Remarks to Joint Dinner of the Greater Halifax Partnership
and the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration
President & Chief Executive Officer
Royal Bank of Canada
May 5, 2010
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Thank you very kindly, Paul.
Mr. Premier, Minister Jennex, Honoured Guests, and friends.
More than 140 years ago, the roots of RBC were first planted
here with the founding of the Merchants Bank of Halifax so
our history is deeply tied to this city. So it is indeed a
great pleasure to be here and to have the opportunity to discuss
an issue that is of great importance to the future of this
Tonight I am pleased to be able to talk about a subject important
to me, important to Halifax and important to our country.
Embracing diversity and immigration is not only vital to Canada's
social agenda: Diversity and immigration are, by all measures,
critical elements of our shared economic agenda as well.
As CEO of RBC, I am always pleased to represent my company
and my country on the international stage. And when doing
so, I believe very passionately that Canada is the best country
for people to live, to build futures and to be part of a greater
This is a country largely built by the efforts, the ingenuity
and the foresight of newcomers - the contributions of immigrants
to the well being of Canada, Nova Scotia and Halifax is evident
Their legacy is one to be proud of, but the issues, challenges
and solutions facing immigrants today are not the same as
in past generations. Our responsibility is to define a new
reality of inclusion for newcomers to our communities and
I know this audience is filled with people who came directly,
or whose families emigrated to Canada from other countries
with dreams and hopes of making a better life. My grandfather
and his family emigrated to Halifax and settled in the Truro
area. Halifax has welcomed newcomers for centuries and the
museum at Pier 21 is a treasure celebrating and retelling
the city's great history of how new immigrants came to help
build this city and our country.
Today, these stories continue to be created. Created by people
like Dr. Jim Spatz or Wadih Fares.
Dr. Spatz's parents survived the Holocaust and came to Nova
Scotia in 1950. After completing his medical degree at Dalhousie,
Jim practiced medicine in Montreal before returning to Halifax
and taking up the family business of real estate development
and community philanthropy.
Wadih Fares came to Canada from Lebanon and has built the
W.M. Fares Group into a celebrated building design and construction
project management firm. As long as Wadih has been developing
the buildings in which people live and work, he has worked
to develop the communities united within them. He has shown
that he believes strongly in celebrating the unique talents
and contributions everyone brings to this province and country.
There are hundreds more equally compelling stories of immigrants
who have brought their talents, skills and experiences to
make a profound impact on this city and indeed on our country.
While their contributions are surely a part of our shared
history, there is considerable evidence that also points to
immigration and diversity as drivers of future prosperity
for Canada and other Western economies. In this context, our
history of opening our country's doors to welcome people from
all over the world gives me every confidence that Canada can
lead the world.
In an era when many countries are becoming more polarized
and less tolerant, Canada has an unparalleled opportunity
to use immigration and diversity as a major competitive advantage.
But leadership will not come without effort.
If Canada is to continue to improve its standard of living,
we must do more to become the destination of choice for skilled
immigrants — scientists, professionals and entrepreneurs.
We must 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 quality of life.
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
Last 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. 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 economic crisis.
Canada's labour challenges are real and will impede future
long-term economic growth if we do not find a coordinated
strategy to leverage the skills and talents of people who
have come here from other countries looking for nothing more
than a real chance to succeed.
A general labour shortage will become a normal fact of life
in the next decade for all Canadians. Consider this: If nothing
changes, by 2026 one in every eight jobs in the country will
As CEO of a major Canadian employer, I am highly aware of
these challenges and see a solution in the critical talent
and skills that new immigrants bring to our communities as
employees and as clients.
But I also see that we are facing greater competition for
skilled immigrants from other countries. Unfortunately, recent
immigrants to Canada continue to have a difficult time contributing
to the best of their abilities when they move here.
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.
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 building economic
growth. Faced with this huge potential 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.
The difficulties that newcomers to Canada - particularly
those who have landed more recently - face in finding employment
or finding employment related to their background and experiences
are well known by everyone in this room.
Immigrants face barriers that include a lack of recognition
of foreign professional or educational credentials; degree
and length of work experience abroad and within Canada; language
barriers and related difficulties; lack of professional networks;
and knowledge of and information about the Canadian labour
market. These issues are particularly relevant for those who
have arrived more recently.
