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Immigrant Employment Council With Patrick MacKenzie

By July 7th, 2023No Comments27 min read
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The demand for workers in British Columbia is much higher than the supply of workers. Migrants and those who leave the school system to enter the labor market for the first time are critical components of the new labor supply. In this episode, Patrick MacKenzie, the CEO of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC, shares the story of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC and the outstanding efforts he and his team did.

Some studies show that when revenues go up, profitability increases as you hire a more diverse workforce, which drives employers to hire immigrants to diversify their workforce. To help mitigate the problems of employers being fully staffed, IECBC helps integrate immigrants into the labor market at a level that utilizes their skills, training, and education. To learn more about the role that newcomers to Canada play in the economy, hit that play button.

Listen to the podcast here


Immigrant Employment Council With Patrick MacKenzie

On the show, our guest is Patrick MacKenzie. He’s the CEO of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC or the IEC-BC. We had a great conversation about the role that newcomers to Canada play in the economy. He shares a number of opportunities and ways of thinking about working with coalitions of the willing to accomplish and move forward the mission in social profit organizations, as well as some interesting facts, details and stories about the importance of immigrants to Canada and our economic future. For all you social profit leaders out there, this is a great example of a leadership story in action. Please enjoy my conversation with Patrick.

Patrick, it’s great to have you on the show. As a part of this season, we’re asking all of our guests a real hardball question right off the top. We are interested in your first experience of growing up with community service and the idea of giving back.

Thanks. I’m thrilled to be here. Growing up, my family was very much geared towards community service and things that might be a little more public. In particular, it’s that quiet service to the community and the people around. It started in the church with our faith group but then moved into Boy Scouts and whatnot. We always had a hand in where we could help contribute.

You were an apple salesman as a young man.

I was an apple salesman at one point as a young man. We sold pumpkins and Christmas trees at one point too. We try to get all the seasons.

That’s very Canadian of you. You’ve worked in immigration services for close to two decades now, starting with the Canadian government as a policy advisor, and in more senior roles in immigration, refugees, and citizenship in Canada, and now as CEO of the Immigration Employment Council of BC. You’ve dedicated your professional life to this area. How did you get into this work? What’s your personal connection to immigration?

When I was going through university, I always saw myself in the corporate world. That’s where I imagined I would go, and I would never work in government. Twenty years later, that’s where I’ve made my career. I stumbled into the immigration world and I love it. I started out working on the indigenous files initially with the Federal government. I worked in agriculture for the Nova Scotia Government and found my way into immigration. There are no recent immigrants in my family history. We’ve been in Canada for generations, but it was the idea that you could help build the country and communities, and give people the opportunity to contribute their best that intrigued me. I’ve been very fortunate to work in some interesting policy and program areas.

I love the idea of giving people the opportunity to contribute their best. What does that look like when it’s done well from a policy or from a government services point of view?

We focus on the employment side. When I think of people having an opportunity, it’s that chance to have meaningful employment. To take skills, aspirations, and experience that they have and apply them in the best way possible. That’s subjective. On the one hand, it’s about getting the best job, making as much money as you can, and being successful in the workplace. The other part is how you find your way to find that place that brings you great joy and find that job and workplace that gives you a sense of happiness and personal growth, then lets you balance off all of those other needs, as well as family, friends, and workplace needs.

DSP S7 4 | Immigrant Employment Council

Immigrant Employment Council: When you think about people having an opportunity, it’s that chance to have meaningful employment. It’s to take their skills, aspirations, and experience and apply them in the best way possible.

It’s very important work. For some who may not be entirely familiar with the work of the Immigration Employment Council of BC, what would you like everybody to know about your organization? What’s important for people to know about IEC-BC?

We’re a little bit different. We’re in what’s called the Immigrant Settlement Sector. There are a ton of different organizations out there doing great work working with immigrants to get them ready for their life in Canada, either before they arrive or after they’ve arrived, and provide them with services and programming and help to find their way, either personally or professionally. The Immigrant Employment Council of BC came about in 2008 when some community leaders asked the question, “Who’s getting into the community? Who’s getting the labor market ready for the immigrant?”

