Mayor Hope Wants Refugees To Help Fill Workforce

Mayor Randy Hope. June 4, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Cowan Blackburn News Chatham-Kent).

Chatham-Kent’s mayor is choosing a half glass full attitude when it comes to the issue of refugees.

Randy Hope appeared via Skype video link on Tuesday before The House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Hope testified that he sees the current influx of refugees facing Parliament as an opportunity rather than a crisis.

He joined Ontario Immigration Minister Lisa McLeod, Saskatchewan Immigration Minister Jeremy Harrison, and MPs Adam Vaughn and Charles MacArthur.

During his testimony, Hope spoke about how Chatham-Kent has always welcomed those fleeing persecution whether they be slaves arriving via the Underground Railroad, immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century, refugees fleeing the aftermath of the Second World War, or the 75 Syrian refugees the municipality took in more recently.

Hope says most communities are willing to accept them, but one of the biggest dilemmas is the overall cost and impact that it would have on the local tax base.

“Here in Chatham-Kent we do have a number of employers who are still looking for employees and we’re trying to grow our population,” says Hope. “If we can do a process where we identify the skill sets of individuals, match them up with employment opportunities, they become contributing members of our society.”

Hope says you can either choose to look at the negative side of things, or you can look at the positive.

“If I get people coming here, looking for employment, settling down, getting houses, putting their children in our schools — which maybe would help prevent some of the school closures from occurring — there are so [many] positives,” he says.

In order for Chatham-Kent to welcome more refugees, Hope says the federal government needs to step up to a committing some unconditional social transfers.

“I respect the process, but it can’t be carried on the burdens of the municipality,” he says. “We all want to see more people come in, but there has to be that commitment from the federal government to deal with the social transfer that will be occurring from refugees to citizenship to contributing members of our society.”

Hope says the government also needs to expedite the process, so it doesn’t take two years for a refugee claim to be heard.

“Most people will not make financial investments until they know that their family is secured in a location,” he says. “It’s all about timing, it’s all about employment opportunities, and it’s all about continuing to attract investment into Chatham-Kent.”

*With files from Matt Weverink