The devil and other details
Tamara Fernandez Lima and her husband are economic-class immigrants from Cuba. They initially landed in St. John’s, but hated the weather and heard there was more opportunity out West. Within four days of touching down in Calgary in January, 2010, they both had jobs.
“It wasn’t a dream job, but it was a job, and we needed to get established,” Ms. Lima says. “For us, it was like heaven.”
Not content with one position, within weeks they had several more. Ms. Lima has a graduate degree in psychology and worked as vice-president of human resources at a Cuban government-security company. In Calgary, she would start her day at 10 a.m. at a women’s clothing store, while her husband washed dishes at a restaurant. He had another dishwashing job in the evening, followed by a cleaning job at Dairy Queen – and then they would rendezvous at Pizza Hut at around 1 a.m. and to make pizza dough until 6 a.m. Ms. Lima would go home for three hours of sleep and then start again.
“We barely slept until my husband found something closer to his field,” she says.
He now installs home and office alarms, not far from his expertise as an electrical technician, while Ms. Lima eventually worked her way up to a more appropriate job too, handling payroll at a Safeway corporate office. They recently bought a condominium and are expecting their first child. Both are continuing to upgrade their education, Ms. Lima by taking a certificate in human-resources management at the University of Calgary.
“We haven’t finished yet,” Ms. Lima says. “I’m not yet in my dream job, but this is one of the steps along the way.”
Their story is a reminder that immigrating is far from easy, and expanding it will not be simple either. Taking on more immigrants would require more employees at Citizenship and Immigration to screen and select newcomers in time to be more responsive to the demands of employers. It would require more money for settlement work and for promoting Canada abroad.
To maximize the benefits, Canada would have to get immigrants of the right age. As McMaster’s Prof. Sweetman points out, they should fill the gaps in Canada’s population structure, and right now that would mean targeting people in their mid-30s.
Canada also has to get newcomers to smaller centres, as envisioned in Deloitte and HRPA’s Northern Tiger scenario. In 2006, 70 per cent of recent immigrants lived in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, which have felt the stresses of housing, job and infrastructure crunches.
By contrast, immigrants can halt population decline in smaller areas. And if communities and local employers have a role in selecting them, their outcomes tend to improve.
Still, any large immigration influx puts pressure on public services. In Steinbach’s case, it was the schools that felt it first.
Watch out for the ‘25th frame’
Superintendent Ken Klassen remembers scrambling to deal with the sheer number of newcomers who kept showing up without warning in his classrooms. “We got huge families, 10 to 13 kids and one in every grade,” he says. “Classes were getting new kids on a weekly basis.” And most of the newcomers did not speak English.
But the problems did not stop at finding more classrooms and teachers. There were cultural confrontations that threw everyone off. Russian-German parents objected to yoga in gym class, for example – saying its Eastern religious roots conflicted with their Christian beliefs.
They felt the same way about aboriginal dream catchers in classrooms, and ghost stories at Halloween.
Most astonishing of all was the immigrants’ objection to any educational video, even the most innocuous: The parents suspected that each second of video carried a hidden “25th frame” that contained subliminal anti-Christian messages.