There are lots of great organizations getting the immigrant ready for the labor market, but it is a two-way street integration. Where we focus on is the needs of employers. How do we bring the employer central into the labor market integration’s question and process so that ultimately, an immigrant is able to be best understood by the employer who would be doing the hiring?

What has changed in the five years that you’ve been CEO in terms of the readiness of the employment market for newcomers to Canada?

It has been a fantastic five years since I’ve been here. I love my job. I love the organization. I first moved to Vancouver in 2008 and worked with the government. The very first event I went to for work was the launch of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC. Years later, I got the opportunity to apply for the job and run the organization. In the last five years, I’ve seen more employers take a look at the immigrant to labor market and recognize that there are all of these folks who are coming to Canada who have tremendous work experience and skills. If they can tap into it, it’s a competitive advantage for their organization.

There are tons of data and studies out there that show that revenues and profitability go up as you hire a more diverse workplace, and immigrants are a key part of that more diverse, dynamic and innovative workplace. What we’re seeing is not only the big employers who you generally think of as having the capacity to look at a more diverse workforce. Not only are we seeing them do it, but small and medium-sized employers are also starting to turn their attention more to newcomers as well.

Many in our audience are in the social profit sector. Many sectors in the economy and charitable organizations across Canada, certainly here in British Columbia, are finding it very difficult to remain fully staffed. With the clients we work with, we have seen anecdotally a lot of newcomers to Canada serving in important roles in the charitable sector that I don’t recall 10 or 15 years ago being there. It’s refreshing and great to see. It adds to that dynamic diversity that helps every organization. If there was one thing you could change or your magic-wand moment about the way new immigrants to Canada are able to integrate into the workforce, who would you call and what would you ask them to do?

The most significant difference we could make in terms of how immigrants are able to integrate into the workforce is how we select immigrants. Canada has an excellent selection system for newcomers on the economic side. We pick many different types of immigrants in different ways. We pick immigrants for economic and social reasons, under the family class, and there are our international obligations and humanitarian streams like the refugee streams.

When it comes to economic selection, getting that employer perspective and participation central to the whole selection and integration piece would make the greatest difference. After all, when you are hiring for your business, you know what your needs are most. To be able to have a more direct line into the talent pool that’s coming to Canada would position you for greater success but ultimately, positions Canada for much greater success.

When you are hiring for your business, you know what your needs are most. Click To Tweet

I hadn’t thought about it until this conversation, realizing that over 40% of the team here at The Discovery Group is made up of first-generation immigrants to Canada. That’s true for a lot of the social profit sectors that we’re seeing. There is this great opportunity for organizations to hire new Canadians, bring them into their social profit organizations, add value and represent the communities that many of these organizations serve. One of the things I was interested in learning about IEC-BC is the programs that you offer to businesses to help them be better prepared to hire newcomers to Canada. Could you tell us a little bit about those programs and how you work with employers to make that happen?

That’s central to our ethos. It’s making sure that the employer informs everything that we’re doing. We’re part of a larger group of immigrant employment councils across Canada. There are ten like-minded organizations. We all create programs, tools and services to support our local communities. What we try to do then is share them across the ten communities because who’s to say that an organization in Vancouver or Vernon might not benefit from what’s being developed in Halifax, and how that sharing has been tremendously helpful?

What we’re trying to do with our services is help an employer understand that the immigrant talent pool is there. It’s right in front of you. There are many people that you may need to dig a little more to understand the skills and talent that’s in front of you, but when you do, it’s not that hard. It’s not that much different than having to onboard anybody else in an organization. We used to use the term, “The expectation of an off-the-rack immigrant.”

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Immigrant Employment Council: You may need to dig a little more to understand the skills and the talent in front of you. When you do, it’s actually not that hard.

It is like buying an off-the-rack suit that fits perfectly. You don’t have to tailor anything, but that doesn’t exist. The off-the-rack employee doesn’t exist. We all have to put effort into bringing people to our organizations. Bringing immigrant talent into the organization is still an effort, often the same level of effort you would for a Canadian-born, educated or trained person, but with some nuances. We want to help them understand those nuances. I’m especially proud of two of the programs that we’ve developed with employers. One is our ASCEND program where we asked employers, “What are the deal breakers? What is it that makes you say no to a candidate? When you either see it or don’t see it, Canadian or otherwise?” They told us.

