NDP candidate Rachel Blaney says in her years working with the Immigrant Welcome Centre before entering politics, she found that working in collaboration with business to understand their labour needs and make sure there are services in place for new Canadians to access in order for them to succeed. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

North Island candidates chime in on immigration at Tidemark forum

Can we bring in the number of people we need for our economy needs while fighting associated racism?

The North-Island – Powell River candidates in this month’s federal election were each asked for their thoughts on immigration last week at the all-candidates meeting at the Tidemark Theatre.

Specifically, the seven candidates were asked how they would engage local businesses and communities to determine their needs in regards to immigration as a resource for workers and members, as well as the supports they would offer to achieve “community-led successful outcomes” for immigration and immigrants, as well as how they would educate the public on the reasons we need immigrants to come to Canada and alleviate racism in regards to immigrants.

In the order the responses were given at the forum, the candidates thoughts on the matter were as follows:

Mark de Bruijn (Green) says the Green Party wants to establish a council that will bring Indigenous, municipal, provincial and federal governments together to discuss and make decisions on things like the national labour force.

In terms of racism, de Bruijn says everyone in the country who isn’t First Nations is from a line of immigrants, “and it’s my opinion that racism is a product of fear, and fear is a product of insecurity,” saying that it’s understandable that people are concerned about someone from another country getting “some of their share,” when they’re already not getting their own “fair share” because of the inequity in the system where the wealthiest take more than theirs, which is what really needs to be addressed.

Peter Schwarzhoff (Liberal) says that his party’s focus is on jobs for Canadians before worrying about bringing in more people from other countries to fill jobs, “but with unemployment at record lows, businesses are often challenged to find the staff they need. Our immigration system is effective at attracting skilled new Canadians from around the world to fill the gaps and help keep our economy strong.”

He also doesn’t see racism as a big problem, saying he thinks “most Canadians understand that new Canadians make us a better community and make us a better country.”

Rachel Blaney (NDP) says during her years of work as the executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre, she learned a lot about the challenges and opportunities that come from bringing in new Canadians.

“We need to work with businesses to identify the needs they have, and we need to make sure that when people arrive in our community, they have good services,” Blaney says. “We really worked with community businesses, community agencies and the newcomers to create pathways to success for everyone.”

In terms of addressing the issue of racism attached to immigration, Blaney says “newcomers to Canada bring a lot of ideas and energy and are good for our economy. We need to start telling those stories and getting away from the fear that things are going to fundamentally change.”

Shelley Downey (Conservative) says one of the barriers for newcomers is their language skills, pointing out that the Immigrant Welcome Centre provides training up to Level 4 of the Canadian Language Benchmark, “but that’s not sufficient for them to be left in control of operating a business,” so the Conservatives would increase that funding to bring the training for new Canadians up to a Level 6, which would help them become more self-sufficient.

She also says that racism isn’t what is causing people to be upset about the immigration system, it’s the “lack of fairness,” in accepting some immigrants over others.

“People walking across the border towing their luggage is not the same as pulling somebody out of a refugee camp in Jordan or Syria,” she says, adding that family members of those who are already here “through the right processes” should be given higher priority.

Brian Rundle (PPC) says his party would decrease the levels of immigration into the country, and place the country’s priority on “economic immigrants, and that’s people who would be ready to make a contribution right away … and the idea is that a job would be offered to Canadians first and if there’s not someone who has those skills and is willing to do it, then it would be opened up to an immigrant.”

He also says racism would be mitigated by lowing the number of immigrants coming into the country, saying “if you have too many come in at one time, then there are problems, but if you have a number come in that can be assimilated and fit in and contribute, then there’s no reason for racism.”

Glen Staples (Independent) says this is an important issue and we, as a society, need to talk about it more openly without fear of being labeled for our thoughts on the subject, saying “50 per cent of Canadians want immigration reduced, but they’re often afraid to say it, because they’ll be condemned as a racist.”

Carla Neal (Marxist-Leninist) was not in attendance.

The Mirror live-streamed last week’s forum to its Facebook page, so if you’d like to know more about how the candidates feel about this or any other matter discussed, head to Facebook.com/CampbellRiverMirror to find the event in its entirety.


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