The Liberal government is boosting the base number of immigrants who will be allowed into Canada next year to 300,000, to help drive economic growth as the country grapples with an aging demographic.
Speaking to reporters after tabling his annual report in Parliament, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said the new target “lays the foundation for future growth.”
The previous target from 2011 to 2015 was 260,000, but swelled to 300,000 this year because of what McCallum called the “special circumstances” of the Syrian refugee crisis
The government’s economic growth council had recommended ramping up levels to 450,000 over the next five years, but McCallum rejected that target today.
“That number is a conceivable number for some date in the future, but certainly not for 2017,” he said.
There has been much debate over the targeted immigration level at a time when Canada struggles with high unemployment.
The 2017 targets boost entries for those in the “economic” class — skilled workers, businesspeople and caregivers — to 172,500 from 160,600. In the family class, the number of sponsored spouses, partners, children, parents and grandparents will climb to 84,000 from 80,000.
Kevin Lamoureux, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, said immigrants not only fill jobs that would otherwise remain vacant to develop provincial economies, but they contribute to the character and social fabric of communities.
If it weren’t for immigration, population of his province of Manitoba would have declined in the last decade.
“Immigration plays a critical role in terms of the future of Canada in particular in region where the threat of de-population is a reality. Manitoba and other provinces are subject to that depopulation,” he said.
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Alberta MP Tom Kmiec, the Conservative deputy Immigration critic, said immigration levels must match employment needs and be set after “meaningful” consultation with provinces and territories, businesses and human resources professionals.
“The situation in Alberta is very different from, say, New Brunswick, where they are very concerned about more Francophone, more French-speaking immigrants coming in,” he said. “The same goes for people in Ontario and Quebec.”
While Albertans welcome immigrants, there is a lower appetite right now to bring in people who could compete for scarce jobs, Kmiec said, adding the government must adjust the stream to ensure Albertans get first crack at the jobs.