In an era of globalization and unprecedented urban growth, our Canadian story can be about open, inclusive cities that are creating a palpable sense of excitement and opportunity. Or it can be a story of tension and alienation that can be passed along to the second and even third generation. When social integration is done well, it fuels economic growth, spurs innovation and talent renewal, creates new knowledge and promotes an open, richer and more cohesive social fabric. When it is done poorly, the results are costly and far more complex.
Cities are where immigrants prefer to live, work, study, play, and raise their families. Cities are where immigrants experience integration or exclusion, with results that impact not just the immigrant, but also the local community. Local institutions—such as city governments, local businesses, community and civil sector organizations, schools, libraries, and parks—can play a powerful and positive role in immigrant integration.
In the past, immigration was something that ‘just happened’ to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Now, immigrants are choosing a wide variety of Canadian cities to make their new homes. The share of immigrants arriving to big cities in our western provinces and small and mid-sized cities all over Canada is increasing. Many of these cities are actively seeking to attract new immigrants and to help them integrate into the community.
Fortunately, cities don’t need to start their attraction and integration work from scratch. They can learn from other cities around the world that are using innovative new ideas—such as the peer-to-peer learning exchange program between Netherlands and Toronto or Barcelona’s School of Entrepreneurship for Women—alongside tested, proven methods. These local leaders encourage integration in many places, such as workplaces, boardrooms, classrooms, parks and public offices. Cities of Migration is a wonderful resource that documents these innovative ideas and their impact across the globe.
To succeed in this work, we need vision, the ability and willingness to collaborate, and persistence. We must be able to imagine new solutions to sticky problems. Canada is likely to continue accepting immigrants at our current – or higher – rate, so we will continue to need fresh new minds to bring new ideas and approaches to this work. As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” We must work together, and across sectors. Great things can happen for immigrant employment, for example, when small non-profits work with large multinational corporations.
Finally, we must be relentless. Significant change takes time, and is unlikely to happen all at once. Small steps are better than standing still, as long as we keep moving towards the goal of equity and inclusion for everyone in our society.
Immigration will continue to shape Canada’s story in the future and beyond. We have the power to write this story in our cities and in our communities, and to make sure that this story is one of welcome, protection and success.