Booming Saskatchewan hosts event to draw residents to province’s 10,000-odd available jobs

Toronto Star
Sep 30, 2008

Iain Marlow
Staff Reporter

Rafiq Muhammad and other members of Thorncliffe Park’s ethnically diverse community came to a neighbourhood barbecue with some questions about Saskatchewan.

Are there Pakistani, Nigerian and Chinese communities there? Is it cold? Is it true you have to leave for six months of the year? Will we be welcomed and accepted if we decide to move there?

“Saskatchewan is a booming economy but I don’t know much about it,” said Muhammad, who has a degree in electrical engineering from a university in Lahore, Pakistan. “I’m here to see if we can really fit in.”

Muhammad was typical of those who showed up to a meal of tandoori chicken and curry hosted by Saskatchewan’s worker-hunting labour ministry yesterday evening in E.T. Seaton Park. He arrived in Canada recently, had gone through an initial period of hardship, but was now underemployed and worried about how he would raise his children.

He, like others, came to see whether it was possible to escape Ontario’s lagging manufacturing economy, Toronto’s fierce competition among skilled new immigrants, and the crime and hassle of the big city. And they wondered whether they might find a better life out west, in Canada’s fastest growing provincial economy, among Saskatchewan’s 10,000-odd available jobs.

“We have a people shortage,” Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told the crowd.

Rob Norris, Saskatchewan’s minister of advanced education, employment and labour, shook hands with curious locals and boasted of his province’s riches.

“Second largest oil producer in Canada. About a quarter of the world’s uranium production. About a third of the world’s potash, which is used for fertilizer and is heavily exported to China,” Norris said. “And then we have almost half of the arable land in Canada.”

To those around him, listening to the reggae and staring at the tandoori chicken many of them couldn’t eat because of the Ramadan fast, he sold his province in more simple terms. “We have open skies. It’s very safe.”

The premier, for his part, admitted that many of these new Canadians were overqualified for the jobs his province needs to fill.

With his own highrise towering in the background, Muhammad explained that many in his situation would make sacrifices to get a job with security and opportunities for advancement.

“Money-wise, I’m okay. But I’m out of my field,” he said, as his 7-year old boy, Saad, ran over with a Saskatchewan flag. “I will only move if I get better opportunities than here. To be in my own field, you have to sacrifice something.”

Many, such as Nigerian Babatunde Olarewaju, were worried about the absence of supportive communities in smaller Canadian cities. “I don’t know anyone. I don’t have any family” there, he explained to Norris, who promptly shook his hand and told him to talk to an immigration worker at a table who could speak about settlement projects.

Imran Lakhami, who has a master’s degree in business administration from an American university, arrived in Canada from Pakistan five months ago.

He doesn’t fear Saskatchewan harsh winters or lack of good Indian restaurants.

“Being a new arrival, we don’t have anything to lose,” he said.

Some questions reflected the rising status of settled immigrants in big cities like Toronto – what is the ratio of applications at the University of Regina?

Others were more geared toward the possibility of living happily in a place not blessed by the jagged, beautiful peaks of Pakistan.

“Yes, it’s very flat,” Norris said.

The minister and premier encouraged residents to attend a national job fair today at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Reference: Toronto Star