Allison Hanes: Welcome to Quebec, when can you start?

Province has a labour shortage immigrants are eager to fill, but Bill 21, Bill 9 and a lack of diversity in the public sector are big obstacles.

Hanane El Nadjar, right, speaks to the City of Montreal’s Laurie Savard during a jobs fair at the Palais des congrès on Wednesday aimed at matching new immigrants with employers. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Representatives from the Commission scolaire de Montréal are currently in Brussels on a mission to recruit new teachers, who are in high demand but short supply these days in Quebec.

The representatives head next to Paris and have put out feelers in Ontario, where teachers are facing layoffs.

The CSDM also had a booth at the Palais des congrès in Montreal on Wednesday during the Salon de l’immigration et de l’intégration au Québec, a jobs fair aimed at matching new immigrants with employers. It’s the biggest such event in Canada.

Hanane El Nadjar has been in Canada for eight months. After helping her three children get settled in school here, she is now looking for work. A Palestinian by way of Algeria, she taught chemistry for 17 years.

“It’s a profession that I loved very much,” said El Nadjar. “Being a teacher is a passion and my students were very appreciative. I’ve had them come back from the four corners of the world to tell me how much of a mark I left on them. It was very touching.”

El Nadjar would like to teach in Montreal. But she is aware that Bill 21, if passed as planned by the end of June, will limit her opportunities. It proposes to bar some public employees, including teachers, from wearing religious garb and El Nadjar wears a hijab.

“It’s my personal choice. It’s between God and me,” she said cheerfully. “If the law says that I can’t teach in the public system because of my scarf, I’ll go to the private … or do something else. I’ll find a way.

“When you move to a new country, you have to respect the laws. You can’t impose yourself.”

The eighth edition of the Salon de l’immigration et de l’intégration is taking place Wednesday and Thursday as Quebec finds itself in the midst of a labour shortage.

Hydro-Québec, Via Rail, Canada Goose and Resolute Forestry Products were among the employers on the lookout for potential recruits. So were hospitals and school boards. The cities of Drummondville, Gatineau, Quebec, along with Montreal, were rolling out the welcome mat for job-seeking newcomers.

Organized by Immigrant Québec, a non-profit devoted to providing newcomers news they can use, the job fair is occurring amid much upheaval over diversity, identity, integration and inclusion.

Besides Bill 21, which seeks to enshrine state secularism, Bill 9 proposes to streamline Quebec’s immigration system to better match workers with jobs. But it proposes to scrap the applications of some 18,000 candidates and make them start from scratch. The hopes and dreams of many aspiring Quebecers have been thrown into limbo, including thousands who are already living and working here.

The Coalition Avenir Québec government also pledged to cut the number of immigrants to the province to 40,000 from about 50,000, and require newcomers to take French and values tests.

Even Montreal, a city that outwardly celebrates its diversity, is in the process of examining its record on systemic racism and discrimination. The Office de consultation publique de Montréal kicked off hearings last week and Tuesday’s session focused on barriers to employment for visible minorities.

Last week the city’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination acknowledged the city must do more to ensure its workforce reflects its population. While a third of Montrealers come from diverse backgrounds, only 13.8 per cent of all city employees do. Meanwhile only 7.8 per cent of managers, 7.5 per cent of police officers and two per cent of city firefighters are from minority groups.

The committee laid out an action plan to make Montreal’s hiring practices more inclusive. The city’s booth was front and centre Wednesday at the Salon de l’immigration, with uniformed representatives from the police and fire departments available to chat with prospective candidates.

Réginald Théodore is interested in working for the city. An accountant from Haiti, he has been in Montreal for five years but has struggled to find work. So far, Théodore has managed to score short-term contract work during tax season. But with a newly obtained diploma from HEC, he’s looking for his big break.

“I left my country and I left my job there, but I can’t find a job here. I keep wondering why. They say they need workers, that there’s a labour shortage, but then they don’t hire,” he said. “They say they want someone who’s bilingual. Employers want people who speak English.”

Tintu Mathew is having the opposite problem.

She and her husband came to Quebec from India 10 months ago. He’s an accountant, but can’t find work in his field. She’s was a pediatric nurse and has been taking French-language courses so she can retrain here.

She knew before arriving that she would have to re-qualify in her profession, but she didn’t expect it to be so difficult to get accepted in a nursing program.

“It’s very hard for the admission to the school,” Mathew said.

Despite the challenges, hope was running high, with the Salon offering resumé-writing workshops and seminars on entrepreneurship.

If a job is the best way to help newcomers integrate, Quebec’s labour crunch should be a golden opportunity. If only we’d realize we need immigrants as much as they need a foot in the door.

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