Removing and overcoming many of these barriers will require,
in some measure, courage, leadership and political will. But
it is critical if we are going to be a destination of choice
for skilled people in a globally competitive market.
Business, community and political leaders can no longer talk
about what we can do tomorrow to integrate skilled immigrants
into our economy. We need to focus today on what we will do
to tap into the intellectual capital of skilled immigrants
and invest in our country's future.
This cannot be about window dressing. It must be about business
and community leaders embracing diversity and our differences,
and putting our brains, our hearts and our wallets behind
Canada's leadership journey.
Unleashing the power of diversity and capitalizing on immigration
should be one of Canada's best 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
of the Canadian brand.
Tapping into the talent pool of skilled immigrants is important
for Canada, and as many of you have said numerous times, it's
also very important for Nova Scotia and for Halifax.
But when you look at the numbers, Nova Scotia and Halifax
are losing out on the talent coming into this country.
In 2008 over 245,000 immigrants came to Canada, but just
over 2,600 people chose Nova Scotia as their home. And, according
to census data from 2006, Halifax is attracting far below
its share of newcomers to contribute to the growth and vitality
of this region.
Only slightly more than 7 per cent of the population here
are immigrants, compared to the national average of close
to 20 per cent. And in the first half of the past decade,
immigrants to Halifax accounted for a bit more than 1 per
cent of the overall population.
Halifax can and must do more. Halifax can and must do better
to attract more than its share of immigrants and sustain economic
growth for the future.
Your future prosperity demands it.
According to government statistics, there will be over 56,000
job openings in Nova Scotia over the next five years, the
result of retirement and new job creation. Retirements are
such a large generator of job openings in the province that
for every job opening created by employment growth, five additional
openings will be created due to retirements.
Employment growth in Greater Halifax has outpaced population
growth — virtually every area in and around this city is
growing. And yet, the city has not yet been able to capitalize
on the rich talent of skilled immigrants coming to Canada
Now, more than ever, companies must seize the moment to leverage
the valuable international education, skills and talents immigrants
bring with them to Canada.
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. Doing more to attract
and integrate skilled immigrants in our companies is, in fact,
a critical aspect of nation building that enhances the health
and vitality of our cities and communities.
It's clear to me that the Greater Halifax Partnership understands
this - attracting and retaining immigrants is central to your
SmartBusiness initiative and the GHP membership and the Halifax
Region Immigration Leadership Council deserve credit for their
work to address the obstacles to better integrating immigrants
in the work force.
As a long-time member of the Halifax community, RBC is proud
to join in your efforts.
I want to take a moment and recognize Greg Grice, our regional
president for Atlantic Canada and a member of the GHP board
of directors. Greg and I and my other colleagues at RBC have
seen firsthand the impact that a culture of inclusion and
diversity can have in a business.
We tend to look at diversity through two lenses - clearly
it is the right thing to do, but it also represents incredible
RBC has emerged from the recent tough times stronger and
better positioned than many of our competitors - and I believe
that diversity is one of the sources of that strength. By
giving everyone a seat at the table, we have expanded our
collective brain-trust - and we have driven innovation, growth
and competitive advantage.
Through the hard work of our leaders and our people, we have
embedded diversity throughout our business and the results
have changed the look of our leadership: Forty per cent of
our executives are now women, and 14% are visible minorities
- the numbers speak for themselves.
To ignore the value offered by huge parts of the workforce
and potential client base is a missed business opportunity.
We have clients who are new immigrants and it makes sense
to have employees that share their background, their language
and their perspective. We are also a global company and we
benefit greatly from the international experience of new Canadians.
We believe that to succeed, we must harness everyone's talents
and energy and apply them to achieving our common goals. When
our employees, our clients and our communities achieve their
full potential, RBC wins too. It's the right thing to do,
and it's just smart business. It may sound simple, but if
we want to stay an industry leader, we need to attract the
best people. Increasingly, that means positioning ourselves
as the employer of choice for talent - regardless of whether
their experience is international or Canadian. Doesn't the
same make sense for your business?
So what can you do to keep Halifax moving forward?
As Chair of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council,
I've been impressed with their multi-stakeholder approach
and I recommend that any initiatives undertaken here include
innovative government policies and programs, an engaged business
sector, creative community organizations and passionate individuals.