We built this program. It’s all online. It’s 7 modules and 8 workshops. We work with service delivery partners like social organizations right across the country to deliver this thing. It has been a tremendous success. We’re seeing folks in the education sector now invest in this to provide the same service to international students who might someday become Canadian citizens.

We have another one. It’s a skills assessment program called FAST that we developed in partnership with training institutions and employers. It’s to say, “How do we identify the specific skills needed in a job, help the immigrant demonstrate it, understand how to apply this to the labor market, and understand how to present themselves to the employer so the employer gets what that person can do for them?” We’re seeing great success with it.

I’m curious about some of those seven noes or the deal breakers, were there any surprises when you did that survey of employers?

Not really. A lot of it came down to soft skills. How do you present yourself in an interview? How do you work with teammates with a client service perspective that they’re expecting to find in an individual? It came down to the stuff that makes us all get along easier, and a little bit better in the workplace. They weren’t necessarily surprises, but they reinforced how important this stuff is.

I’m curious to get your thoughts on this because if you read the headlines in The Globe and Mail, the only issue that we need to worry about with newcomers to Canada is credentialing. We’re seeing in Ontario that the provincial government there is suggesting they fast-track the recognition of foreign-trained nurses. Is that the solution to either healthcare or any of our other economic or employment issues?

The credential conversation is an interesting one.

It sounds like you’ve had it before.

We’ve had it for about 60 years now. If you ask immigrants or employers, “What are the main barriers to full employment?” They give you the same 3 or 4 things, generally. Credential recognition will always be a part of it, language, Canadian experience, and networks. Those are the four major ones that come up. The credential conversation has been skewed because you don’t need a credential for most jobs. Eighty percent of the labor market is unregulated nationally. That means only 20% of the jobs in the country will need a certificate or a designation to be able to do that job. For the vast majority of the employment opportunities out there, you just need to convince a hiring manager that you can solve their problem.

That’s about skills and ability. That’s where the conversation needs to be turned for many newcomers and some of the situations. Credentials do matter, especially and obviously in those regulated occupations. Healthcare is a big one. We need to be honest about the conversation. If you’ve ever been to an event where immigration is being talked about, particularly politicians, they like to talk about doctors driving cabs. Generally, if you’re at a party, someone will say, “There’s a neurosurgeon driving my cab.” We are not all meeting doctors in cabs. There’s data out there that says that there are either 200 or 250 doctors driving cabs in Canada. Those are MDs and PhDs.

We don’t know the division between the two. Of that number, 50 of them were educated in Canada. We’re not all meeting doctors in cabs. Where you do need recognition of foreign credentials, we need to do a lot better in Canada. There certainly have been improvements, but oftentimes it comes down to a regulator. I do sympathize with the struggles that our regulator has like a college of physicians and surgeons or for nurses or professional engineers. I have to sympathize with their challenge because they have to protect the public good. They have to protect the public interest.

I believe there’s a dual mandate to protect the public interest. One is keeping people out of practice who shouldn’t be practicing, but then the other is facilitating practice for those who can serve the public. How do we do that? We have mechanisms to take people out of practice. We do it to Canadians all the time. If they don’t do their job well, these governing boards can deal with that. I feel that in the healthcare situation in particular, with Ontario and other governments turning their attention to this, what I would love to see is an approach that says, “Let’s figure out what this nurse knows compared to what it is they need to know to be a fully-fledged and fully licensed nurse in Canada.”

There's a dual mandate to protecting the public interest. One is keeping people out of practice who shouldn't be practicing. The other is facilitating practice for those who can serve the public. Click To Tweet

Find out what they know. Find out exactly what those gaps are, and then figure out a way to get them practicing based on where they’ve developed competence or demonstrated competence, and then training that only deals with the gaps. Don’t send them back to square one. What I find particularly egregious about it is that oftentimes, especially with nursing, you’re talking about visible minority newcomer women. That makes up the vast majority of the folks who would be going into nursing. You’ve got an already marginalized population that you’re marginalizing even further through policy. That doesn’t serve anybody’s interest.

Is it that policymakers aren’t aware of it, or has the urgency to make this change hasn’t been there until now?

