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Federal minister wants to more than double immigration target for Newfoundland and Labrador

'We are ready to make this happen,' Seamus O’Regan says of plan to bring in at least 4,000 newcomers a year

The province of Newfoundland and Labrador could more than double its immigration target if federal cabinet minister Seamus O’Regan has his way.

O’Regan, who serves as Canada’s Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Member of Parliament for a riding in Newfoundland’s capital city St. John’s, says he has buy-in from Canada’s Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, to increase the province’s current immigration target of 1,700 newcomers by 2022 to at least 4,000

Source: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

“I was just on the phone with my friend, Somali refugee-turned-Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, and we are ready to make this happen,” O’Regan told a meeting of the St. John’s Board of Trade this week.

Given the combination of outmigration and a population that is aging “at an incredible rate,” O’Regan said 4,000 new immigrants is the baseline for keeping the social effects of Newfoundland and Labrador’s shrinking tax base from getting worse.

“We need a minimum of 4,000 new immigrants a year in this province just to maintain the status quo,” O’Regan said. “But I’m not interested in maintaining the status quo. I’m interested in growing this economy. I’m interested in more jobs, in higher profits, in increased prosperity — and that means more immigrants. A lot more.”

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador projects that by 2025, the province will experience a 10 per cent decline in its working-age population, resulting in 35,000 fewer people in the provincial labour market.

The province has been welcoming a steadily increasing number of newcomers in recent years, increasing from a total of 546 in 2007 to 1,122 in 2015.

O’Regan said he plans to assemble representatives of labour, business and government in Newfoundland and Labrador to look at ways they can make the increase he is proposing a reality.

“I believe that doom is not inevitable and that there exists the opportunity for our province to succeed and to thrive, but we’ve got to take bold action and we’ve got to strike out in new directions,” he said.

‘A cord of wood, a cup of sugar for the new neighbour down the way’

The Veterans Affairs minister said he believes the people of Newfoundland and Labrador would open their doors to newcomers.

“Once people come here, they are welcomed into our communities, they are welcomed into our homes, and they are often welcomed into our hearts,” he said.

O’Regan took pride in a recent Canadian survey of immigrants that ranked St. John’s among the most open and welcoming cities in the country.

Source: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

“We always have a cord of wood or a cup of sugar for the new neighbour down the way, and that is worth fighting for,” he said.

He pointed to his own experience as a gay man who married his partner in St. John’s and found nothing but acceptance from the local residents. He also pointed to his grandfather’s experience as a refugee who fled civil war in Ireland and was welcomed in Newfoundland.

“No one was interested in taking in an Irishman, nothing but trouble, but the Dominion of Newfoundland did — and I’d like to think it worked out pretty well for my family and me.”

O’Regan said Newfoundlanders have everything to gain from a new wave of immigration to the province.

“They don’t take our jobs, they create them,” he said. “Immigrants send more of their children to college and university; they use less social services than we do. And they are far more likely to start their own businesses and create jobs than we are.”

He highlighted the case of HeyOrca, a local social media planning business founded by international students who graduated from Memorial University in St. John’s.

“They hired 30 people over the last two years and 90 per cent of their market is in the U.S.,” O’Regan noted. “I want more. I want them all over the province.”

“This is the time for boldness, for seizing opportunities that present themselves on the global stage.”

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