A shipload of trouble

Nova Scotia got billions to build warships, but an old immigration scandal has left Halifax with a sinking feeling

by Tamsin McMahon

A shipload of trouble

Paul Darrow/Reuters

Normally the announcement of billions in federal cash flowing into a community would be cause for unbridled optimism. But in Nova Scotia, the $25-billion contract to build combat ships at the Halifax Shipyard has instead raised the spectre of an old immigration scandal and strained relations between the province and Ottawa. Nova Scotia hopes the shipbuilding windfall will help it lure new immigrants to revive its hobbled workforce, while Ottawa no longer seems to trust the province to run its own immigration system.

The dispute stems from the provincial nominee program, a federal program which is designed to let each province pick at least some of its own immigrants. Under this program during the mid-2000s, Nova Scotia required immigrants to fork over $100,000 to local businesses in exchange for management-level “mentorship” training that was supposed to lead to full-time work. Roughly 900 immigrants complied, but many ended up unemployed or working at car dealerships, fish stands and laundromats, with thousands in fees pocketed by local businesses and consultants. Not surprisingly, about two-thirds of those immigrants left the province in search of jobs elsewhere.

Nova Scotia axed that aspect of its immigration program in 2006, and overhauled its rules to focus on attracting skilled workers and graduate students rather than those willing to pay cash for entry. But the changes haven’t swayed the federal government, which has refused to give Nova Scotia more spaces in the provincial nominee program, even as it raises its cap for Western provinces. In Manitoba, the program draws more than 12,000 immigrants every year, but for the past three years Ottawa has limited Nova Scotia’s share to just 500. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has aired his displeasure with how all the Atlantic provinces handled their immigration systems, telling one newspaper last year, “We are not going to continue with the rate of growth in the program over the past few years until we’re able to sit down with the provinces and make sure our concerns are addressed.”

That’s irked officials, who say despite ample demand to immigrate to Nova Scotia, the province is falling short of the numbers needed to take advantage of the shipbuilding contract’s economic spinoffs. “We have a federal government that thinks we have an immigration program which is still stained by the way it was run in the past,” says Liberal MLA Andrew Younger.

The province predicts it may need as many as 10,000 immigrants by 2014, when the federal shipbuilding contract swings into gear, to avoid a labour shortage. Last year just 2,400 immigrants arrived in Nova Scotia, with fewer than one-quarter coming through the provincial nominee program. Without its failed immigration project, the province would likely be much closer to its target of 5,000 a year, says Elizabeth Mills, executive director of the Office of Immigration. “In that time period that we had to deal with this whole issue, we were basically paralyzed,” she says.

That delay, says Younger, could cost Nova Scotia as it tries to attract young workers. Nova Scotia has one of the oldest and most stagnant populations in Canada. The population grew by less than one per cent between 2006 and 2011. “We really need to make sure that the government and the minister understand that the scandal that plagued Nova Scotia immigration is years behind us,” he says. “We’ve moved on.”




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A shipload of trouble

  1. Nova Scotia isn’t the only province where PNP has a dark cloud over various governments of different parties.

  2. So Nova Scotia thinks the answer to their labour problem is immigrants. Here’s a novel thought…how about you train all your unemployed men/women first in the trades huh. Provide them with a living allowance until after the first year and get them working. Then when this is all exhausted you put a cross Canada call to anyone willing to move to Hamilton for starters and offer them moving expenses and a place to stay until their settled in. Journey-person rate is like $52 an hour. The taxes they will pay over 25 years of building ships will more than compensate the initial $$$ spent getting them out there. Common, you telling your fellow Scotians that you can’t find anyone willing to make that much in Canada after 5 years experience. Problem is you bring in the immigrants to fill a job shortage and they find out they can make a better living doing something else. So what do they do, they go back to school and be a trades-person or Health Care field and your own people can wash clothes for a living. You gov leaders sicken me as they do in the rest of Canada.  This is Canada not the United Nations. Get a plan, be creative, offer up some $$$ and watch you own people come out to work.

    • Hamilton? Do you mean Halifax, by some chance?

  3. Amalgamate the four atlantic provinces.
    One immigration system and demand for the four would simplify the whole thing and address the labour shortage as the contracts affect at least in part all four provinces. It is crazy to have a province such as PEI with less than 300000 people and somehow equal status at the table with Ontario….time to modernize this confederation.

    • I have thought the same off an on over the years, but it won’t work – at least not for Nfld. It’s a matter of ethnic pride; Newfoundlanders, like the Quebecois, see themselves [I guess I could say "ourselves", being an expat] as a nation within Canada (though they don’t need the feds to publicly acknowledge this or give them special powers). As a separate province, there’s a certain ethnic autonomy; as 1/4 of a larger province in an even bigger country, there would be too much to lose, on a cultural level.

      After 20 years in Ontario, my sense of the people of Nfld may be off, but I doubt it; I go back regularly and I think my sense of how the people would react is pretty accurate.

      • I think you’re right, but I also think Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick would be none too pleased with the idea, either.  Because, even if you don’t really notice it, each and every province is different, with its own viewpoint on the world.  I’d call it ‘culture’ but I’m not sure that’s a word with enough nuance.

        • I suspect so as well, but felt a bit more qualified to speak for my own people than for the rest. :-)

          The NB Francophones in particular would likely resist for reasons very similar to those I posited for NLers.

  4.  its hard to attract skilled trades when a house to live in costs the same as toronto, people especially real estate people have jumped the gun, this windfall is over many years not just next year.If I cant find an affordable house to live in where my kids can live in a safe neighborhood im out of here…..good wage or not.  Inflation is rising here faster than the wages.

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