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Opinion: With immigration expected to climb, we should all help remove any barriers for newcomers

The following op-ed, written by Strategic Group CEO Riaz Mamdani, appeared in the Calgary Herald on December 29, 2022.

A month ago, two Ukrainian newcomers to Calgary found themselves unable to rent an apartment because they were surprised by the added financial hurdle of a security deposit. I was appalled to learn that. Not just because I believe we should do all we can to welcome immigrants and refugees to our nation, but because I know the owner of that highrise well. It is me.

Talk about an opportunity for reflection.

I was a young child when my parents brought my brother and me, as refugees, from Uganda to Canada. That is to say, what I remember now is an amalgamation of emotions and photos and stories told by others. What I know is that we benefited from moving to a country that allowed us to build our best lives free from the chaos that drove us here.

My family’s story is no more special than that of the many hundreds of thousands of refugees and immigrants that seek the Canadian dream. Like many, my parents worked incredibly hard to realize opportunities for their children. We went to university and had the better life they dreamed for us. I built businesses, raised a family, and gave back to the community that welcomed us.

When I see the Canadian government setting a goal to welcome half a million newcomers in 2025 (after we broke our immigration record this year with 405,000 people), I am optimistic about what this means for our country. To grow our economy and compete on a global stage, we need a full complement of skilled and passionate people; and there are few more passionate than those who choose to join us in that endeavour.

No doubt many of those newcomers will continue to come to Alberta. Our province remains a beacon for many. This has been a record-breaking year for international migration to Alberta, with 33,297 new people in just the third quarter of 2022.

The benefits of this population growth – especially with Canadian immigration policies that prioritize much-needed skills and experiences in targeted industries – are well known. Alberta is proof that we become more successful, more resilient, and more creative when we embrace newcomers and the ideas and energy they bring. This is something I have experienced as a first-generation Canadian, as an employer and as a community advocate.

I also know that successfully welcoming newcomers goes well beyond setting immigration goals. It demands a community-wide approach that ensures people have the services, housing and opportunity to get the start they need. Like my parents, many come with little more than ambition, and we need all hands on deck to translate that ambition into long-term value for us all. It requires bold governments, brilliant non-profit organizations and a progressive business community.

As the owner of a Calgary-based real estate company, I appreciate the role of our organization to create more homes for the influx of newcomers. We are witnessing a building boom for multi-family rental in a market that is already hot with migration. Our industry is not shy to be creative as we repurpose aging office towers and build new mixed-use communities, and we are collaborating with the City of Calgary to do even more.

Yet, I think back to the success my family found 50 years ago. Some of the most meaningful support came from people helping us to avoid seemingly innocuous barriers and challenges. Help with an application, an unexpected fee or an introduction – small but potentially life-altering gestures.

I aim to be one of those people removing barriers for those who follow. That is why the story of the young couple from Ukraine hit me so hard. It is also why my company is no longer requiring security deposits or credit checks from newcomers. These can be unexpected barriers for a newcomer looking to rent a new home. Waiving these presents a financial risk to a landlord, but, in my opinion, it is a risk worth taking.

In the months and years ahead, as Canada rightfully maximizes its potential in welcoming the world, we will need more actions like this to ensure the success of this just endeavour. Let’s reflect on what more each of us can do, as individuals or groups, to fully realize the ambitious promise of this country and all its people. What acts, large or small, can we do to welcome more families like mine was welcomed years ago?

Riaz Mamdani is the CEO and founder of Strategic Group.

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