I missed the Labour Party Conference. I was in Canada and then in the US at NATO conferences discussing naval power, immigration, refugees, corruption, trade agreements and of course Brexit. Some may think this all has little to do with Bridgend. Nothing could be further from the truth. NATO’s naval power is declining. The UK has only 19 destroyers and frigates and only 13 submarines. This is less than the task group we sent to retake the Falklands. Our 6 destroyers have serious engine problems that often render them inoperable in warm waters. Our 13 type 23 frigates are passed their end by date and there is no start date for their replacement Type 26 frigates. We are only purchasing 8 Type 26 frigates and, later, 5 low capability general purpose frigates. As recently as the 1990’s the UK had 12 destroyers, 38 frigates and 25 submarines. With 97% of our food and trade goods coming into the country via ships. 99% of Internet and telecommunications relying on transatlantic cables and our offshore oil, gas and wind farms generating power based off shore, our ability to defend our seas is imperative. Only three NATO nations have full spectrum capability, the US, UK and France. The UK is falling behind as new areas of potential conflict open up.
I have written before about the thawing of the Arctic Sea leaving our northern back yard vulnerable now in a way it has never been before. We have no ice enabled capability. None of our ships can cope with ice and our submarines are only now learning how to surface through ice. Canada has a huge Arctic coast line but has relied on its more powerful neighbour for much of its defence, spending only 1% of its GDP on defence. A defence policy review is underway and the NATO group from 14 European NATO members were there to question Canada’s ability to help protect our northern flank.
We also wanted to learn about Canada’s refugee policy. In one year Canada has accepted 43,000 Syrian refugees. 15 Government agencies have been involved in the assessment, vetting and planning to bring such large numbers of people to resettle in Canada. Canada utilised its presence around the globe to allow the resettlement process to work 24/7. When one part of the globe stopped work for the day its agencies in other countries started working, ensuring that all of the vetting processes and individuals were checked at every step.
Two main groups arrived in Canada, those who were privately sponsored and those with government sponsorship. A private sponsor may be a family member, churches, mosques, local communities, companies or charities. The vast majority of refugees were privately sponsored. Military planes and charter flights brought families to welcome centres where they were provided with all they would need before moving on to host areas. Health cards, National Insurance numbers and winter clothing were provided to the families. All were found permanent housing and evaluated for either English or French full time funded language training. Assessments were carried out on skills levels and training needs to enter the workplace. Places were found for children in 3000 schools across Canada.
The huge lesson from Canada was that success relied upon a whole community approach. Not a government approach. Government can provide funds, make legislative changes easier but it needed community buy in and commitment to make integration work. Community support groups would help with CV writing, interview skills, help with understanding how social systems and schools worked, jobs fairs and police officers explaining the different relations between citizens and police in a democracy. The latter being a greater change than many had expected. Explaining social relationships between men and women in Canada were also discussed. Start-up checks were provided to enable families to buy bedding, food and clothing for the extremer climates of Canada. Donations of toys, clothing bedding poured in as local stories were shared on social media. By month 13 of their new life the majority no longer need state assistance though medical support may be ongoing. Those with medical needs had been given priority for entry to Canada and treatment for some started before they left their home region. Dental treatment and immunisation was needed by many of the refugees as over 60% of the refugees are children and have young parents though some families are multi-generational.
Given that Bridgend is soon to welcome 12 Syrian families this success story had many lessons for us. The main lesson was that arrival is simply not the end of the beginning but commitment to supporting families from the local community must be long term. Communicate, communicate, communicate, was the other great message, let local people know what is happening and how they can help. The Canadian model is being examined by other governments aware that failure cannot be an option. The macroeconomic outcomes of immigration are tracked in Canada which has a major history of immigration. The research shows that refugess start out slow as they adjust to the new life but within seven to eight years meet the Canadian level and all enter the labour market if integration is facilitated.
Corruption in aid and trade deals and a tour of the Parliament building followed. Canada’s Parliament was one of the alternate designs for our iconic building. The big difference is that each Canadian MP has a designated seat/desk in the chamber and I felt uncomfortable with the clapping when front bench speakers make points.
We moved on to the US to visit Bath iron works one of the US main defence ship building centres. Have a look on line at the new Zumwalt class destroyers amazing on so many levels. Finally to Boston to meet academics at Harvard and the Boston University to talk about security issues. Many days spent in meeting rooms but the evidence received and the insight gained is invaluable. Now the task of sharing this starts.