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Communities In Northern B.C. See Hope In New Federal Immigration Pilot

Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot will help selected communities address challenges of ageing populations, labour shortages

Communities in Northern British Columbia are hoping a new federal immigration pilot will help them fill job vacancies.

Unveiled by the Government of Canada last month, the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot will facilitate permanent residence for foreign workers of various skill levels in selected communities in Canada's three northern territories and the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

Eligible communities are those with a population of 50,000 or less located at least 75 kilometres from the core of a metropolitan area of 100,000 or more, or a city of up to 200,000 people that qualifies as remote.

In a recent interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb said his community of around 10,000 people in British Columbia's Central Interior region would benefit from immigration.

"We have jobs, jobs, jobs that we can't fill," Cobb said.

Cobb said the jobs span the spectrum, from entry-level opportunities to skilled trades in the forest and mining industries, both of which are key local industries.

'We just need their help'

Cobb's views were shared by Kathleen Connolly, Executive Director of the Dawson Creek & District Chamber of Commerce.

Situated in northeastern B.C., Dawson Creek has around 11,000 residents and an economy based largely on agriculture, retail, tourism and oil and gas development.

Connolly told CBC that the new pilot would help fill the employment gap that's being created by the Dawson Creek's ageing population.

"It's really difficult to recruit folks to rural and remote areas, so any opportunity to get people who want to come and experience our country and learn about our country, grow and even move on, we're happy to have them," she said. "We just need their help."

Connolly said there are job opportunities "everywhere" in the region but the challenge is getting people to stay, which she hoped the pilot might help solve.

"If there are opportunities to welcome families into our communities and become part of what we're doing, that is just so super awesome," she said.

Pilot an opportunity to 'turn the tide'?

Joel McKay, Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Development Initiative Trust, said the labour shortages that B.C.'s northern communities are facing are "across the board."

Job openings span a variety of sectors, from service (restaurants and hotels) to industry, trades and professional occupations such as doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.

"Each community is different, so you can't paint a broad-brush and say this is the type of skilled worker that we need in northern B.C., please come here now," he observed. "Each community has its own needs and we have to be flexible as to how we respond to those needs and try to fill those gaps in the coming years."

McKay said the pilot is an opportunity to "turn the tide" and open new eyes to the lifestyle advantages that B.C.'s northern communities offer.

He said those advantages are being developed as communities invest in the kind of amenities that can make them "more attractive places to live in the long-term," amenities such as upgrades to arenas, airports and playhouses, recreational facilities, mountain biking trails and a revitalized downtown core.

"We've got an extraordinarily mobile workforce and the challenge now is not whether young people... will find work, but where are they choosing to work and set up their lives," McKay said. "They're choosing communities where they have a lifestyle that appeals to them, so investing in place, investing in attractive communities is a big piece."

Communities wishing to participate in the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot have until March 1, 2019, to apply to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Information for interested immigration candidates will be available later in 2019.

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