Speaking notes for Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship - Economic Growth and Prosperity: How Immigration Benefits the Middle Class

Speech

Canadian Club, Toronto
November 1, 2018

As delivered

Bonjour et merci d’être ici ce matin. It’s always a pleasure to address the Canadian Club, because I know many of you in this audience are engaged with immigration and more broadly on issues around Canadian public policy.

I believe that immigration is every bit as important to the future of our country as it has been to our past. As evidence of that yesterday, we tabled our Annual Report to Parliament on immigration which, for the second year in a row, includes a rolling three-year plan for immigration. That levels plan will see immigration in this country go from 330,000 permanent residents landing in Canada this year to 350,000 in 2021. That is just a little shy of the 1% of the population that the Conference Board of Canada and many others have been suggesting that Canada needs for our economy.

But it is getting very close to that 1%. So I wanted to come here today to share that news. I also want to talk to you about how we are doing this in a way that will help meet labour force needs and create jobs. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said once that a simple way to measure any country in the world is to look at how many people want to come in and how many people want to leave.

If you applied that measure to Canada, you know that we are doing fairly well. We now live in a world in which the very word ‘immigrant’ prompts different reactions from different people. We’re part of a global family that is going through generational change. The world is experiencing different levels of migration that we’ve seldom witnessed since the Second World War, prompting debate here at home, in Europe, in the United States, and everywhere else.

In Canada we’ve been very fortunate and we’ve, for a long time, been isolated from the pressures of global migration patterns, irregular migration patterns that affect other countries because we’ve been sheltered by three oceans and our border to the south.

As we’ve seen growing numbers of asylum seekers crossing irregularly from the United States between ports of entry, we’re starting to see some of the challenges faced by others, although the numbers pale in comparison with the number of asylum seekers at European borders as well as the southern border of the United States.

We’ve had a debate in Canada but we need to understand and take seriously the concerns and anxieties around this issue that you hear from certain individuals. We need to better understand the legitimate concerns about whether we are able to ensure the integration of newcomers. People who question how, for example, immigrants help our economy when they are worried about their own economic prospects. We need to listen to them.

We need to constantly demonstrate to them that immigration benefits our community and our economy. This is where I need your help. We need to do a better job of reminding Canadians of the argument for immigration, why immigration is essential not only to the local community but to our collective prosperity.

We can do that in two ways and both are important. One is through statistics. In 1971 we had 6.6 Canadian workers supporting each Canadian retiree. That number has dropped to four to one and by 2035, which is not that long to go, we will have that number drop to two to one. We will only have two working Canadians supporting each retiree. With a ratio like that it is very difficult to maintain our generous and cherished social programs, let alone grow them or introduce new programs like pharmacare.

Better than statistics, I think we can do a better job of telling stories at the local level, perhaps showing how hiring a few immigrants helps a company to grow and hire more Canadians, how immigrants are filling jobs that a company couldn’t find Canadians willing to do them or how immigrants are getting involved in their communities and making life better for themselves and making those communities more vibrant places to live.

These stories need to be honest as well. We also need to be clear about the struggles that some newcomers face at the beginning of their journey into a new life in Canada. As a government, we’ve taken that issue very seriously. We’ve made sure that we invest adequately in settlement and integration. Since we got into office, our budget for settlement and integration of newcomers has climbed over 30% because we realize that the faster a newcomer succeeds in Canada, the faster they can contribute to our community and Canada wins.

We need stories, therefore, to show that in the vast majority of cases, newcomers succeed and their children succeed as well. How newcomers embrace our values and celebrate our freedoms, because that is one of the reasons they chose to come to Canada in the first place. That is why, in addition to announcing our levels plan, I am launching today an initiative called ‘Why Immigration Matters.’

Our Immigration Matters website will showcase people such as Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, a successful entrepreneur in Nova Scotia who is helping more women in her province get involved and be successful in the high tech industry. Or you will see stories like Rhose Harris-Ghalia, who came here 20 years ago from the Philippine’s thinking that she had accepted a job in Banff only to realize that the woman on the phone had actually said Baffin Island. She didn’t know the difference, but she fell in love with the north and remains there to this day, contributing to her community and working as a nurse at the Baffin Regional Hospital.

Let’s not forget Gina Cody. Some of you may have read about her in the media recently. She came to Canada from Iran in 1979 and became Concordia’s first woman to earn a PhD in building engineering. She was welcomed to Canada. She was supported by Concordia, by her local community and, just recently, she donated $15 million to Concordia’s faculty of engineering and computer science.

