Building a Nation:
Canadas Immigrant & Diversity Imperative
President & CEO
RBC Financial Group
The Immigrant Access Fund
October 10, 2006
Thank you, Peter, for your kind words. It is an honour to
be introduced by Peter Lougheed, who is not only one of Canadas
greatest politicians and statesmen, but an extraordinary individual
who has done so much for both Alberta and Canada. Peter is
also a past director of RBC and is always available to show
his support for our organization, which Peter
we greatly appreciate.
I couldnt resist the invitation to visit Calgary, and
show my support for the Immigrant Access Fund. Id like
to thank the IAFs staff, board and volunteers for the
warm welcome they have shown me.
IAF provides small loans to internationally trained immigrants,
so they can receive Canadian accreditation and training. IAF
is helping immigrants help Canada, which is critical to our
countrys future growth and prosperity. The only challenge
now is finding ways to make programs like IAFs even
more available, and therefore more impactful.
Tonight, I want to talk about why this is so important and
how we must significantly increase these efforts, and others,
if Canada is going to have the necessary human resources to
compete in todays global economy.
For the last two years or so, Ive been speaking out
about diversity and immigration as key drivers of Canadas
prosperity. I want to be clear about what I mean by this,
because many people believe this issue relates to current
skilled labour shortages; some think it applies to our need
to attract more professionals such as doctors, engineers and
scientists; while others focus on the glass ceiling that many
existing immigrants and visible minorities experience. I view
the diversity and immigration imperative as all of the above.
My message is simple: people are the most important asset
of both companies and countries. If Canada is to succeed in
the global marketplace, we must turbo-charge our economy by
leveraging the diversity of our current and future workforce.
We must attract the right skills, the best minds, and the
required resources, while more effectively utilizing our current
If we do, we will have an unrivalled advantage.
If we dont, we will face an uphill battle just to maintain
our quality of life.
Now, I should tell you that I dont normally get a lot
of feedback from colleagues when I speak about topics like
economic policy or financial services reform. Maybe thats
because no one wants to offer constructive criticism to their
But this subject really strikes a chord. Across our organization,
every time I talk about the issue, I get calls and emails
from employeesand even clientstelling me how important
this issue is to them and their families. Ive heard
some heartbreaking stories, and some inspiring ones too, but
their comments always remind me about the different perspectives
that various groups have with respect to the opportunities
available in the workforce.
Attracting and integrating immigrants into our workforce
is critical to our countrys growth. It is essential
to this city and this province.
- Calgary is one of the most popular destinations in Canada
- Alberta receives almost twice as many immigrants as it
did ten years ago around 20,000 a year. The majority
move to Calgary.
- The labour situation is well-known and is a wake-up call
for the entire country.
Normally, I spend the first 5 or 6 minutes of my speeches
making the business case that links diversity with prosperity
. laying the groundwork for why diversity can and should be
Canadas competitive advantage.
In the interests of time, Im going to fast-track that
argument tonight, because all of you know that your city and
province are facing some serious labour shortages. Depending
on which economist you listen to and we all know that
you can rarely get agreement among economists Calgary
is facing a shortfall of as many as 90,000 workers over the
next five years.
The Conference Board says that by 2025, the shortage across
the province will be well through 300,000.
Alberta is at the cusp of a trend were seeing nation-wide.
Across the country, our workforce is aging and our birth rate
has hit a record-low. This means our labour force will stop
growing in about 10 years. Some people have called this a
demographic time bomb.
Clearly, we must rely on immigration to fill the pipeline
and help fuel economic growth.
Our most pressing need is for skilled labourers, particularly
in a region like Alberta. But we cant lose sight of
the bigger picture. We must also attract the best and the
brightest, and ensure that we develop:
- Scientists who can make new discoveries.
- Entrepreneurs who can create new products and businesses.
- Engineers who can help build our towns and cities
- Business-people who can help manage our largest and most
- People who can help build our nation and enhance our prosperity.
Immigration is one of the only tools we have to help build
our nation for the future: we owe it to our citizens and our
children to get it right. We cant just sit and wait
for people with the right skills to come to us.
Government, business and the not-for-profit sector have to
look at immigration from a whole new angle.
Right now, were suffering from short-term vision:
- We welcome immigrants who are next in the pipeline.
- We rely on temporary workers to fill our short-term needs.
- And we hope for the best.
But we can no longer view immigration as a temporary employment
agency. We need to start looking at immigration as a blueprint
for nation-building, and we must find the right balance between
social justice and economic need.
This wouldnt be a new approach for Canada.
If you think back to history class, you might remember Sir
Clifford Sifton, who was a proud westerner and federal immigration
minister in the Laurier years. Sifton was convinced that the
west had huge economic potential and could contribute more
to Canadas economy. He set out to attract people to
the west and build what he called a nation of good farmers.
One of the tactics he used was looking at which other countries
had experienced farmers, and opening immigration offices there.
Sifton had a grand vision for the country, and he followed
through with policies and targeted programs.
