Life is good: Building a Nova Scotia with economic, social, and cultural richness
My Halifax Experience sat down with the Honourable Lena Metlege Diab, Minister for Immigration and Acadian Affairs and Francophonie to talk about immigration to Nova Scotia and her own experiences as a newcomer to Canada. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MHE: Tell me about your personal connection to the work you do.
LD: I grew up in a small town in northern Lebanon. It was lovely, a small community where everyone knew everyone. I was the oldest of six children and my parents had emigrated to Nova Scotia earlier and had a successful business here, but went back to care for my father’s parents. In the mid-70s, the war started in Lebanon, and we couldn’t go to school, and it looked like it was going to get much worse. So in 1976, we had to escape. The airports were shut down, so we had to make it to a boat. We got out of there and made it to Cyprus. The boats were very small, very shaky, and there was a lot of sickness. I had my 11th birthday en route, and it took us a few weeks to make it back to Canada.
In 2006, I had four small children and we went to Lebanon for a holiday. Within four days, Lebanon was bombed. I had forgotten all about 1976. As a child, you forget a lot of things. I had to ensure my children were protected and we had to escape all over again. I was so scared they were going to separate my kids and me to put us on boats. I recall making it to the port, we didn’t know where we were going, who was taking us, how we would get there. I remember getting there at 3:00 am, waiting till 4:00 pm, and it was August and so hot. We had no food, we had no water, we had no toilets, we had nothing, and we had to stand with guns pointed at us. My oldest was screaming in English and I had to calm her down. My youngest was only three and didn’t know what was going on. The two in the middle fainted because of the heat.
It took me a week to escape and get back to Halifax. The only way my parents knew we were alive is that they saw us on the TV news. I believed we were never going to make it back. It’s hard to talk about these things, but these experiences are what shape me and drive me because when I see what people have gone through, I relate. Going through that, everything else comes into perspective. We’re very, very lucky here. Life is good, and Nova Scotia and Canada have a lot to be proud of.
MHE: What motivates you to get up every day and work for a more diverse and inclusive Nova Scotia?
LD: My prime motivator for entering politics in 2013 was my four children. I started to see their friends leaving and looking for jobs, and that scared me. I didn’t want my children to leave. I wanted to see what my experiences and education could bring. I’ve been serving the public all my life, I’ve been in many different volunteer groups, and in my legal practice I served the public as well for more than 20 years. I even acted for refugees and immigration cases. I saw politics as an opportunity to make changes in the economy, but also social changes. When I look back, I can see how so much around me has changed since coming here in 1976. We have a very welcoming province. We have a much more diverse province. For me, richness goes behind wealth. Whether it’s economic, or social, or cultural, for me they all go together. It goes to your inner self, your attitudes, to us serving and helping our neighbours.
MHE: What do you want Nova Scotians to understand about the importance of immigration and retention to the future of this province?
LD: Immigration strengthens and grows our economy, grows our population, helps employers fill persistent labour gaps, revitalizes our communities, and adds to our province’s diversity. It is key to building our province and keeping our communities dynamic, vibrant, and strong. By welcoming new people, we are bringing new perspectives and ideas. New people will start and grow businesses, and create more jobs for all Nova Scotians.
MHE: How is the Atlantic Immigration Pilot working here in Halifax? What changes are you seeing?
LD: The Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen our economy and grow our population by recruiting and retaining skilled workers to help address persistent labour gaps across the province. We’re continuing to see a steady increase in the number of new immigrants deciding to call our province home while also meeting the needs of employers. As of April 17, 2018, we have designated 385 employers who will receive help through the program to meet their labour needs, and endorsed 211 potential employees.
We are working with the federal government, our settlement partners, and organizations across the province to promote the AIP and make sure everyone knows the benefits. The Atlantic Immigration Pilot is part of a suite of programs or options that can be accessed by both Nova Scotia employers and people who want to immigrate to our province through the Provincial Nominee Program. One example is the new Physician Immigration Stream, designed to make it easier and faster for doctors to immigrate to Nova Scotia and practice here.
MHE: What do immigrant women bring to the table and why is it important?
LD: Immigrants all have unique stories and immigrant women bring their own perspectives, traditions, and contributions that help diversify what our province has to offer both socially and economically. We all know, and understand, that the experience of a woman immigrant can be very different from that of a man. Women can face unique challenges. However, we also all know that women and women immigrants also offer society unique strengths, talents, and opportunities, and that women play a key role in settling their families. Supporting women immigrants helps build and shape our communities and helps to create a more prosperous, dynamic, and stronger Nova Scotia for everyone.
MHE: What else is important for our readers to know?
LD: In the last two years alone, we welcomed 9,998 permanent residents to our province. And in 2017, we supported 1,652 applicants through the Provincial Nominee Program and the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. This is the highest number ever for Nova Scotia and those people are choosing to make this place their home. Retaining the immigrants who come here is key to our work. We invest in immigrant settlement services to support integration and retention. Our current retention rate is 71 per cent and we are constantly working to increase it.
The Honourable Lena Metlege Diab, ECNS, QC
Minister of Immigration, Ministre des affaires acadiennes et francophonie, MLA – Halifax Armdale
Ms. Diab was first elected in 2013 to the Provincial Assembly representing Halifax Armdale, and appointed to Executive Council of Nova Scotia as the first female Attorney General and Minister of Justice as well as Minister of Immigration. In July 2015, the Immigration portfolio became her exclusive cabinet position. She was re-elected to the Legislature on May 30, 2017 and was appointed both Minister of Immigration and Minister of Acadian Affairs and Francophonie.
The daughter of Lebanese immigrants to Canada, Ms. Diab was born in Nova Scotia, raised in Lebanon for eight years, and returned to Halifax in the face of civil war at the age of 11. Ms. Diab has received the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce in Nova Scotia Professional Award, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Progress Women of Excellence Award, and the Canadian Council of Ambassadors of the Arab League Award.