Jamaican nationals in Canada and the rest of the Diaspora must be considered part of the quest for the Caribbean country’s development, and policies and programs should be implemented to reflect that undertaking, says Opposition Leader Portia Simpson-Miller.
Speaking at a Jamaica Diaspora Canada Foundation (JDCF) event in Toronto during her recent visit, the former Prime Minister said no Jamaican government should ever take the existence of the Diaspora community lightly.
It’s estimated that there are close to 400,000 nationals living in Canada, the majority in the Greater Toronto Area.
“Members of the Diaspora must not only be called upon when Jamaica is facing a national disaster or when there is a need to rehabilitate a school, hospital or community centre,” said Simpson-Miller.
Noting that the Diaspora has long been an important and integral part of Jamaica, she called for the full integration of Jamaicans in Canada and the Diaspora in the country’s economic life.
“You must not only know about our food, music, sports and other achievements and you must not only be concerned about the social issues that negatively affect us,” she said. “You must promote the outstanding achievements we have. You must not only come home to visit from time to time, but you must invest in Jamaica and own a piece of the rock.”
The JDCF was launched in December 2004 to, among other things, serve and advance Jamaica and the interests of Jamaicans in Canada.
Simpson-Miller said nationals in the Diaspora are a crucial component and their voices should be heard in plans and approaches for Jamaica’s 2030 development vision that aims to catapult the island into developed country status in the next two decades.
“Critical to the success of any vision is the role of the people because indeed they are our greatest asset,” she said. “Without them, nothing moves. We are a people with an industrious spirit as is seen in our human and social affairs. We are a people who have skills, ingenuity and talent and we are a people known for our culture.
“We are a resilient people, we have determination, inner strength and a fighting spirit that lies in us, bequeathed by our ancestors. It is these qualities in us that have produced academics, creative artists, scientists and business leaders…It is the people therefore that give me the confidence that we can and will achieve our vision for a new Jamaica. If we unleash the full potential of all Jamaicans, if we remove any impediment that has acted as barriers to their creativity, intellectual acumen and dynamism, what a Jamaica we will have.”
Jamaica’s first female prime minister and member of the Council of Women World Leaders shared her vision for a new Jamaica that includes a safe and just society where people are free to enjoy the beauty of the country and engage in economic and social activities without becoming victims of anti-social behaviour.
“To achieve this, we must modernize law enforcement mechanisms and personnel, protect and preserve human rights, transform those areas in the country considered killing fields into playing fields, turn the inner cities into winner cities, promote a culture of tolerance, respect and social responsibility and ensure access to a fair, efficient and effective justice system.”
She said her vision for education embraces the new paradigm of the borderless workplace providing opportunities for wealth creation driven by technology through brain power and creativity.
“Our education system must therefore guarantee not just access of students from low income families, but must ensure that they have the opportunity to succeed,” she said. “The only long-term solution to breaking the cycle of poverty is the systematic raising of the levels of education and training of children from low-income households.
“I believe that the only barriers that the children of the poor should have are those in their minds, but when those minds are liberated to think big and achieve big, what a Jamaica we will have and what a people we will have. Our education system must allow our people to be disciplined, creative, respectful, ethical and responsible and to be able to make choices based on the right priorities. Our education system must also enhance the creativity of our people. Our efforts must be sustained and must be pursued in a manner that addresses the present gender imbalance if we are not to perpetuate the trend of the growing number of the male population losing interest in advancing their education.”
Simpson-Miller also said that young people who develop multilingual skills will be competitive in the workplace, adding their capacity for leadership responsibilities in any area will be greatly enhanced.
Jamaica lies in close proximity to French-speaking Haiti and Spanish-speaking Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“It’s only a multilingual workforce that will successfully interface with the world and have the opportunity to improve the economy and social status of our people,” she said. “Learn a language…We need to get there as a people and as a country. We should start this from the pre-primary stage since I believe that if we start them right, we make them bright.”