to be able to better transition those international students into the local labour market,” Brown said. “...there was talk of the importance of retaining those immigrants who are already part of our community, and that the attraction and retention of immigrants provide its own unique challenges which need to be addressed.”
Hussen says that the will to address worker shortages in the Sault and northern Ontario has to come from leadership at the municipal level.
“There’s things that also this part of northern Ontario can do to market itself abroad, and also to the rest of Canada,” Hussen said. “There’ll be people, I believe, who would move here if they were exposed to some of the advantages that you offer.”
Hussen suggested to SooToday that an “aggressive recruitment strategy” in northern Ontario would assist the federal government in the use of immigration to address a shortage in skilled labourers and specialized workers.
“If Sault Ste. Marie, or even northern Ontario were to put together a recruitment strategy to recruit foreign workers from abroad and went on a recruitment mission, the Government of Canada has the logistics on the ground in different countries - visa officers and immigration officers on the ground - that can assist in the process of recruitment, by connecting them with skilled workers, by connecting them with universities and other sources of skills and labour, and that’s one of the ways in which we can work together.”
Hussen’s visit to Sault Ste. Marie concluded on Thursday with a visit to Algoma (formerly Essar Steel) followed by another round of discussions with stakeholders.