A lame excuse for neglecting immigration policy

Tim Bousquet headlines the Halifax Examiner’s Morning File this morning with an attack on immigration advocate Frank Anderson of Riverside Lobster in Meteghan River.

[Business owners] don’t want increased immigration for all the good things immigrants can bring—interesting life experiences, a broader view of the world, cultural diversity, and so forth—but rather just because they view immigrants as a cheap work force….

Maybe immigrants are OK with taking shitty paying jobs as a leg up in a new country. But I can’t imagine they want those shitty paying jobs for long, and they definitely don’t want their children to be left with only shitty paying jobs. So likely, the immigrants will skedaddle soon enough as well; the shitty paying jobs in rural Nova Scotia are just a way station to better opportunity elsewhere.

A reader piped in to observe that “big capital” always favors immigration as a way to depress wages. This is what passes for progressive thinking in Nova Scotia these days.

It hardly needs saying that Nova Scotia desperately needs people, rural NS especially so. Young women and men have been fleeing rural parts of the province for decades. We write songs about itdozens of ’em.

Even prosperous Halifax retains too few of the talented youngsters who come here to study. It’s hard to change this because our culture is so white-bread and inward looking. We look down our long blue noses at Come-from-Aways, a detestable term. We celebrate Gaelic, a language on life-supports.

Frank Anderson of Riverside Lobster [Photo: Maan Alhmidi/Saltwire]

Immigration is one of the few ways we might dig ourselves out of this hole. In the last year, international students have transformed the face of Sydney. Thanks to Cape Breton University’s aggressive outreach, Charlotte Street is starting to look more like The Danforth than the Coal Town Road. Some of these students were doctors, dentists, nurses, lawyers, and engineers back home. They want to stay here. Many have. New businesses starting up in Cape Breton are not run by MacNeils or Beatons but by Kassems, Wangs, and Sungs. Bravo!

Importing foreigners is a actually a venerable Cape Breton tradition. When the industrial magnates ran out or rural farm boys to run their mines and steel plants, they imported workers from Poland, the Ukraine, Italy, the Bahamas, and other exotic locales, giving Whitney Pier the multicultural vibe that was its trademark.

If you take the time to read the Herald story about the Immigration Summit, you’ll find the maligned Mr. Anderson from Riverside Lobster actually makes thoughtful, nuanced, helpful observations about Ottawa’s pathetic approach to immigration in Atlantic Canada.

The temporary foreign worker program was a “Band-Aid program,” Anderson says. “They put a cap … based on the formula they fixed up your cap is 10 per cent.”

His company has 300 positions. “ ‘You can bring 30.’ Well! I need 70,” Anderson says. “You have to look at this and say: Why are you doing this?”

However, companies can bring as many seasonal employees as they want for a maximum of six-month contracts.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Anderson says. “The government should always support the year-round companies by virtue of the fact, a year-round (company) … is more revenue for the government and for everybody.”

To deride Riverside as “big capital,” and blow Anderson off because his company is one of thousands that pay some workers minimum wage, is precisely the myopic attitude that will consign our province and its workers to permanent backwater status.

I’m all for increasing the minimum wage, but let’s curb the ideological cant long enough to hear someone with actual experience bringing new residents to our province.