Folks are aware of it. We’ve been talking about this for decades. The urgency has been there. I do sympathize with them. It’s complex. You can’t just wave a wand and say, “We got nurses. We got doctors.” You’re never able to rely just on immigration for that. It’s complex. You need your own doctors who are being educated here. For that short term, I do think that we could do better in getting people to practice.

You’ve referenced the complexity of both the immigration system and solving some of the employment challenges through immigration. That’s not what I read on Twitter. It’s very simple and the answers are very clear. Maybe check Twitter.

I suppose I could be wrong. I tend to go with more than 140 characters, but that might be the Nova Scotian in me.

A challenge that we see right across the social profit sector and a whole lot of areas is communicating the complexity of the work that we do with the causes that we serve. How does your organization approach explaining that complexity either to newcomers to Canada or more often likely to the employers that are hiring them?

It’s a delicate balance that you have to hit because you don’t want to pretend that there won’t be challenges and that things will always be smooth because when they do run into a challenge, they wonder, “What the heck has happened? There must be something wrong with the individual or with us?” In particular, from the employer’s perspective, we always like to work with employers who want to work with us. You can only go to the dance when someone wants to go to the dance with you. We’re a small organization. We’re not trying to change hardened hearts and minds. We’re trying to work with those who have already either begun the journey or are interested in it.

Those who are not interested in an immigrant labor market, we probably do not have to worry about them in ten years anyway. They’re not staying around. On one hand, it makes it easy to figure out which horse to bend on. We want people to understand, “There will be bumps in the road like there always are.” I’m going to guess that in your professional experience, you’ve probably hit more bumps in the road with Canadian-born and educated people than you have with immigrants. If you think back to the stories you’ll tell to your friends or counterparts, you say, “This challenge I faced, I can’t believe this one has happened.”

“Would you get a load of this?”

My guess is you’re talking about a Canadian, someone who was born and raised in Canada, when you’re telling that story.

Whether we even think of it in those terms or not, your point is very well taken. I want to pick up on something you were getting at there working with the coalition of the willing. Those individuals, organizations or employers that are open to learning and making whatever adjustments they need to maximize the benefit of hiring newcomers to Canada. When you’re working with those people who are open to it who are like, “Patrick, tell me more about this,” what are you looking to deliver in terms of messaging or content to get them from the, “Tell me more” to “Let’s do it?”

A lot of it is showing them that it works and other employers can do it. Most entrepreneurs don’t want to be the first to market. They want to be the second. They want to see how somebody else stumbled.

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Immigrant Employment Council: Most entrepreneurs don’t want to be the first to market. They want to be the second. They want to see how somebody else stumbled.

The second mouse gets the cheese.

We look to promote those success stories. One of the areas we’re looking to move into is this business-to-business mentor. How do we work with a successful large organization to help them show the folks, either their clients or their supply chain, how they could better do this as well? You strengthen the whole ecosystem for that company. It’s a win-win for everyone. We do these things called power hacks as well or these hackathons where you bring a group of immigrants or newcomers in. It could be for one employer or multiple employers in a similar sector. We’ve done it in finance and particularly in IT.

The employers will sit and watch for a day or two how groups of folks work together and tackle these problems. The success of them has been fascinating for me because there have been times when we’ve done it. We’ve seen a lot of people get hired out of these events. There was one that I was all excited about. I thought it went well. The company that we had worked with was telling us how happy they were with it. When I sat down with the director at the company, I said, “How many did you hire?” She said, “None.” I said, “I thought this will be a success story for me.”

She said, “We didn’t hire any right now, but we have a project coming online. There were seven people in there that I know can deliver that project for us.” “When that comes up in six months, we want them if they are still available.” That’s great too because then you’ve got an employer who’s looking a little farther down the road. That mindset helps.

With who you’re working, and this is to more generalized to the social profit sector, those that are open to hearing the message, providing evidence, giving direct experience, and not being in too much of a hurry to deliver right now or tomorrow, though right now and tomorrow is good too, but having the patience to understand this is a long-term game.

