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Welcome doesn’t stop at the airport

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on being friendly. It’s a trait so closely connected with our national identity that ­­­last year, the iconic Canadian brand Roots launched an entire campaign around it.

But stereotypes aside, it’s a topic worth considering. By 2020, nearly one million new immigrants will settle in Canada. Newcomers are landing in airports across the country, but what comes after that—integration, employment, building a life in a new community—requires help from all of us. And that goes deeper than just being friendly.

As the population of working-age citizens declines, Canada needs newcomers. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that adding 450,000 immigrants over the next three years will grow real GDP by an average of 2.05 annually. Immigrants are entrepreneurial, they employ other Canadians, they innovate and they invest—but in order to see these contributions, we first need to help facilitate their integration into our labour markets and our communities.

In January, during his town hall tour’s Quebec City stop, Justin Trudeau answered a number of questions on the topic of immigration. He stressed that collectively, we need to do a better job of welcoming Canada’s newcomers.

So, what does it truly mean to welcome someone?

This month, NATIONAL’s Halifax team spoke with Mohammad Al Masalma, a new arrival from Syria currently studying at the Nova Scotia Community College, and asked him exactly that.

“For me, welcoming immigrants is about creating connections, asking about their skills, ideas and culture. With an open door and the right opportunity, immigrants will do amazing things in Canada.”

As Mohammad wraps up his final semester at NSCC, the opportunity he’s looking for is the chance to showcase his skills as a photographer, videographer and graphic designer to a wider audience. With Nova Scotia’s annual State of the Province address taking place today, NATIONAL wanted to give him that chance.

As he presented his video to 600 Nova Scotian business owners and operators, community leaders, media, and three levels of government, Mohammad explained: “New Canadians are your friends, your neighbours and hopefully, your next hire. I’m ready to get to work and to make my mark on Nova Scotia —and I’m not the only one. Immigrants make our communities better. It’s up to all of us to welcome them.”

It’s an important statement, as we reach our highest immigration level in almost a century. After all, more than friendliness, diversity makes us who we are as a country. It’s our greatest strength.