Atlantic Canada is in desperate need of economic and demographic revival, says one former New Brunswick premier, and the recent influx of refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East presents a golden opportunity for the beleaguered region.
Frank McKenna knows that what he is proposing may raise a few eyebrows, and that there will be challenges to overcome, but the former provincial politician and ambassador to Washington is arguing for a new set of rules that require a certain number of refugees and immigrants to settle in the Atlantic provinces – and remain there for a set amount of time before receiving permanent residency status.
“You know, this is not a perfect idea,” McKenna told The West Block’s Tom Clark. “But if we don’t do that, we suffer a slow and lingering death.”
The population in the Atlantic region, on average, is about eight years older than that in Alberta, said McKenna, and health care costs have increased dramatically and exponentially as the population ages. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador are desperate for young families and skilled workers.
“We’re closing rural schools. We’re closing rural hospitals. Our universities are desperate for students from outside the region. So we’re the canary in the coal mine for rural communities all across Canada.”
Asked about high unemployment in the region and a possible backlash from locals who will object to available jobs going to newcomers, McKenna acknowledged that’s a possible drawback. But new arrivals often create jobs as well, he noted, and they are accustomed to adapting to tough economic situations.
“They come from cultures where desperation is part of their everyday life. Quite frankly, we’ve gotten away from that to some extent in our region because we’re well supported with important programs, social programs, and we need new blood. We need new energy. We need a hint of that desperation from people who will help create other jobs.”
Watch the full interview above.