That example that you’re sharing is worth thinking about for our audience and many organizations that are rushing to regain what may have been lost over the pandemic or to maximize the growth of their organizations over the last couple of years. It does come back to working with those that are willing and open to working with you, showing them the evidence, giving them the experience, and being patient as a relationship developed. That’s a great outline you’ve given us.

For us, one of the big things is to try and be a bit more entrepreneurial. We’ve done well over the pandemic. As a country, there has been a lot of money put into the system. The not-for-profit sector has benefited from that as well. Moving forward, what we have to be mindful of is the taps will be turned off at some point. There will be less in the system. As an organization, how do we make sure, we’re resilient?

Part of that is knowing that we’re meeting a need, tracking that impact that we’re having, but then also saying, “We serve the immigrant population or employers looking to tap into an immigrant population.” How might we work with people who are serving indigenous populations versus persons with disabilities? What’s transferable from what we are doing to other sectors so that we might spread our risk around a little bit more and build that resiliency to the organization?

As an organization, how do we make sure we're resilient? Part of that is knowing that we're meeting a need. Click To Tweet

I would say share your expertise.

Get to the community. Don’t get me wrong, but if we’re not around, we can’t serve the community. As long as we feel we can, then I want to make sure that we have the best opportunity to do that.

You mentioned that you’ve got a relatively small team in your organization. Without naming names, one of the things I’m curious about for leaders who’ve turned organizations around and have been as successful as you certainly have been is how you work with your team. How do you keep them engaged in the mission of your organization on a day-to-day or a week-to-week basis?

I’m lucky. I inherited a great organization, and with that came a great team. That’s why we’ve been able to grow it so much over the last few years. We were about 13 people in 2017, but it’s 27 or 28 now. The revenues are more than double. It comes back to the team. One of the things I like most to see in the folks that I work with is that there’s a passion but not an unbridled passion. It’s a very realistic professional passion. We need to make a difference, but we also want to help people. We need to know that what we’re doing is right.

We also need to recognize when what we’re doing isn’t helping. What I’ve been trying to do, and my team is excellent at this, is looking at those opportunities to say, “We should drop this and move over here because we’re not seeing the impact.” We’ve been working with a fellow by the name of Bruce Dewar and his team over at LIFT. They’ve been great at helping us figure out our impact. Are we accomplishing what we believe we’re accomplishing?

We’re bringing in evaluators as well who can help us figure out how to reach out to the client groups and the customers that we’re serving. We see what their satisfaction is like, where their career trajectory goes and know not only if people are enjoying what we’re doing but they enjoy the programming. In the end, do they get that job that makes sense for them, and then 6 months or 1 year later, are they doing better? It’s attracting that as well. What all of that serves to do is engage and re-energize the team over and over again when they see either that the things that they’re doing are working or that they have an opportunity to change it and do better.

You’ve done a wonderful job of describing what entrepreneurial spirit looks like in the social-profit sector and outside of the for-profit sector. One last question on your team, because I have so much respect for how you approach the role of being the CEO and leadership, how can your employees earn a gold star with you? How can you know that Patrick is going to appreciate this?

That’s something that I struggle with at times. It has been pointed out to me that oftentimes, I’m looking down the road a little too often. It’s looking at folks and saying, “That’s great. We got that in the bag. That’s awesome. It went well. Next.” We got to move to the next thing. On the one hand, it’s in part how I’ve been wired my whole life. I don’t think that serves my team very well very often. Certainly to have that vision looking forward is important, but celebrating those successes is an area that I need to work on.

What I hope that my team understands is that when we see that calculated risk-taking, that innovation, and that desire to look at what we’re doing and look at the way to do it better or identify a problem that we haven’t even thought about or recognized and say, “We’ve got an option here. We’ve got an opportunity here to make a difference.” I love seeing that from my team. Many of my team members are immigrants. We have a lot of almost brand new or very new immigrants to the country working for us. I love seeing the passion of their work. I love the innovation that they bring in as well.

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Immigrant Employment Council: A great team shows calculated risk-taking and that desire to look at what they’re doing and figure out a way to do it better or identify a problem they haven’t thought about or recognized and say, “We have an opportunity here to make a difference.”

It’s interesting because there’s a cultural dynamic where in some countries you don’t question the CEO. You do what you’re told and you wait to be told to do something else. That’s not how I want to operate. I almost have to chuckle a little bit when I see that happen. It’s like, “Don’t they know who I am? That’s just on my business card.”

