Canada Courts Migrant Families

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Oct 2 19:32:56 UTC 2002

>>From the New York Times, October 2, 2002

Canada Courts Migrant Families to Revive a Declining Hinterland


    STEINBACH, Manitoba Lidia Tschritter comes to the door barefoot to
meet her nine children as they return home from school. Her hair is tied
in a kerchief and she wears a homemade flower-print dress that reaches her
ankles just as she did in her native Mennonite village in Kazakhstan. The
front yard of her six-bedroom house has a trampoline for the children next
to a sumptuous fruit and vegetable garden. Her husband, David, a carpenter
who makes patio doors in a local window factory, will be home any minute
to care for the family's barn full of animals.

"Canada is wonderful!" exclaimed Mrs. Tschritter, 39, in her archaic
German dialect. "We can buy everything we need, worship as we wish, and
it's nice and peaceful." This is the snapshot the Canadian government
hopes to duplicate thousands of times over as it embarks on a new
immigration policy designed to attract young, preferably large foreign
families to rural Canada. The goal is to send one million immigrants into
the hinterlands over the next decade by matching workers with remote
businesses and farms that are starved for skilled labor, and to spread
Canada's multiethnic rainbow across the country's vast prairies, tundras
and forests.

Officials hope to remold an immigration policy that has turned Toronto,
Vancouver and Montreal into three of the most ethnically diverse cities in
the world to distribute the labor riches of places like China, India and
Ethiopia more equally. With Canada's population of 30 million aging and
its birthrate plummeting Canadian women currently have 1.49 children on
average the government says that it, like some European countries, must
rely on increasing immigration to ward off a population decline. But with
the populations of Newfoundland falling by 7 percent between the 1996 and
2001 censuses, Yukon by 6.8 percent, Northwest Territories by 5.8 percent,
New Brunswick by 1.2 percent and Saskatchewan by 1.1 percent, populations
in some rural areas are already in calamitous decline.

"We need to create more magnets for immigration everywhere," said the
minister for citizenship and immigration, Denis Codere, in an interview.
"It's a matter of population growth, labor supply, quality of life, the
very future of our country." Not only is the centuries-old dream of
populating Canada's vastness at stake. The solvency of national health
care, and educational and housing programs that are financed by provincial
tax bases, which are shrinking, may also hang in the balance. Enormous
stretches in the prairies are suffering a slow death from cuts in farm
subsidies, shrinking agricultural profit margins and drought. The decline
of the farm economy has throttled businesses and propelled young people to
take their skills and ambitions to large cities or to the United States.

Along the frigid Atlantic coast, a depletion of fish stocks has converted
entire fishing communities into ghost towns. Looking to immigration to
meet its needs is not new for Canada. Few industrialized countries have so
consistently used immigration as a tool for nation building. Canada
populated its vast west in the 19th century by handing out land to
European immigrants, much as its southern neighbor did. Today Canada's per
capita immigration rate is twice that of the United States, and about 17
percent of the population is foreign born.

Canadian authorities, noting negative demographic trends 25 years ago,
opened Canada's doors to people from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. But
the new arrivals cluster in a few cities 53 percent of the 250,000 who
arrive every year settle in Toronto,15 percent in Vancouver and 13 percent
in Montreal. Now, though, the earnings for new immigrants are declining in
saturated labor markets, strains have been put on services and urban
neighborhoods and schools are growing increasingly segregated. The
imbalance also threatens to produce a balkanized Canada, with three
metropolitan areas becoming increasingly distinct from the rest of the

"We just don't know how a Toronto of the future, which is 60 percent
nonwhite with 110 different ethnic groups and languages, is going to
relate to the rest of Canada," said Larry S.  Bourne, a geography
professor at the University of Toronto. Manitoba played a leading role in
changing immigration policy when it developed a successful program four
years ago to attract several thousand skilled immigrants, using
advertising and contacts with community leaders. It used communities
already there to attract German-speaking Mennonites, Argentine Jews,
Filipinos and Bosnians.

"For rural areas if we're not in the process of growing, we're in the
process of dying," said the Manitoba premier, Gary A. Doer, in an
interview. "So what we need is a targeted immigration policy." Eight other
provinces and territories have begun similar efforts to find skilled
workers. Federal authorities then fast-track the provincial nominees
through health and security checks.

New Brunswick, for instance, is looking for affluent students from China
and Hong Kong, who local officials hope will coalesce into their own
community and perhaps attract their families.  Saskatchewan is looking to
Korea and Ukraine to bring experienced farmhands to its hog barns. Mr.
Codere has embraced the efforts and will unveil a new federal policy in
mid-October that would grant thousands of immigrants three- to five-year
work permits under the proviso that they live in rural communities. If
they comply, they will be automatically granted permanent resident status,
with the right to apply for citizenship after another three years. By
then, officials hope they will have planted roots in the small towns and
will stay.

Mr. Codere will also propose ways to quicken retraining and licensing for
foreign engineers, teachers and medical professionals seeking work in
rural communities. Skeptics say immigrants will continue to gravitate to
cities and some question the constitutionality of limiting people's
freedom to move around. Furthermore, they say, not every province is able
to build on ethnic populations already present the way Manitoba can.

But at Loewen Windows here in Steinbach, founded a century ago by the son
of Russian Mennonites, the owners turned to Mennonites as they sought 150
new workers. Originally from Germany, the Mennonites have a 200-year
history in Russia and Kazakhstan. Stalin resettled thousands of ethnic
Germans from the Volga region to Kazakhstan after Hitler attacked the
Soviet Union in 1941, and later they were encouraged to stay there for the
same reason that Canada is seeking them as settlers today.

The newcomers here speak German, and little English, but communication is
aided by the fact that many of their supervisors, older Mennonites, speak
at least some German, learned from their grandparents. The housing boom in
the United States had propelled the company's sales, and Loewen needed
more skilled workers. "I could have put a plant in Georgia, Mexico,
Malaysia or China," said Charles Loewen, the chief executive officer, "but
we prefer to grow here and immigration helped us hugely."

In nearby Winnipeg, the 15,000-member Jewish population has helped attract
Jews from economically depressed Argentina by sending delegations, helping
with job interviews and English lessons and making sure prospective
immigrants have a Friday night Sabbath dinner during exploratory visits.
The 35 Argentine families who have arrived over the last year have given
the Jewish community here renewed confidence it can survive, and hundreds
more have expressed interest in coming.

Martin Wayngenten, 30, an accountant, remembered when his rabbi in the
city of Paran took him aside and asked him to consider moving to Winnipeg.
The rabbi suggested that he and his wife Agustina, 29, a biomedical
engineer, would be welcomed with open arms. "We took out a map and looked
up Winnipeg," Agustina Wayngenten recalled.  Her husband chimed in, "When
you don't have a job, you don't worry about the weather." They have found
jobs, are saving for a house and are expecting their first baby. "I am
going to speak to my child in Spanish," Agustina said, smiling, "but he'll
be a Canadian."

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