In the early 2000s, stakeholders were more and more interested in immigration and its implications for our province. Provincial government responsibility for immigration in Nova Scotia was split between the Department of Education and the Department of Economic Development. Nova Scotia signed a Provincial Nominee agreement with the federal government in 2002, but the program had a slow start. Under the leadership of Board Chair Jim Wooder and Vice Chair Hugh Wright, in 2003 MISA proposed and coordinated the Nova Scotia Immigration Partnership Conference in April 2003.
A steering committee of partners met and set up a complex and effective network to plan the conference. Gerry Mills was at the table for HILC, along with Greater Halifax partnership, Halifax Regional Municipality, Canadian Heritage, Canadian Manufacturers, Saint Mary’s University and others.
Multi-stakeholder working groups met for weeks to develop background documents, so that the 200 invited participants would all have the same information on which to base discussions. The groups produced two-page documents on: CIC Definitions, Demographics, Immigration Statistics, Attraction and Marketing, Adult English as a Second Language Training, Economic Integration, Social Integration, Well-Being. Participants were assigned to five breakout groups to ensure a good mix and facilitators were selected and briefed in advance.
Plenary speakers came from across Canada: Federal Minister of Immigration Denis Coderre, Manitoba Assistant Deputy Minister of Immigration Gerry Clement and Tom Denton Manitoba NGO representative, Louis-Rene Gagnon, Secretary of Quebec Intercultural Relations Board.
Participants and guest speakers shared many ideas, observations and experiences during the one and half days of the conference. From the presentations of the immigrant panel and the guest speakers to the deliberations of the five breakout groups, input and feedback were never in short supply. Several key points emerged early, to be repeated throughout discussions and at the concluding plenary session:
- Immigration is a positive force
- Creating a truly welcoming community is essential
- Immigration is a shared responsibility
- Economic opportunities are essential to attraction, integration and retention
Much has changed since that conference, but these four key points remain as true and essential to immigration to Nova Scotia.