Conflicting message

The weekly editorial by the editor of the 100 Mile Free Press

Language is incredibly important. It can greatly influence culture and is absolutely crucial for a peaceful effective society. More than anything, when immigrating to a new country, learning the language is the first step towards integration. When it comes to succeeding in school and the workplace, in our part of the world, speaking English well is absolutely crucial.

Looking at the 2011 census, in the V0K postal code, the mother tongue of 32,385 people was recorded. Of this group, English was the mother tongue for 28,975 or 89 per cent. 490 indicated French was their first language, 990 indicated German was their first language and 200 indicated Dutch was their first language. All other groups who’s mother tongue was not one of the aforementioned, were smaller than 100.

What this means in an area as geographically spread out as the V0K postal code (roughly Wells to just north of Boston Bar excluding the larger urban centres i.e. Williams Lake, Quesnel, Merrit), is that if you’re an immigrant or refugee who doesn’t speak English well, you’re not likely to find people who speak the same language as you.

Combined with the Federal Government’s approach of “being open to people, being open to talent” (Ahmed Hussen, refugee and citizen minister on the CBC, Feb. 4), the federal funding cuts across our area to programs such as Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy and Immigration and Settlement Services Society of Prince George (with an office in Williams Lake) is a real head-scratcher at best.

The two most likely outcomes here are:

1) At least some of the immigrants and refugees coming to the Cariboo-Chilcotin will struggle more to adapt and succeed.

2) Fewer immigrants and refugees will come to the Cariboo-Chilcotin due to a lack of support.

Linguistic isolation is a concern for employment prospects, feeling valued in your community and developing social ties. It doesn’t make sense to take people in if we don’t ensure they have the tools necessary to contribute to our communities.

If fewer immigrants or refugees choose to come to rural areas in general and settle almost exclusively in urban centres, that’s problematic as well. Many rural areas, such as 100 Mile House struggle with aging populations; immigration is one of the best ways to counteract this. Additionally, a large urban-rural divide in terms of immigration will create problems in terms of our national discourse. If rural Canada exists largely of monotonous Canadians who’ve been here for many generations, while urban Canada consists of highly diverse first or second generation immigrants, it creates a recipe for the type of toxic discourse currently seen in other developed countries around the world.

If, as a government, you say “yes” to refugees and immigration, you also have to say “yes” to the funding needed to make that work well.