President & Chief Executive Officer
Royal Bank of Canada
Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council
September 10, 2009
Thank you Zabeen and good morning everyone.
Before I begin my remarks, I want to take a moment and commend
the efforts of a few people.
First, I want to thank David Pecaut of the Toronto City Summit
Alliance, who is unquestionably one of Toronto's greatest
Secondly, thank you to Dominic D'Alessandro and Diane Bean—
our outgoing Chair and Co-chair, and Manulife Financial.
Six years ago, Dominic and Diane stepped up to bring more
attention to the necessity of integrating skilled immigrants
into our labour market. I join Zabeen in looking forward to
building on their work and harnessing the momentum gained
so that the GTA community may fully benefit from the rich
skills, experiences and perspectives that thousands of skilled
immigrants bring to this city every year from all parts of
I also want to thank Ratna, Elizabeth and their team at TRIEC— as well as the TRIEC Council— for inviting RBC to take
the lead of an issue that is critical to our collective prosperity
and the competiveness of the GTA and Canada.
As a result of TRIEC's efforts under their guidance, thousands
of newcomers to Toronto have been able to contribute to our
economy by finding employment that is relevant to their skills,
their training and their background.
And, finally I want to take a moment and applaud the work
of our Chief Human Resources Officer, Zabeen Hirji. Zabeen
has demonstrated ongoing leadership and unwavering commitment
to the issue of integrating skilled immigrants into our communities.
Her involvement with TRIEC since its inception has ensured
RBC was at the table contributing to solutions that work for
businesses and individuals.
As CEO of a major employer in the GTA and in Canada, I know
very well the critical talent and skills that new immigrants
bring to our communities as employees and as clients.
If Canada is to maintain and improve its standard of living,
we must become the destination of choice for skilled immigrants,
scientists, professionals and entrepreneurs. We must also
do a better job of leveraging the diversity of our current
and future workforce. If we do, we will have an unrivalled
advantage. If we don't, we will face an uphill battle just
to maintain our current competitiveness.
Declining birthrates are not keeping pace with the demands
of growing economies, and, as a result of demographic shifts,
immigrants are expected to account for all net Canadian labour
force growth by 2011, and for all net population growth by
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. In 2005, RBC Economics found that if
all new 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 a year.
Faced with this huge benefit, our business community is falling
short of the challenge and not doing enough to tap the potential
of immigrants in our workforce, many of whom are visible minorities.
These higher incomes would have obvious multiplier effects
in markets for housing and consumer spending, as well as savings
and investment— all critical elements today in kick-starting
This summer, the OECD urged its 30 member countries— including
Canada— to improve efforts to help immigrants become better
trained and more integrated into the job market. The OECD
recognized that immigration to many western countries has
declined and the workforce in western countries is aging—
both trends that will have implications beyond the current
Canada's labour challenges are real and will impede future
economic growth if we do not find a coordinated strategy to
leverage the skills and talents of people who have come here
looking for nothing more than the chance to succeed.
A general labour shortage will become a normal fact of life
in Canada's economic environment over the next decade. If
nothing changes, in 2026 one in every eight jobs in Canada
will go unfilled.
We must do a better job of assessing the skills we need,
now and in the future. We must develop 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. Then,
we must make sure that we have the programs and environment
to help them live up to their full potential.
We need smart social planning to ensure that immigrants are
properly welcomed, housed and educated. We need to ensure
they are integrated quickly and effectively into our workplaces,
marketplaces and economy.
Just from leveraging the talent sitting in our own front
yard, we could gain the equivalent of 400,000 more workers
in a year. 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. We already have higher
economic participation rates and lower unemployment rates
for immigrants than many other countries.
But we need more. We need an adequate infrastructure to help
both new Canadians and future immigrants maximize their potential.
We need language training programs, settlement programs, and
mentoring and internship programs that provide Canadian work
experience. And we urgently need a system for professions
and trades to recognize foreign credentials and certifications
in the context of our own laws and regulations.
Unleashing the power of diversity and capitalizing on immigration
should be one of Canada's greatest competitive advantages.
Canada is already known to be one of the most diverse nations
on earth— and for many around the world, this is a central
theme to the brand of Canada.
The Greater Toronto Area has an even more acute advantage
as perhaps the most cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic city in
So we all have a tremendous amount to gain - and virtually
nothing to lose— from nurturing an inclusive society where
differences are respected and valued, and where individuals— regardless of their background— are able to contribute
to our economy and prosper in their field of expertise.
There is good news, but the headlines remind us there's much
to be done by leaders of our businesses, our communities,
and our governments.
In 2005, recent-immigrant men earned 63 cents for each dollar
earned by Canadian-born men, down from 85 cents in 1980, according
to Statistics Canada. And the proportion of highly educated
immigrants who have lived in Canada for more than 10 years
and work in jobs with low educational requirements is increasing.
By some measures, the situation has deteriorated over the
past four years.
Many Canadian companies still say that they overlook immigrants
in their human resource planning; they don't hire immigrants
at the level at which they were trained; and they have trouble
integrating recent immigrants into the workforce.
