EDITORIAL: Nunavut February 20, 2012 - 12:07 pm

Bring on the immigrants


The Government of Nunavut is to be commended for its decision to continue seeking international recruits to fill numerous vacant positions within the Department of Health and Social Services.

The need for such measures is indisputable.

The GN’s latest employment report, done by the Department of Human Resources in March 2011, shows that 33 per cent of all jobs at the health and social services department — one in three — sat vacant.

Of 918 jobs in that department, only 612 were filled, while 306 sat empty.

In some communities, vacancy rates are even worse. In Cambridge Bay, for example, only 47 per cent of health and social service jobs were filled in March 2011, and in Taloyoak, only 42 per cent.

Why does this continue, year after year? It’s not because of poor human resource practices or maladministration, though these problems do afflict Nunavut far too often.

The primary reason is that Nunavut, like every other jurisdiction in Canada, suffers from the effects of a national shortage of nurses and other health care workers.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information estimated, in December 2010, that though Canada adds new nurses to the labour force at a rate twice the rate of growth in the population, the country still needs at least 20,000 more nurses. The Canadian Nurses Association estimates a shortage as high as 60,000 nurses by 2022.

Such shortages also affect most other health occupations: lab technicians, pharmacists, doctors, and so on.

“Pressures are particularly acute for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, medical technologists and technicians and assisting occupations in support of health services, such as nurse aides and dental assistants,” states a labour force survey released by Human Resources Canada in 2007.

Not only Canada, but every nation in the world suffers from similar labour shortages in health occupations. Health care agencies everywhere, public and private, are locked into a global competition for labour.

Naturally, health workers are using their bargaining power to get the best possible deals for themselves. That’s why many Nunavut nurses now prefer to work for employment agencies, rather than governments.

Many people in Nunavut and elsewhere don’t like the proliferation of agency nurses, claiming it costs too much. Well, consider the potential cost of not using agencies to fill health care jobs: a total collapse of the primary care system.

Nunavut’s own nurse training program helps a little, but Nunavut’s small number of nursing graduates are too few right now to make a big dent in the demand for nursing labour. We may have to wait generations for this training investment to pay big dividends.

Given this state of affairs, even the GN’s modest attempts to recruit health workers internationally must be encouraged and expanded.

Right now, it’s based around a program that advertises internationally for a range of occupations needed in Nunavut: X-ray technicians, midwives, pharmacists, audiologists, physiotherapists and nurses.

But unlike big jurisdictions like Ontario or Alberta, Nunavut has little or no capacity for training and accrediting such professionals. This means many Nunavut-bound recruits must first spend time at southern centres before they’re able to satisfy the various professional associations that accredit health workers for jobs in Canada.

It’s an awkward system, but Nunavut officials must work with the federal government to make it function. Nunavut’s shortage of skilled labour is intolerable, and the territory must open itself up to skilled immigrant labour.

Immigration can play a big part in fixing Nunavut’s health care delivery problems. Bring on the immigrants. JB