A Message from Kelly Pollack, IEC-BC CEO: Let’s Not Overlook the Big Picture

In a recent syndicated column, Andrew Coyne writes that suddenly “immigration is all the rage” – both on Parliament Hill and in the Canadian media. As a news and politics junkie, I can certainly relate to his observation. From angst about “loopholes in Canada’s refugee system” to apprehensions that Canada’s cultural character and social fabric “are being forcibly changed by the influx of immigrants” to vociferations that the ratio of these newcomers in Canada’s population “will tip the balance towards right-wing populist backlash” – immigration has become a hot topic. While there are immediate challenges that various agencies need to address to respond to the plight of asylum seekers trekking across the border in sub-zero temperatures, or specific strategies that need to be implemented to effectively integrate new Canadians who recently arrived here as refugees, let us not overlook the big picture.

Around the world, immigrants have been known to boost the progress and prosperity of their new homelands. As noted in a recent OpEd penned by Bessma Momani and Jillian Stirk, leaders of the nationwide Pluralism Project, “historically, nearly all the great advances in the social, cultural and economic spheres can be traced to the migration of people, goods, and ideas.”

And recent studies out of South Africa and the United States show that immigrants are overwhelmingly contributing to the creation of local jobs rather than take them away from the locals. For example, in the US the highest percentage of jobs by immigrant-owned businesses is in California, New Jersey, and New York – states that also rank high in “brain gain and innovation.”

If Canada wants to become a nation with a competitive knowledge economy, then immigration is the much needed driver of innovation and productivity. According to a study cited by Momani and Stirk in their OpEd, there is a strong correlation between diversity on the one hand and increased productivity and revenue on the other, and this link is strongest in sectors that depend on creativity and innovation. “If Canada wants to succeed in the high value-added sectors of the future, then workplace diversity is a valuable contribution and immigration is a must,” the authors conclude.

And Canada’s innovators get that! Just hours after President Trump’s first executive order was issued, CEOs and employees from leading Canadian tech companies were rallying to pen an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, calling on the federal government to issue temporary visas and residency permits to anyone affected by the POTUS immigration ban.

“Diversity is our strength,” the letter read. “By embracing diversity, we can drive innovation and benefit the world.”

With immigration discourse coming to the fore – both nationally and internationally – we have a unique opportunity to re-affirm our country’s leadership and re-assert our “Canada brand.” Canada’s unique political identity has given it a special place among major Western democracies, and our country is looked upon as an example to follow more and more.

We need to leverage this advantage, and immigration will remain critical to building a strong and prosperous nation.