Everyone’s talking about the need to attract and retain, to quote the current shorthand, immigrants to Atlantic Canada. Last week, Halifax mayor Peter Kelly hosted his counterparts from across the region to noodle with ideas and egg each other on.
Even the news media has packaged the issue up, asking and re-asking how Atlantic Canada can “attract and retain/lure/get and keep immigrants,” making it sound as if communities are dealing with friendly wild animals instead of people.
“There is a tendency for those words to be used,” Marjorie Stone says with a sigh. She’s an English and Women’s Studies professor at Dalhousie and a co-director of an immigration think tank centred in Halifax. “Such language doesn’t recognize the agency of the people coming here.”
Instead, Stone poses the question this way: “How can we create more welcoming communities?” for immigrants from around the world, across Canada and from rural areas to cities, or vice versa.
In a few weeks’ time, Stone will help run the third annual retreat of the Atlantic Metropolis Centre (AMC), a two-day brainstorming session that hopes to answer that question, at Saint Mary’s University on May 3 and 4.
Though they’re in touch during the year, the retreat brings together the AMC members for a rare formal meet and greet. Membership is drawn from universities in the region, all levels of government and frontline community agencies, such as Halifax’s Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association.
They’ll discuss strategy, mainly identifying research funding available, and on the horizon, and what research topics to focus on over the coming year.
The public will get an opportunity to join the conversation at the retreat. A public panel is planned for May 3 at 4:30 pm in SMU’s Scotia Bank Theatre. The discussion is intended to focus on the UNESCO Cities Against Racism project.
“ very important as a locus for people,” says Stone.
Though they often have common goals, AMC members come from different organizations. They sometimes do not fully appreciate what others do, or they may not necessarily agree on the best ways to create welcoming communities for newcomers, says another AMC organizer.
“It is a bit of a dance,” offers Marine Vanderplaat, the other AMC co-director in Halifax (a third works out of Université de Moncton) and chair of Saint Mary’s University’s Sociology and Criminology department. “But there’s a real willingness to work together.”
This year, the AMC’s talk is particularly timely. In addition to the Atlantic Canadian mayors meeting last week, city council has just approved its Cultural Plan, which deals explicitly with the needs and potential role existing cultural communities play in helping newcomers settle. Also, last August, the province produced its Nova Scotia Immigration Strategy—a possible provincial election could change the meaning and force of that entirely.
Last year, the AMC held its first research grants competition. They awarded funding to researchers who were investigating recreation and leisure, social networks, the integration of international medical graduates, the role of religious organizations and much more.
Of course, the influence of AMC-driven research on policymakers and, following that, within communities, happens slowly.
“It takes a while to do research and then it takes a while to disseminate it,” Vanderplaat says.
Still, measurable results, including an amendment to the province’s immigration strategy, have started to show. “It’s because of our gender domain that gender is now identified in the Nova Scotia Immigration Strategy,” Vanderplaat says of the AMC Gender, Migration and Diversity/Immigrant Women team.
There’s an underlying hopefulness to Stone and Vanderplaat’s words.
“Words are a form of action,” Marjorie Stone says.