A Welcoming Community

This past weekend I attended the City sponsored Welcoming Communities Summit 2016. The summit was a direct result of our participation in the Local Immigrant Partnership council which has a mandate of helping newcomers feel welcome, find employment, and integrate into the community.  I learned that the average length of time for an immigrant to integrate into a community is 15 years.  I find that number shocking and disappointing. For those who moved to Penticton from some other city in Canada...think back how long it took you to feel comfortable and recognized by others.  Imagine coming to a new country and also having language and/or cultural challenges to overcome. Imagine having a degree or professional designations that were no longer accepted. My father came to Canada from Germany when he was 19. It was 1955 and he had $40 in his pocket. He was looking for a better life for my mother and his siblings which later joined him. He found it here and I’m the next generation that is glad Canada welcomed him.

The keynote speaker for the Welcome Summit was an author and motivational speaker by the name of Nick Noorani. Much of what Mr. Noorani spoke about resonated with me. He noted that we are all essentially immigrants with varying degrees of ‘seniority’. He is right. With the exception of our strong indigenous community, we all come from immigrant families.

Mr. Noorani spoke about his entrepreneurial spirit as he was a successful businessman from Dubai and literally had to start over when he came to Canada.  He made a valid point about entrepreneurs needing the aptitude to take risk; which many immigrants are well suited for as they already took a risk to leave their home country to build a new life for themselves.  His remarks continued to resonate with me as he noted that the quickest and most effective way for any newcomer to assimilate into a community was to volunteer.  As a volunteer you are forced to practice your English skills, you meet all kinds of people, and you start to get the "Canadian Experience" that employers want a potential immigrant employee to have a handle on. 

Statistics tell us that there are more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15. Besides the obvious impact of health related demands...it signifies that we need to shift our mindset about the future.  School closures have been making headlines for the past few months around the province based on declining enrollment and changing demographics.  These demographic shifts will also have cascading effects with our labour force as the Provinces labour market outlook for 2024 projects demand for 935,000 job openings. My point is that welcoming newcomers is how we grew our diverse country, but it is also how we will continue to grow. Welcoming immigrants into our community and fostering an environment for them to prosper is a key tactic to overcoming the skilled labour shortage that is projected.

On a parallel theme I wanted to briefly mention that City staff presented a draft action plan to council for feedback on how the City can be more inclusive and diverse both to our staff and citizenry. When you walk into City Hall you see the word "Welcome" in sixteen different languages. We want this symbolism to be represented in action as well. We don't want people to feel excluded or marginalized because of their culture, skin colour, gender, sexuality, religion, or physical/medical disability. We want to earn a reputation as a community that respects and promotes human rights and diversity. We want Penticton to be a better place to live for everyone, to create a sense of belonging so people stay.

Through the Summit and key community partnerships we are working to ensure we are truly a community that welcomes diversity with wide open arms. We are a community that can offer some of the highest standards of living in the world, and we are also a community that has so much to gain from the skill and experience that new immigrants represent.  The summit shed light on the many ways we can work together as employers, governments and individuals to remove barriers to integration and speed up employment.

Foremost this is our moral obligation, but it is also smart for our economy, for our competitiveness in a global world and our need to grow our resident base.  Being inclusive and embracing action to foster diversity is extremely important...it embodies who we are as a caring and progressive community.