You came to Canada as an international student many year ago and stayed. Why did you choose Canada?
I came because of Canada’s international reputation as a peaceful, safe and friendly country. It was a vague image at the time, more of a hope. At some level, you don’t get to know what Canada is really like until you arrive. I was looking for a place to do a graduate degree and Canada presented itself as a country where you could get a quality education in an interesting and accepting culture.
What did you expect before you arrived and how has your experience measured up to this?
I expected Canada to have more people – at least in the places I first went to. I had a hard time comprehending how massive the country is and how few people live here. Especially coming from a city like Cairo where there are 25 million in the city alone and 90 million people in the country overall. In this context, Canada is tiny. While the country’s physical size surprised me, I remember being amazed by the scale of opportunities Canada has to offer for immigrants.
To me, Canada was, and still is, the land of opportunity. You can make it in Canada. It’s an environment that allows people to create and innovate and I believe it brings out the best in people. Canada transformed me into someone who believes that dreams are possible and has the freedom to reach for them. I am hopeful that we can continue to make Canada a place where immigrants and refugees can come, be curious and social, and integrate and contribute to the economy and society.
You have travelled extensively and been involved in missions to recruit immigrants to Canada – and in particular, Nova Scotia. How does Canada do at marketing itself globally, how do people abroad view Canada and what’s the biggest selling-feature you think Canada has to offer?
What Canada has is a great image; it is positive across the board. I was doing extensive international travel years ago and it was clear that Canada has one of the best international reputations in the world. This is in terms of happiness, health, safety, friendliness and the stability of the economy. This is something Canadians should be proud of. The promise of economic opportunity and a safe place to settle is what makes Canada very attractive to people overseas. People don’t choose Canada because it’s a place to have a vacation, it’s a country where people can put down roots and build a future with their family.
When you recruit, another thing that is clear about many people abroad is that they don’t really know about Canada yet. I found myself telling people about Canada’s history and geography – such as the fact that there are more cities in Canada than Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. In addition, I would share some of the common challenges that newcomers face and how they can overcome them. People internationally are not usually at the point in their immigration journey to be paying attention to and planning for what’s beyond getting to the destination. As a country, we not only have a lot of work to do to better promote ourselves, but we also need to be honest about what to expect in order to help immigrants prepare and succeed.
Canada needs more immigrants. How do you react to this statement?
I definitely support it. I’m a strong believer that Canada needs more immigrants. I have travelled Canada coast to coast and I see the scale of opportunities. I have worked with companies, with governments, and with non-government organizations in Canada. A challenge in all of these sectors is that we lack people to work. It is not only that we don’t have enough workers – but beyond that – we don’t have enough people in Canada, period.
In another 30 years, it will be challenging for Canada’s young people to support retirees, as well as those outside of the workforce. We will be challenged to maintain some of the great social services we have as a country and that Canadians currently enjoy. It will be harder to be an attractive place for investment and innovation.
What do you think the goal of Canada’s immigration program should be?
Immigration is a very interesting file because it has many layers to it. It has a central layer to make sure that those who come into Canada support the best interests of citizens and do not endanger our communities. Beyond this, we tend to look at how immigrants will contribute to today’s economy, but we should also focus on how immigrants are nation builders and how, from a demographic perspective, we need immigrants to sustain our population and economy. In addition, we need to think outside our borders and see Canada globally.
Canada is one of few places that people feel is safe and we are very fortunate. We should try to be very grateful and generous with what we have. Canada can do better at taking in refugees in addition to other immigrants. We need people in Canada. It’s a win-win situation. If Germany can take one million refugees and a country like Lebanon can take two million, Canada should be able to take more than it currently does.
If you could look to the future at Canada in 2100 and see success, how would you describe that?
Canada could be a massive country with vibrant centers from coast to coast. We would be a powerhouse in innovation and health care and a leader and example to the world in multiculturalism. Our education could be accessible to all, and all Canadians could enjoy a high quality of life. Canada’s size and how we focus on knowledge will ensure that we are a highly respected nation and that we have a positive impact on others.