Pembroke – Making Renfrew County a welcoming place for immigrants will continue to be a focus with a plan in place and support from Renfrew County council.
Jodi Bucholtz, the manager of the Local Immigration Partnership – Lanark and Renfrew, spoke to council last Wednesday about a strategic plan developed entitled “Welcoming Communities – No Wrong Door for 2021-2025.”
The plan calls for creating connections, building trust, employer outreach and support and community integrated learning.
“We are building a standardized newcomer welcoming package and are building standardized community support package,” she said.
With extensive consultation in the community and among newcomers/immigrants to the area, priorities were established, she said. Right now two employers – Holiday Inn Pembroke and KI – are involved with the group. This will eventually grow to more employers, she said.
Algonquin College is also a source of immigrants to the community.
“Algonquin College (Pembroke Campus) is growing their international student population,” she said, noting there are 30 international students this fall with more expected in January.
County Warden Debbie Robinson said she is very excited to see the project so well defined.
“I see such an alignment with physician recruitment with what you are doing,” she added.
Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy asked what role the lack of other faith worship centres plays in the decisions immigrants make to move to this area. She pointed out in her first marriage it would have been impossible to move to the county because of a lack of a Jewish synagogue or faith centre.
“As a Catholic I want to have a place to practice,” she added.
Ms. Bucholtz said immigrants do create communities of faith and some travel to Ottawa for larger faith groups.
“It is a barrier, but a lot of our newcomer communities have a community of practice,” she said.
While this might not be a formal place, they can practice their faith there, she said. Having the ability to connect with others in the community of their faith is a big help, she added.
Warden Robinson agreed connections are crucial. She said while sometimes one partner has work and colleagues, the other partner is at home and there could also be a language barrier.
Mayor Murphy also asked if the group had been in touch with the College of Trades. In her business it is very difficult to find qualified mechanics, she said.
“One of our biggest deficit is skilled trades,” she said. “If I am coming from another country, does my license transfer to Ontario?”
Ms. Bucholtz said while she has not been in touch with the College of Trades, she knows there are issues even in Canada with tickets from one province to another not being accepted. Other countries are also not recognized. She said the group does want to guide the process to have credentials recognized.
“There would have to be a test completed by the immigrant,” she said.
Some can challenge a test right away and have journeyman hours to qualify, she said.
“There is not a pan-Canada trades plan,” she said. “There will be some time until that is addressed.”
County CAO Paul Moreau said there is also a shortage with Personal Support Workers.
“We are all facing a shortage in staffing long-term care in Eastern Ontario,” he said.
Whitewater Reeve Cathy Regier asked about services for immigrant children besides the school system. Ms. Bucholtz said there is nothing formal in the county.
“They would be eligible should they meet the program criteria for the Phoenix Centre and services like that outside the educational system,” she said.
Language barriers can be an issue and there is an ESL (English as a Second Language) program locally with a school board, she said.
“There is definitely work to be done to provide specific services for children and youth,” she said.
Libraries have been a wonderful resource, she pointed out. They offer multi-cultural programs in many places.
Reeve Peter Emon of Renfrew said this was very interesting for the assembled mayors and reeves since municipalities fund recreation services, libraries and festivals.
“Were there consultations on how to improve that?” he asked.
Ms. Bucholtz said there has been consultation, especially with libraries.
“We see libraries as the hub for support for the newcomer population,” she said.
The Pembroke Library has been especially exemplary in their work, she added.
“We can amplify the networks that currently exist,” she said.
North Algona Wilberforce Mayor James Brose said it was good to see the immigration network working with businesses. He questioned if there would be a database where businesses looking for employees can fill in vacancies.
“We know a lot of employers are struggling to meet their business needs,” Ms. Bucholtz agreed.
The group is working with about three to five employers in the county initially, she said. They are always seeking strategic partnerships, she said.
“We will be able to roll the plan out more confidently to other employers,” she said. “We are working with our data group to identify employers who are struggling.”
Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet said he was very appreciative of the work of the group. He pointed out he came to Canada from Scotland in 1965 after spending two days on a plane. Since no one was there to meet him at the airport the airline had the responsibility of taking him into town.
“I ended up on Younge Street and Dundas on my own with a suitcase the size of Montana and had no idea what to do,” he recalled. “It would have been very helpful if some of the services you have talked about were in place.
“What you are trying to do and advocate for immigrants, I can very much relate to,” he said.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader