The Hamilton Spectator
March 21, 2009

Robert Howard

We are a nation of immigrants — from First Nations people’s distant ancestors crossing the Bering Strait, through the great ship-borne migrations of the 19th and 20th centuries, to the present-day daily arrival of new Canadians at airports across this country.

Hamilton was built by people who came from other places. But we need more of them — new Canadians who understand a new home is an opportunity for security and to realize dreams and ambitions, for themselves, for their children and for their children’s children.

Hamilton must attract immigrants to fuel the skilled workforce that is needed — needed even during these bad economic times — to maintain, let alone grow, our local economy.

Skilled workers — for manufacturing, health care, service industry, social services, the public sector or transportation and more will continue to be in demand. If Hamilton does not attract immigrants who can fill that need, employers will go elsewhere to find them, taking existing jobs and tax revenues with them.

Hamilton is in competition with other cities for the number — and kind — of immigrants we need. If places like London, Waterloo, Halton and Niagara are more attractive to new Canadians than Hamilton, this city is starved of the workers and the entrepreneurial capital a growing city needs. In that race, we have fallen behind.

This is all to say that Hamilton’s about-to-be-launched immigration strategy is a smart and badly needed initiative. The only knock against it is that we need it, as the saying goes, yesterday.

The proposed Immigration Partnership Council must move with all speed to develop and implement ways to sell Hamilton to immigrants before they leave their homelands, to show them that the opportunities for housing, employment, educational, cultural and lifestyle here makes this a good place to live, work and raise a family. Hamilton also needs to sell itself to new Canadians already in traditional immigrant hubs, such as Toronto and Vancouver and finding them overly expensive, overcrowded and lacking decent jobs or career prospects.

This city has advantages going in. Hamilton ranks third in Canada for attracting immigrants and is high among all North American cities. Part of that can be credited to the work of Hamilton’s Settlement and Integration Services Organization, the efforts of Hamilton’s Centre for Civic Inclusion, and other civic and agency initiatives to help immigrants make a home and build a future here. We can build on that. New Canadians have looked, through the centuries, to the big picture. They ask: Where can I settle that will let me support my family, live in my own home, have neighbours with whom I can develop bonds of friendship and perhaps shared culture, give my children opportunities beyond my own, and make a good life for my loved ones?

Some people are wary of attracting new immigrants during an economic and employment downturn. We would argue that it is during a lull like this that Hamilton can make up ground, can use it as an opportunity to bring, and keep, the Hamiltonians we need for the 21st century.

Reference: Hamilton Spectator