Although his ethnicity and Muslim religion triggered international curiosity, that issue hardly came up during the campaign, he told attendees of a Mississauga Board of Trade (MBOT) breakfast event this morning. He said his single status was raised a lot more.
Nenshi did 34 interviews with national and international media the day after his election about his ethnicity and religion, and he did them because he believed it was important to showcase how successful multiculturalism has become in Canada, especially at a time when political leaders in Britain, Germany and France had all gone on record suggesting that multiculturalism was a failure in their countries.
What makes it work in Calgary, he said, is that the city is a meritocracy where the focus is on what you bring to the table and how hard you’re prepared to work — not where you came from or where you worship.
And, it’s not because of the city’s oil wealth either.
“Many people think the success of Calgary and Alberta is because of ‘luck’ — because we have carbon molecules under our feet,” he said. The oil sands, he points out, are two hours away from Calgary.
Nenshi credits immigrants who have brought their work ethic and skills west for its success. To continue to be successful, whether as cities or a country, what’s needed is to spread Canada’s brand around the world to attract the best and brightest immigrants.
Nenshi describes immigration as “one of the greatest bait-and-switch games in human history,” saying it gives points to would-be immigrants for their education and skills, yet makes it difficult for them to get Canadian accreditation once they arrive.
“That’s a waste of human potential,” he said.
However, change is happening in some sectors; Nenshi admits he was surprised that 70 per cent of engineers accredited in Alberta last year were trained abroad.
Still, more changes in government, more and better ESL programs, and the need for professional bodies to be more open to foreign-born and trained professionals are needed. Above all, he believes the key is the private sector.
Those issues were echoed by other speakers at the MBOT event. Ellen Austin, an HR professional with the Business Development Bank of Canada, said the shortage of skilled workers will only getting worse as the country’s population ages.
Laura Artibello, president and founder of the Mailennium Group, said employers shouldn’t worry about how tough it is to pronounce a potential employee’s name — instead, they should focus on hiring for skills and spirit.