Immigration pilot project receiving criticism from N.B. opposition

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WATCH ABOVE: The recently announced pilot project that could bring thousands of immigrants to Atlantic Canada is being met with backlash. With New Brunswick’s high unemployment rate some are wondering why they aren’t starting at home. Global’s Jeremy Keefe reports. – Jul 7, 2016

The recently announced pilot project that would see thousands of skilled workers immigrate to the Atlantic provinces has received backlash from critics who think more should be done to train those already calling the Maritimes home.

A meeting of the Atlantic Premiers on Monday brought about the announcement which will begin accepting applications next year and potentially bring 4,000 immigrants to the East Coast.

READ MORE: Atlantic premiers and federal ministers announce immigration boost

“There’s no doubt that there’s a lack of a skilled workforce, we’ve heard it from business community for a number of years,” said Education Minister Donald Arsenault. “There are opportunities that do exist and we can’t fulfill those opportunities for various reasons.”

“We’re not turning our backs on New Brunswickers,” he said.

The New Brunswick government says the federal pilot immigration project is one piece of the puzzle, rather than the sole solution to an aging demographic and high unemployment rates.

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The Tories believe providing training for residents should be the priority, rather than bringing in new Canadians to fill jobs.

“What I’m concerned about is the people here in New Brunswick looking for work,” said opposition leader Bruce Fitch.

Fitch points at programs like the Tuition Access Bursary (TAB) when indicating his party’s concerns.

TAB gives free tuition to students of low income and middle-class families who want to attend publicly funded universities and colleges. Private colleges, which offer many skilled trades, are not included.

“There is a gap in some of the jobs and some of the skills of people wanting to work there,” he said. “If there’s jobs to be filled we should make sure that New Brunswickers have the training and the training’s available to fill those jobs.”

Arsenault challenges the opposition’s stance claiming other programs already in place are ensuring the Liberal government is supporting the province’s future workforce.

“We’re actually providing them with the tools and investing more in training opportunities such as the Youth Employment Fund so that New Brunswickers can have that foot in the door with companies in order to gain that valuable experience in a work environment for them to continue a career here in New Brunswick,” said Arsenault.

“We’re also making efforts to bring New Brunswickers back home but also part of that whole strategy there’s a component on immigration,” Arsenault said.

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“We need to grow numbers in New Brunswick we cant continue to have stagnant numbers as we’ve seen over the last number of years in the Alward government and continue to have an aging demographic. It just does not work, the economics will not work, so we need to increase that population.”