And it worked. Some of you in this room are probably descendents
of immigrants who arrived during the Sifton years.
Well, the world is more complex and were not building
a nation of good farmers any more.
So its time to ask ourselves: What is our grand vision
now? What do we want to be as a nation? What is our equivalent
to Clifford Siftons nation of good farmers?
I strongly believe that if we are going to succeed in a global
economy, Canada must find its niches and specialize in those
things that we do best and quickly, because the rest
of the world is already doing it.
We require a coordinated strategy for dealing with our labour
challenges. We must do a better job of inventorying the skills
we need, now and in the future. We must do a better job at
developing the right policies and programs so that we can
find the people who have these skills and make sure they choose
Canada as their home. And we must also make sure that we have
the programs and environment where the people we attract can
live up to their potential.
For make no mistake, Canada is in a global war for talent.
Right now, we are going head-to-head with virtually every
developed country in the world, as well as developing powerhouses
like China and India where we are even witnessing reverse
migration. We must be a destination of choice for skilled
immigrants and professionals or we will not succeed. And,
if we dont provide the right opportunities, we will
lose those people who have the best potential.
Canadas western provinces seem to be able to grow visionaries
like Clifford Sifton, who was raised in Manitoba. You might
not be aware that back in 1998, Manitoba became the first
province to start setting its own targets to address population
and labour needs. And they focused not just on attraction,
but also on developing programs to retain and integrate newcomers
as well. Over the years, most of the other provinces have
adopted best practices from Manitoba.
This year alone, Manitoba will meet its target of 10,000
immigrants, and they expect to retain about 80 per cent of
those people. Thats a huge increase relative to the
provinces population of 1.2 million, and these newcomers
will be critical to Manitoba's population and economic growth.
Canada welcomes about 240,000 immigrants to Canada every
year. At this rate, with our aging workforce and low birth
rate, this means our labour force will stop growing in about
This is why RBC went on record last year, saying that Canada
should raise its immigration targets. But just increasing
our numbers wont solve our issues if we dont successfully
integrate in fact, it may severely compound other social
No province knows this better than Alberta.
Calgary is a good example of what happens when, over a short
time period, thousands of people pour into a city where infrastructure
is already strained. Newcomers cant find affordable
there arent enough doctors or hospitals
parents have to bus their kids off to schools on the other
side of town.
When people are not provided with the opportunity to maximize
their potential, it not only leads to frustration, but also
to poverty and social stresses in certain sectors of the community.
We cant just throw up our hands and hope the problems
will go away. We need smart social planning to make sure that
immigrants are properly welcomed, housed and educated; and
they are integrated quickly into our workplaces, marketplaces
and economy, so that they contribute to economic growth and
enhance overall prosperity.
Unfortunately, recent immigrants to Canada are having a harder
time adjusting than in previous generations. They may be better
educated than those born in Canada, but many have not found
jobs that match their skill levels, or are earning less than
people born in Canada. According to Calgary Economic Development,
up to one-half of employed immigrants who come to Alberta
with post-secondary credentials are not fully utilizing their
skills and experience in their jobs. Even worse, many are
If you take that trend and multiply it Canada-wide, this
is the worst kind of waste.
Last year, I asked our Economics department to quantify what
it costs the Canadian economy.
Heres what we found:
If all foreign-born Canadians were fully employed, at their
level of education and experience, earning equal pay to someone
born in Canada, personal income would increase by $13 billion
Just from leveraging the talent sitting in our own backyard,
we could gain the equivalent of 400,000 more workers in a
year. While it may not be realistic to expect full employment
at maximum potential, it is still disturbing to think of that
resource going to waste, especially when we are suffering
Ive brought a short video to help make my case. This
was produced by a non-profit organization we work with in
Those were public service announcements produced by the Toronto
Region Immigrant Employment Council. Ive seen them several
times now, and they never get easier to watch.
Our issues dont just revolve around new immigrants:
we must also leverage the talent we already have right here
in Canada now.
This should be easier for us to do than anyone else, because
Canada is already closer to being a model economy when it
comes to integrating immigrants than any other country in
the world. We already have higher participation rates and
lower unemployment rates for immigrants than many other countries.
We also have a more welcoming environment for immigrants.
A recent poll by Leger Marketing said that about 7 out of
10 Canadians believe immigration is good for the country.
That compares to just over 4 out of 10 people around the world
who can say the same for their countries.
Thats a great foundation to build upon.
As anyone in business will tell you, if you want to be successful,
you should capitalize on your existing competitive advantages.
Now, we need an adequate infrastructure to help both new Canadians
and future immigrants maximize their potential.
We must foster language training programs, settlement programs,
as well as mentoring and internship programs that provide
Canadian work experience.
We urgently need programs related to recognition of foreign
credentials and certification mechanisms, especially in professions
I am pleased that our federal government has just recently
announced as a new priority an economic platform to enhance
Canadas competitiveness that includes a focus on skills
shortage, training and post-secondary education. The federal
government plans to create a Foreign Credentials agency, and
has committed increased funding for immigration settlement
and incentives for apprenticeship programs.
