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A diverse future

We are living through a unique time in the history of Prince Edward Island. Never before have so many people from so many different places around the world chosen to move here.

During the past two years, more than 4,200 people from over 100 countries have registered for services with the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada. Slightly less than half have come from China. The other countries in the top six are India, Syria, Philippines, Vietnam, and Nigeria.

We need newcomers to counter the trends of an aging population and a static birthrate. If we do not have people working, paying taxes, buying groceries and clothing, sending their children to school, the prospects for the future of PEI are limited at best.

All these new Islanders are growing our population, making us slightly younger, and bringing a diversity in culture, music, food, and language never seen before in this province.

For almost all of these newcomers, there are three things that contribute to their success in living here. They need to learn English or French, they need to find work or be able to open a business, and they need to feel welcomed and part of the community. The first two are very dependent on the newcomer. The third involves all of us making an extra effort to be welcoming and inclusive.

We have the opportunity to create environments where different views are appreciated. It is important now to make yourself available to newcomers, to be open to getting a better sense of people from other cultures. It is not hard to do. Share a personal story. Let new Islanders get a better sense of you. It is not easy for a newcomer to invite themselves into existing circles of activities. They don’t always know what is the best way in.

Because of the nature of our lives, we often find ourselves living with, working with, and relating to people inside a relatively limited bandwidth of human difference. Consciously expanding that bandwidth can give us a broader perspective about people who are different from ourselves. With the increasing diversity of people, it is more important than ever that we find ways to engage with those who are different from ourselves in positive ways. 

We are often unconsciously dismissive of other ways of doing things, not because they are less successful, but because they are not our ways. The more we replace exclamation points with question marks, and slow down our reactions, the better we are able to thoughtfully consider more perspectives.

The more we know people for who they are, the less we treat them as what they are.

My life experiences, from working with the CBC in Canada’s north to leading the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, have shown me that complexity and diversity do make us stronger and far more interesting. I firmly believe when we find the courage and curiosity to engage with people who seemingly live very different lives from our own that we will begin to see the potential that cultural diversity brings to this Island. If we, as established Islanders, reach out to newcomers and invite them to be part of this place, then the chances of them staying here are greatly enhanced. Ultimately, the result will be a more conscious, inclusive, and humane society with greater opportunity for all. That is a future worth striving toward.

—Craig Mackie is Executive Director with PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada

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