HALIFAX – Immigration numbers are shooting up in Nova Scotia, but there are worries from the NDP that funding to help people settle isn’t keeping pace.
Julie Towers, the chief executive officer of the province’s office of immigration, testified Wednesday at a legislature committee that 3,418 newcomers arrived in Nova Scotia in the first half of this year, slightly more than arrived in all of 2015, a record year.
It’s a figure boosted by the one-time influx of Syrian refugees, but Towers says she’s confident the figure can reach the goal of 7,000 annually that an economic blueprint for the province has called for in hope of boosting a declining and aging population.
Towers says one of the keys will be whether Ottawa — which still vets the immigrants chosen through the province’s nominee program — increases the current limits.
Lenore Zann, an NDP member of the legislature, says budget figures show small increases may not be keeping pace with rising demand for language classes, assistance to schools and job training.
She said the party has heard from settlement agencies that funding isn’t keeping up.
“It’s just that the increased numbers of people has not been met with the increased provincial funding they actually need,” she said. “That is concerning.”
Towers told the legislature committee that funding for settlement has increased from about $3.4 million in 2014-15 to $4.4 million budgeted for 2016-17.
“It’s going up by a few hundred thousand dollars each year as the number of immigrants has come up as well,” she said, adding that the funds go to various settlement agencies.
Zann also raised the issue of a request by the Halifax school board for additional funding to help it cover the cost of more english teachers and translation for schools that have seen sudden influxes of Arabic-speaking Syrian children.
The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union told The Canadian Press earlier this year that teachers were struggling to support the Syrian children.
Towers committed during the hearing to check on how much money is being provided to schools to help cope with the added costs.
“That was such a compressed time period to move everyone in and we were learning as we went,” said Towers.
The NDP member of the legislature also noted that a funding table showed that funding for the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, the largest settlement agency in the province, had gone from $3.4 million in 2013-14 down to $2.7 million this year.
Suzanne Ley, executive director of the office of immigration, praised the organization, but said it had been affected by a shift in federal funding for job training.
“We have less to invest in the new program, under the Job Fund Agreement,” she said.
She added that some of the settlement funding has been shifted from the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia to the YMCA at nine locations around the province.