The federal government is also extending its off-campus work
program to more than 150,000 foreign students, who can now
help fill labour gaps while theyre at school and can
stay in Canada for two years after graduation to work in their
field as well.
Last month, the feds even opened special immigration offices
in Calgary and Vancouver to help employers cut through the
red-tape in hiring temporary foreign workers.
The provinces are also doing their part, and heres where
Alberta is making great strides.
- A year ago, the province introduced its first policy dedicated
to attracting and retaining immigrants.
- In June, Calgary Economic Development released a detailed
report about the citys workforce, including some strong
recommendations on how to help new Canadians enter the labour
- Then, in July, the province announced a 10-Year
Strategy to bring 86,000 more people into the workforce.
The plan deals with everything from how to maximize the
contributions of First Nations peoples, to how to deal with
credentials of workers from other provinces and countries.
- And of course, non-profit organizations like the Immigrant
Access Fund are a critical part of the picture too.
IAF provides immigrants with loans up to $5,000 to fund accreditation
processes. To date, 18 people have received loans. Those of
you who are worried about the shortage of healthcare professionals
in Calgary will be happy to hear that there were a number
of physicians, dentists and pharmacists among the group and
I know there are some loan recipients here tonight.
But while governments and NGOs have an important role to
play, business has to pick up the ball as well. And so far,
weve been dropping it.
By their own admission, many Canadian companies say that
- overlook immigrants in their human resource planning;
- dont hire immigrants at the level at which they
- and they have trouble integrating recent immigrants into
I dont believe companies are doing this intentionally:
but rather because of systemic challenges that all organizations
face. Once businesses start to realize the opportunity in
diversity, systemic challenges seem to disappear.
RBC has almost 70,000 employees around the world, and we
set a high premium on diversity. I chair our Diversity Leadership
Council, made up of senior leaders from across our businesses.
As a matter of interest, this is the only committee at RBC
other than my executive one that I sit on.
This Council sets our diversity strategy and goals.
We meet quarterly to make sure the talent pipeline is being
filled with qualified candidates from diverse groups, as well
as tracking our results.
Each of our businesses has diversity goals for women and visible
minorities so we can measure our performance and hold people
accountable, rather than just talking a good game.
Currently, 23 per cent of our workforce is comprised of visible
minorities, with 38 per cent in management, and about 9 per
cent in senior management. We want to do better, so we are
focused on building diversity into our workforce. Long-term
success is not about filling labour shortages it is
about strategically addressing labour requirements and maximizing
I should mention that RBC has just sponsored a major piece
of research with Catalyst Canada to examine the career advancement
of visible minorities--the first survey of its kind in Canada,
based on both employee and employer feedback. Last week, we
called upon the CEOs of Canadas major corporations to
take part, so we can get the clearest picture possible. I
encourage you to look for the results later next year.
If I can emphasize just one point about RBC today, it is
that we approach diversity not just from a social justice
perspective, but as a business opportunity.
You might be interested to know that RBC has been working
with the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association for a number
of years, and weve hired 8 people through them this
year alone. Were also starting to work with the Bowen
Immigrant Works Program and the Calgary Catholic Immigrant
Society to source new recruits as well. Every new Canadian
we hire helps us build knowledge about our cultural markets
an increasingly important source of business for us.
RBC has about 11 million clients in Canada. Almost 15 per
cent are new Canadians and visible minorities and we
expect much of our future growth to come from these cultural
markets. Thats why RBC recently developed a Welcome
to Canada program, and we are busy developing products
and services that newcomers urgently need in their first weeks
and months here.
- We created a secured VISA card so that new immigrants
can build their credit history.
- We simplified our mortgage process to ease up on an immigrants
- And we created a way for customers to apply to open an
account over the internet, so newcomers can start organizing
the financial side of their new life even before they get
You might be interested to know that some of our employees
here in town are even studying conversational Mandarin through
the University of Calgarys continuing education program.
If businesses do a good job of attracting and integrating
new immigrants and maximizing the value of diversity in their
workforce, it is a win/win for the individual, for the business
and ultimately for the country.
Well, this brings me to my conclusion.
I want to thank the Immigrant Access Fund for inviting me
here tonight, and commend you for your leadership and foresight.
You clearly realize that we must do more than open the door
to new immigrants we must make Canada the destination
of choice for talented people with skills, energy and ambition.
You are helping new Canadians realize their dreams and contribute
to their fullest potential.
Unleashing the power of diversity and capitalizing on immigration
should be one of Canadas best competitive advantages.
This country was built on the backs of immigrants, and hopefully,
their brains will help build our future. But lets not
waste the potential.
There is no magic bullet. We need innovative government policies,
an engaged business sector and organizations like the IAF
doing their part, one person at a time.
And it is essential that Canadians understand what is at
stake, because this may be the one issue that determines whether
we move ahead or fall behind.