I'm not denying progress has been made but employers in the
GTA, Ontario and across Canada can do more.
The time is now— to innovate or stagnate. We can no longer
talk about what we can do tomorrow to integrate skilled immigrants
into our economy, but what we will do today to tap into the
intellectual capital of skilled immigrants and invest in our
There is still much work to be done, and now, more than ever,
we should seize the moment to tap into the valuable international
education, skills and talents immigrants bring with them to
Why? Because Canada's future prosperity will be based on
the very skills and creativity found in the diverse perspectives
of people who are new to our country.
As chair of the MaRS Discovery District and founding Co-Chair
of the Toronto Region Research Alliance, I understand that
there is unfulfilled potential in our communities— specifically
the GTA— and I am sensitive to the needs of innovative entrepreneurs
and leading edge companies who want to fill the gap to succeed.
Innovative minds like those found in the Research and Development
department of i³DVR International Inc., which designs,
manufactures and supplies digital video technologies for the
security industry and is based in Scarborough.
This company's entire R&D team— more than 20 per cent
of its entire workforce— are skilled immigrants. The technical
skills, experience and fresh thinking of the new Canadians
on staff have helped catapult i3DVR's sales from $500,000
in 1990, to $16.2 million in 2004 and put the company in 11th
place on Profit's annual list of the 100 fastest-growing Canadian
Another company, Nytric Limited, a Toronto-based innovation-consulting
and venture technology firm, is already ahead of the curve.
With input from their skilled immigrant employees, Nytric
tweaks products to better reflect diverse cultures to increase
marketing appeal both domestically and internationally. Employees
fluent in different languages help the company negotiate with
overseas suppliers and manufacturers abroad. This company
generates annual revenue of approximately $4 million. Ninety
per cent of their products are exported.
In its engineering department, the ratio of immigrants to
Canadian-born employees is two to one. Immigrants also hold
executive positions: its President and Chief Technology Officer
was born in India, its Director of Product Development is
from Taiwan; and its Director of Business Development, Anthony
Gussin, is from the U.K.
Anthony's description of the company's hiring strategy embodies
the very spirit of why we're all here today. Simply put, Anthony
says: "From our perspective, Canadian experience is irrelevant— if someone is a good engineer, he's a good engineer. It
doesn't matter where he came from".
Some of you may have found these examples familiar because
all of these companies are recipients of TRIEC's Immigrant
Success Awards, which were launched in 2006 and sponsored
These are great examples and promising anecdotes, but our
country will be better when they are no longer the exception
to the rule.
As noted by Richard Florida of the Martin Prosperity Institute,
this is exactly the time to seek out global markets and benefit
from global competition. Now is the opportunity for Canada
to gain competitive advantage by becoming an even more open
economy and society, as other countries risk being protectionist
toward imported goods and services and immigration.
At a time when the U.S. economy, in particular, remains weak,
we need to expand our trade and cultural relationship even
more. Newcomers to Canada bring skills, including language
and cultural skills, knowledge and networks that can help
us to reach out to emerging economic giants like China and
India, as well as emerging immigrant markets here at home.
It's clear is that there is no magic solution. With the end
of the recession in sight, Canada's employers, TRIEC, community
organizations, and our policymakers need to come together
to continue to develop long-term talent strategies aimed at
enabling Canada's skilled immigrant workforce help local economies
grow, compete and prosper.
Employers need to be recovery-ready. And forward-looking
companies are taking action now.
This isn't just RBC's position, but a call to action articulated
by business and civic leaders and think tanks locally, nationally
and globally. Skilled immigrants can and want to do more to
help their families succeed and contribute to our collective
success of this great country. It's up to all employers to
seize that opportunity.
We need innovative government policies, an engaged business
sector and organizations like TRIEC to do their part— and
to start today.
This morning, the journey continues with enthusiasm and a
greater sense of urgency.
Just before this meeting, Zabeen, Ratna and I hosted a breakfast
for business leaders who are working with ALLIES— an acronym
that stands for Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment
This is a joint initiative of the Maytree and the JW McConnell
Family Foundations that provides funding, technical assistance,
information and networks to Canadian cities so they can adapt
and implement effective and successful ideas to integrate
skilled immigrants into the local labour market.
I mention this only to highlight that there are excellent
resources available for companies and communities that want
to do a better job of integrating skilled immigrants. I am
proud of RBC's accomplishments but they couldn't have happened
in a vacuum.
Our breakfast discussion was interesting, educational and
productive. To the business leaders that took part this morning,
I want to say that I look forward to hearing about the progress
of your initiatives in your cities. I want to note that RBC's
leadership team from across the country was also at this morning's
breakfast and I urge you to engage them in your communities
as they can be a helpful resource and collaborator.
It is an honour for me to join with all the TRIEC members
today and to help lead them in identifying and developing
fresh new ideas that will take this city from doing a better
job on integrating skilled immigrants to a city that fully
realizes and leverages the skills of our immigrants.
Thank you again for taking the time to be here today and
for your passion around this important issue.