BY MURRAY MANDRYK, THE STARPHOENIX JANUARY 6, 2012
If one didn't know better, one might think that the Saskatchewan Party has a strange obsession with the Irish.
Long before the party took power in 2007, former leader Elwin Hermanson and others in the party virtually campaigned on the idea that Saskatchewan could follow Ireland's model and become Canada's Celtic Tiger. Now that the Irish economy has gone bust, Premier Brad Wall's government seriously is considering a "jobs mission" to Ireland in the hopes of wooing displaced Irish workers to join Saskatchewan's booming economy.
There's certainly nothing wrong with wanting to attract people from Ireland, or from anywhere else for that matter, who want to come here and help address Saskatchewan's shortage of skilled labour.
If the goal is to attract newcomers who provide an immediate contribution to the economy and will make a long-term commitment to staying, there's even an argument that the transition would be easier for white, English-speaking Europeans with similar job training and educational backgrounds as we find in Canada. This might be especially so in the case of less diverse, smaller Saskatchewan communities. Currently, about 70 per cent of new immigrants wind up in Regina or Saskatoon.
But the lesson we should have learned 100 years ago, during the province's first great immigration wave, is that if you open your doors to the world, you forfeit control over who you are inviting. And the notion that you can, or even would want to, micromanage your immigration policy to the extent of having politicians travel across the ocean to find specific skilled workers for a few specific employers seems wrong-headed.
Saskatchewan's foremost statistician Doug Elliott, who was in the United Arab Emirates this fall to provide its government with help on its job-related immigration issues, wonders about the Wall government's strategy in targeting Ireland. He acknowledges the downturn in the Irish economy, particularly in its housing market that has seen entire subdivisions of new homes left empty (similar to hard-hit parts of the United States such as Phoenix).
While Elliott notes that it made sense to recruit tradespeople and truck drivers from Russia and Ukraine, and nurses from the Philippines - whose policy is to train more nurses than it needs so they can work abroad and send support money home - it makes less sense to target Irish workers.
Immigrants who come from traditionally depressed areas are more likely to remain, he notes, while those coming from places such as Ireland are more likely to return to their homelands when things improve.
Of course, this would make this a good recruitment policy if the only objective is to meet short-term needs. But that's certainly not what the Wall government is saying about this exercise.
Immigration Minister Rob Norris said in an interview Wednesday that construction companies are one group interested in Irish employees. However, the Saskatchewan delegation, expected to go to Ireland in March, also will be seeking health sciences workers and engineers at the Irish job fairs. Norris also emphasized the desire to have these immigrants become permanent Saskatchewan citizens.
Certainly, one can appreciate the government's eagerness to lend assistance when it also can address a local problem of some degree. But Norris is only talking about 75 to 100 jobs he hopes the delegates can offer.
Is a government trade mission really necessary for that, and is it even the government's role in our free market economy?
Does a government need to spend valuable public resources on an immigration recruitment project that sounds as if it's mostly about meeting the niche needs of some construction companies?
With First Nation unemployment far exceeding 14 per cent in Saskatchewan, one might think the government needs a grander view of this issue. Shouldn't First Nations people with bleak employment prospects be its foremost priority?
There's certainly nothing wrong with politicians doing what they can to help with what clearly is a problem of some degree. But this government especially finds itself getting into trouble when it starts focusing on the problems of like-minded supporters without first considering broader-based policy issues. Its recent foray into more financial support for private Christian schools at the potential expense of the public education system is a good example.
The welcome mat should be there for everyone.
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