A federal program aimed at attracting foreign workers to Atlantic Canada will be extended for another two years in a bid to grow the economy and address a shortage of skilled workers.
The Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program was supposed to end this year, but federal officials say it will be extended to the end of 2021.
Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen made the announcement Friday in Halifax during a meeting of premiers and ministers concerning the Atlantic Growth Strategy.
“We are on the right track,” Hussen said, noting that more than 1,800 Atlantic employers are now participating in the pilot program.
“We have approved applications for more than 2,500 permanent residents and their family members destined for the Atlantic region.”
Hussen said the program has created good middle-class jobs.
“This will give the government of Canada and the Atlantic provinces more time to experiment with different approaches and to assess the program’s medium and long-term impacts in this region,” he said.
Greg Thompson, New Brunswick’s intergovernmental affairs minister, welcomed the news, saying his province needs to fill a shortage of skilled workers.
“We could grow the economy in just about every village and town in New Brunswick if we had qualified workers,” Thompson said. “So this is one of the key elements in moving ahead as a province.”
Navdeep Bains, the minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, said the region continues to experience record levels of immigration, welcoming over 21,000 newcomers since July of 2016.
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The Halifax meeting included the premiers of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. New Brunswick was represented by Thompson.
The group also announced plans to develop what they’re calling a “clean power road map” for Atlantic Canada.
An engineering study will look into improving power transmission connections throughout the region and with Quebec to allow for another 2,000 megawatts of electricity.
“I can’t stress to you enough how critical this will be for the future economic success and stability of Atlantic Canada,” said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.
He said Canadians have made it clear they believe renewable energy resources need to be shared with all Canadians.
“It is a leadership role for the Atlantic premiers and our federal colleagues to put together a plan that will not only benefit Atlantic Canadians but I think will set a tone for the country,” he said.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said access to more renewable power will help create jobs, and those jobs will create a demand for more power.
The premiers said the study will inform governments on how to invest in electricity technologies, such as tidal energy and smart grids.