In Brief: The latest Statistics Canada report shows Nova Scotia has doubled the number of immigrants in just over a decade. However, AIMS acting President Charles Cirtwill says that’s not enough and more must be done in order to replace workers in an aging province.

Nova Scotia isn’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for immigrants but the province is starting to recognize their importance, the acting president of a Halifax think-tank said Tuesday.

“If you take a look at the numbers . . . some of the efforts we’ve done over the last decade or so seem to be paying off,” said Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

“We haven’t necessarily put the welcome mat out, but at least we’ve found it in the closet and know where it is.”

Mr. Cirtwill was reacting to data from the immigration and citizenship section of the 2006 census, which Statistics Canada released to the public on Tuesday.

According to the results, Nova Scotia welcomed 6,900 immigrants from 2001 to 2006, up 2,455 from the 2000 national survey and 3,360 from 1995.

Premier Rodney MacDonald and Immigration Minister Len Goucher were both quick to point to those figures Tuesday, stating that the number of immigrants arriving in Nova Scotia has nearly doubled in a little over a decade. That’s a “dramatic increase” in immigration, the premier told reporters.

Mr. Cirtwill said the stats show both “good news and bad news.”

The numbers are indeed rising, he said, but the province is “well down the totem pole in terms of actually having a lot of immigrants kicking around in our community,” especially when compared to cities across the country.

“That’s going to be problem-atic going forward, because, of course, native-born Nova Scotians are getting older,” Mr. Cirtwill said.

The census indicates immigrants make up only 7.4 per cent of the population in the Halifax area. That’s up from 6.9 per cent in 2000 but it’s nowhere near the 45.7 per cent in Toronto, 39.6 per cent in Vancouver and 20.6 per cent in Montreal.

Mr. Cirtwill said Nova Scotia needs to keep working on attracting and keeping immigrants by promoting the province more actively in target countries, removing barriers to work and study, and integrating services that make immigrants feel more at home.

“We need to do a lot better job . . . convincing traditional communities to be a little bit more welcoming,” Mr. Cirtwill said.

He emphasized that some positive steps have been made, including the recent removal of the limit on the provincial nominee program. The federal and provincial governments removed the cap when they signed a new immigration agreement.

“We’ve made lots of progress in that area but we can always do more,” Mr. Cirtwill said.

Mr. Goucher said he is pleased with the progress thus far but recognizes that immigrant retention is still a problem.

“It’s one thing to attract immigrants with the program. It’s another thing to ensure that they stay,” he said.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil heaped criticism on the government’s handling of immigration, in particular the business mentorship program.

In October, the province quietly announced it was offering $100,000 refunds to up to 600 immigrants who had yet to start the program. Those who have completed the program aren’t getting any refunds.

“Here we have a government that has been going around telling Nova Scotians that they have been open and welcoming to immigrants,” Mr. McNeil said Tuesday. “At the same time, they are taking $130,000 out of their pockets, tarnishing (Nova Scotia’s) reputation around the world, and their strategy isn’t working.”

Madine VanderPlaat, director of the Atlantic Metropolis Centre and also a Saint Mary’s University professor, said this region needs to create meaningful employment and provide social and community supports for our immigrants.

“The province knows that immigration is going to be incredibly important to maintaining the population of Atlantic Canada — otherwise we’re going to start going in a downward spiral,” Ms. VanderPlaat said Tuesday.

The Canadian Press reported Tuesday that “Canada’s population growth will be almost entirely dependent on immigration by 2030 and communities that don’t attract new Canadians may see steady declines in population.”

One in five Canadians and one in 20 Nova Scotians are foreign-born. Most immigrants come from the United Kingdom, the United States and China.