In the City of 100 Hellos What Language Will Get Ottawa’s Attention?

Posted by on Apr 14, 2012 in Blog, News

“It smells gross, doesn’t it.” Taylor, working Safeway’s express checkout, said that as I bought a snack for my drive back to Vulcan. She was talking about the smell from Lakeside’s beef processing operations. It’s especially pungent on a windy, drizzly evening like last Thursday night in Brooks.

Before I stopped at Safeway I made another stop, phoned Theresa in Edmonton, and asked her if I should pick up any special Asian sauces and spices before I came home on Friday. “Where are you going to get them in south-eastern Alberta?” she asked. “Brooks,” I said. “Sam’s Oriental Market has a selection worthy of large cities like Edmonton or Calgary.”

These anecdotes epitomize how Alberta’s impressive economic growth has led to equally impressive increases in our population and in Alberta’s racial and ethnic diversity. In the last 20 years Brooks has grown by more than 44 percent (from 9,464 to 13,676 people). In 2006 Brooks could boast a visible minority population of 2,135 – this ethnic/cultural richness (17 percent of Brooks’ residents in 2006) is why Brooks is also known as the City of 100 Hellos. This diversity puts Brooks in the same league as Calgary where in 2006 22.2 percent of Calgarians belonged to visible minorities.

At the Brooks all-candidates forum last Wednesday I was pleased, but also disappointed, to be the only candidate for either the Senate nominee election or the provincial election who talked about immigration issues. I stressed how important it is for the senior levels of government to empower Albertans to respond generously to new arrivals. Ottawa must empower municipalities and non-profits, give them the stable, financial resources needed, to help new Albertans realize the dream of healthy livelihoods that brought them to the Next Alberta.

Chima Nkemdirim, Calgary Mayor Nenshi’s Chief of Staff, told me at the end of March that ensuring federal immigration services support dollars followed new arrivals to where they ultimately settled was an important issue in Calgary. Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson stressed this was important in Edmonton as well when we talked over coffee at the Sugarbowl just off the U of A campus.

But the challenges our two major metropolitan centres face when it comes to helping refugees and other immigrants settle are even more daunting in communities like Brooks. For example, Calgary and Edmonton will receive some monies from the federal Resettlement Assistance Program because some of the qualifying refugees will arrive and remain in those cities.

Brooks, as I stressed at the all-candidates forum, won’t get one penny of money from that program. Why? Without an international airport Brooks (along with who knows how many other cities and towns in Canada) isn’t a place where refugees “land.” They may end up living and working in Brooks but the City of Brooks and local immigration services agencies won’t get any money from this program to assist them. Does this situation make sense to you in any language?

On April 23rd I hope you will help send this independent Albertan to Ottawa. I’m committed to find out what language needs to be spoken there in order for the federal government to hear and respond positively to the cultural diversity that could enrich those of us fortunate enough to live in the Next Alberta.