Good policy needs more than lofty ambition, and needs more
than good intentions to come to life. Ideas must be practical,
actionable and tangible. Step by step, actions must be taken
to create incremental change that will lead to real differences
in the strength of our communities.
All levels of governments must be bold and create 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 can provide them with 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.
As business leaders, we all know that markets are changing,
and we intuitively understand that to best serve the market,
we must hire the market.
As employers and business leaders, we must become agents
of change, and give energy to new ideas that will help your
organization become more diverse, innovative, and responsive.
If your hiring managers are recruiting people like themselves
- or those who will just fit in - then productivity remains
status quo and you can never get ahead.
Ensure that your hiring processes and policies are open to
everyone. Provide resources and information to make it easier
to hire skilled immigrants. Encourage mentorships. Champion
workplace initiatives. And work with community groups to support
And for companies looking to grow markets for their products
and services beyond Canada, immigrants bring to you language
and cultural skills, knowledge, and networks that can help
you reach out to emerging economic giants like China and India.
For the past few years in Toronto, RBC has been working closely
with ACCES Employment, a non-profit agency supporting immigrant
employment. And I'm pleased to say that in Toronto, RBC has
been able to hire a hundred people from ACCES, demonstrating
tangible results of simply using a more open and diverse talent
Two years ago, RBC launched MOSAIC - an employee resource
group that supports newcomers and visible minorities by promoting
an inclusive environment for all employees in Canada.
In hiring skilled immigrants, we are ensuring that newcomers
to Canada have strong mentors and an inclusive environment
to help accelerate their success.
In Halifax, we're proud of the success of the Immigration
Works In Halifax campaign — an award-winning print campaign
launched by the GHP, RBC and the Halifax Regional Municipality
in 2006 to change perception and attitudes of the business
community towards hiring an immigrant.
Last August, the GHP, along with support from RBC and Convergys,
launched the third phase of the campaign. The objectives of
this campaign are the same - to educate business owners on
the benefits of hiring immigrants and to shift their attitudes
around hiring newcomers. The scope of this campaign is visible
in print, billboards, radio, and TV advertising with a solid
presence on the web and in social media.
The results speak volumes of the untapped potential in your
own neighbourhoods. One year after the launch of the campaign,
eight out of 10 companies said they were ready to benefit
from hiring immigrants.
We've also thrown our support behind the Employer Support
Program, which educates employers on the immigration hiring
process, and the Immigration Connector Program, a formalized
networking initiative to assist immigrants expand their professional
Tomorrow, the national ALLIES conference begins. ALLIES is
an acronym that stands for Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant
Employment Strategies. 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
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.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to thank you for your invitation
tonight and for giving me the opportunity to speak to you
about the imperative for companies in Halifax and Nova Scotia
to hire more skilled immigrants.
For almost a decade, I've spoken across the country to thousands
of people about the need for Canadian companies to embrace
diversity. And I'll close tonight by explaining why I care
so deeply about this issue.
We have made progress at RBC in leveraging diversity, and
while I know there's more work to be done, I feel confident
that we're on the right path. But it's not enough.
Canada faces real labour challenges and risks to future economic
growth if all of our companies cannot better leverage the
skills and talents of people who have come here looking for
nothing more than the chance to succeed.
Our country's future prosperity needs everyone - employers,
policymakers, community leaders - to do more to integrate
the rich knowledge, experience and commitment of skilled immigrants.
I am a proud Canadian, and my experiences working, living
and traveling abroad have only deepened that pride.
The strength of our financial system over the past two years,
our economic resilience, and even the performance of our athletes
in Vancouver 2010, have shown to the world that Canada is
again ready to lead.
In different fields of human endeavour Canada is proving
itself among the world's best and a place where people want
to pursue their dreams. Attracting the best people to build
our country and grow your company means being open to a world
that is built on principles of inclusion: Valuing people for
their talent, their skills, and their perspectives from a
background that is different than others.
Diversity drives you to expand the human dimension of business
itself - one individual at a time. Personally, I've seen the
impact of diversity grow throughout RBC and I urge you all
to do what you can in your own organizations to embrace its
power to help achieve your business objectives.
Thank you again for your invitation. I wish you all a pleasant