You don’t mean, “Don’t you know who I am? I am the CEO.”

No, it’s like, “I’m Patrick. Talk to my childhood friends about what’s going on here.”

I like the idea of professionalized passion. It is a great concept and certainly transferable across the sector, and that phrase you use, “Calculated risk.” How do you help your team or work with your team around what is a calculated risk, and what needs to be calculated before you jump?

This is an area that I’m trying to improve within the organization. It’s more clearly defining the roles and where folks have that leeway. That’s important because it’s clear in my mind because I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’m thinking about it all the time. If I saw somebody make that mistake before, I’m not going to make that mistake, where some of the newer team members haven’t had the opportunity to either make the mistake themselves or see it.

For me, it’s trying to be regularly in contact with as many of the team members as I can. I don’t get to talk to everybody every day, and I wish I could move back into the office more often. That’s going to help for sure. It’s that clear communication of expectations and parameters of the role. Ideally, I want to see people push a little beyond that from time to time, so that they understand where that risk tolerance is within their own role, but how they might want to push somewhere else too. I love seeing people grow up in the organization.

We’re talking here in the early fall of 2022. What are you looking forward to?

Canada is in an interesting spot and age for immigration. A lot of countries have been closing their borders down, and this was happening pre-COVID. Certainly, with COVID, mobility has changed. What Canada has done is we’ve opened up our borders more than ever. We are taking more immigrants now than we ever have. In 2021, we had 405,000 new permanent residents in Canada. The highest number we had ever had before was 401,000 in 1913. We were giving farms away. We were populating the West. We are at a moment where from an immigration policy standpoint, we’re populating the West again. We’re populating the country and we’re growing it to that next stage.

What I love is that we’re seeing our numbers. We’re set to accept 430,000 new permanent residents to Canada in 2022. To give you a sense of how big that number is, if you look back through most of the 2000s, we were taking in around 300,000 to 350,000. It’s a big number for additional folks that are coming in. We’re doubling down on immigration. We’re saying immigration is an economic driver. Immigration is critical to the future of Canada, which is fantastic. What we need to be mindful of is what opportunity are we giving folks when they get here. I like to remind people, “Immigrants have to choose Canada before Canada gets to choose the immigrant.” We better give them a good reason to choose us.

Immigration is an economic driver. It is critical to the future of Canada. Click To Tweet

Gallup does some polling generally around the intent to migrate, and roughly 700 million people around the world are interested in migrating to another country. Of those 700 million, roughly 40 million are interested in Canada. When I heard that my first question was, “What can those 40 million people do?” My second question was, “What are the other 660 million thinking about us.” I want those 660 million people thinking about us but we have to be able to provide them with an opportunity.

Historically, when immigrants come in during a recession, they suffer. That cohort suffers economic scarring from which they never recover. They are poor but they will always be poorer. Subsequent cohorts of immigrants will do better. Canadians will do better, but they never do or historically, they never have. As we go into uncertain economic times, what are we doing to ensure that the people who are choosing Canada or giving Canada an opportunity to choose them are able to drive this growth for themselves, their families, and the country as a whole?

It’s a word of caution, but an inspiring vision for what the future of Canada might look like. That’s great.

I’m naturally optimistic about all of this, but we need to be smart about how we’re doing it. Canada is going about this well. We always tweak on the edges, but I think we’ve got the right attitude toward it.

It’s a very Canadian summary, “We’re pretty good but we could still get a little better.” Thank you very much for sharing some of your stories, the story of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC, and the great work that you and your team do. Thanks for being a guest on the show.

Thanks for having me. It was a real pleasure.


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About Patrick MacKenzie

Patrick MacKenzie is the CEO of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC. He has made a career of public service from coast to coast, working in policy and program areas aimed at supporting many of Canada’s most vulnerable communities through economic and social development as well as international relations. Previously, Patrick spent 11 years working for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada at its national headquarters in Ottawa and its regional offices in Vancouver. Throughout his career, Patrick has worked with partners on matters affecting aboriginal and immigrant populations, including immigrant economic integration, provincial nominee programs, credential recognition and labour mobility