Co-Chair of Surrey LIP Committee speaks about the challenges affecting newcomers
Anita Huberman is CEO of Surrey Board of Trade and Co-Chair of Surrey LIP Committee. We decided to have her featured in our March newsletter because it is important to have the perspective of a business organization like the Surrey Board of Trade on different issues. In Surrey since 1918, this board of trade, also known as chamber of commerce, provides businesses and organizations with economic opportunity, workplace development and education, international trade, government advocacy and business connections. The Surrey Board of Trade has 2,700 business members, representing 6,000 business contacts and over 60,000 employees.
We asked Huberman her opinion on transportation challenges, the new Employer Health Tax, the housing crisis and many more issues faced today by newcomers, both immigrants and refugees in Surrey.
Interviewed by Kristi Pinderi
Question: We have just entered a new year, quite important for Surrey and its economical and social development. What, in your opinion, are some of the most important issues where, especially newcomers and immigrants, should focus their attention during this year?
Anita: Basically, as it relates to newcomers and immigrants, we need to ensure that we will focus on career and real pathways through collaborations with business, community and service organizations. We need to be strategic, so we must focus on results and with the central Government’s immigration plan in place and Surrey being a hotspot in terms of having newcomers and refugees entering our community, there need to be a continues result oriented focus on making sure that our newcomers and immigrants are in an inclusive community.
We at IAR have identified, among other issues, also the fact that many people live in Surrey, but they search for work in Vancouver. What, in your opinion, should be done to change this?
Anita: It is an issue, although I see many newcomers arriving here and working here. But in order to make Surrey a good destination we need good transportation systems, we need other elements as well like art, culture, tourism and we need to be sure we have the infrastructure that is as sexy as in Vancouver. Right now, we all have the will to come together and make sure that our newcomers live and work in our community. This is already happening, but it is slow.
BC has the lowest unemployment rate in whole Canada. What is the role of Surrey in the broader picture? Is it doing good or is there anything we need to do differently in this city?
Anita: I think that is a false narrative, because we also have the highest rate for child poverty within Canada and when we are trying to make sure that newcomers, immigrants, refugees find jobs or entrepreneur opportunities we need to make sure that our statistics on the ground are more up-to-date and that the narrative itself is more up-to-date. The role of Surrey in the broader picture is that we have the most industrial land in Metro Vancouver, and we have an opportunity to attract good paying jobs and businesses, not only nationally but also globally. There is a severe skill shortage especially within our manufacturing, health technology, construction and development sectors and there is an opportunity there with newcomers, whether they are immigrants or refugees, to solve that skill shortage.
Because of an increasing number of people crossing the Canadian boarder especially last two years, there might be some concerns about an increasing set of negative perceptions or stereotypes in BC as well as in all Canada when it comes to refugees and refugee claimants, the majority of whom, according to most of the data, are really in need of protection. Is there any message you would like to give to people in BC who are afraid of refugees?
Anita: The only piece of narrative that I could provide is that refugees are crossing the Canadian border for a reason and every refugee has a specific reason why they are doing, so we should not generalize, and we should not consider refugees as if they are harming Canadian economy. They see Canada as a destination to have their dreams come true as it was once before for those wanting to go to America. So, I see it as an opportunity and, yes, we must be cautious and to treat each case very delicately.
Surrey is home to many newcomers but for some groups there is a gap in services (for instance, around 25 of all LGBT newcomers in BC end up in Surrey where there is literally not even a single major service targeting them, all services appear to be in downtown Vancouver). Do you agree that there is a need to do more in that direction?
Anita: I disagree with that statement because many services that support newcomers are in Surrey. That’s why we are one of the highest newcomers’ destination. There might be a couple of services that are based in Vancouver, but I see a significant transition especially in the past 5 years. The work at the Local Immigration Partnership (Surrey LIP), the collaboration between businesses and service organizations as well as the government has allowed Surrey to be the focal point of attention.
And finally, on a personal level how has your engagement with Surrey LIP been helpful for Surrey Board of Trade to become more involved and be on a front line for solutions when it comes to issues related to newcomers and immigrants? Do you think this has been the case?
Anita: The Surrey Board of Trade is a city building and business building organization and we take an innovative approach as it relates to immigration by being one of the leads for the Local Immigration Partnership table. We are the only Local Immigration Partnerships with that type of collaboration, between businesses, service providers as well as the government. I see it as very valuable and our way to instigate change from a policy level (bringing change in terms of policy is one of our mandates). We have worked on several policy papers. To have the business and economic lens on the table I believe has been invaluable to instigate change, to drive different funding and support for several services in our city, not only delivered by Surrey Board of Trade but by also great service organizations (service providers). Surrey’s Local Immigration Partnership Table will be evolving to another stage of enhancing its value proposition to newcomers in Surrey at the leadership of another administrator, other than the City of Surrey. The City of Surrey will still be at the table as they are a necessary part of providing services as well to newcomers.