What’s incredible and amazing about these stories, ladies and gentlemen, is not that they exist but that they are not uncommon. They are very common. You go to any part of Canada and you’ll see stories like this from so many newcomers. That is where you come in today. I hope you will use your networks to share the stories we are gathering all over the country and to tell your own stories by using the Immigration Matters hashtag.

For me, it is particularly important that our immigration system supports the growth of our economy. I can tell you from personal experience, traveling around the country just this year, meeting local businesses in communities and municipalities, that they’re literally asking for more people. They are saying that, without an infusion of newcomers in certain communities across the country, the local businesses will not be able to grow and sometimes not even survive.

In some smaller communities you have a small municipality, a small thriving community and one large employer. If that large employer cannot get enough workers, they fold and move somewhere else and that is the end of that community. You find in Canada today that, proactively, many municipal leaders are taking that challenge very seriously and investing in becoming a more welcoming community so that they can survive and attract workers for that one major employer that helps them to grow their community.

In the Yukon, you see the need for newcomers. I was telling the head table a story of our $150 million long term care facility which has 150 beds, which means each bed costs $1 million and cannot open because we don’t have nurses and personal support workers. I met with mayors all across northern Ontario, in Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury. They need people because their workers are retiring and their companies are growing.

In Quebec in Shawinigan, Trois-Rivières, and Drummondville, I met businesses that are literally turning away contracts because they don’t have the workers to perform them. The numbers in our plan are supporting the need for our government to respond to this challenge. Close to 60% of the immigrants that are going to come through our immigration levels will arrive through economic categories.

A healthy portion of the growth in the current plan will come through the provincial nominee programs, helping to ensure we meet specific regional needs, and that we spread the benefits of the immigration program across the country. Our federal immigration programs largely come through the federal express entry system, our system to manage applications.

Not long ago, we used to just accept all applications and process them in order. This led to long wait times and little or no flexibility to meet labour market needs. We are now trying to innovate within our immigration system.

One of the ways we have innovated in the Express Entry system is to give more points to students because, in the past, there was a disproportionate number of points given to those who had a job offer, not taking into consideration others who had more human capital to contribute to Canada.

We are giving more points to those who have family members in Canada, because we realize their integration and settlement will be easier. We are giving more points to francophone immigrants, because we want to ensure the vitality and growth of francophone communities outside of Quebec. The other programs we have introduced came directly from Canadians, from stakeholders, and from business groups who told us that temporary talent coming into Canada was taking too long.

It was taking seven months. They asked us to do what we can to speed up the process. We responded by introducing the Global Skills Strategy, which has reduced the processing of highly skilled individuals coming for short periods of time to help with job creating turnaround and leadership training for certain companies, from seven months to two weeks.

In government terms, that’s revolutionary, going from seven months to two weeks. I can tell you it’s not an easy thing to do. I’ve travelled across the country and, whenever I meet a company that is using the Global Skills Strategy, I quietly pull the owner aside and ask ‘is it really two weeks?’ They always say yes and I haven’t met anyone who has so far told me they have had to go over the two weeks. That’s a major achievement for Canada.

This means real jobs on the ground, real high quality, good, long term, full-time middle class jobs. Since we introduced the Global Skills Strategy last June, 10,000 highly-skilled individuals have been able to use that strategy to come to Canada. The studies have shown that each of those individuals has resulted in a number of jobs being created in Canada.

There is a section in the Global Skills Strategy that also allows international researchers to come to Canada. If they want to conduct research at a public institution or a university in Canada in collaboration with a Canadian researcher, they can come in for 120 days without a work permit. They used to be forced to apply for a work permit. Now they don’t need to do that.

The Start-up Visa Program is another advantage for Canada. If you are a promising entrepreneur and you want to scale up your business, Denmark will offer you a visa. The United States will do the same thing, but Canada will not only welcome you, we will also give permanent residency – to the owner, the partners, their family members and the workers, so they can go from that $5 million promising start-up to $100 million. That’s where the jobs are.

A few months ago in Vancouver I visited Virtro Entertainment, a virtual reality business. I met their co-founders, Lee and Jordan Brighton. They came to Canada through the Start-up Visa Program. Since its launch, Virtro has grown to 14 employees and is now working on a virtual reality program to help people retain and absorb new languages through artificial intelligence. It’s a breakthrough program that will ensure that Vitro continues to grow.

I should mention that many of the folks who come through the Global Skills Strategy, if they like Canada, can stay and apply through the Express Entry system and make sure again they can get permanent residency in less than six months. We continue to listen to business. We continue to listen to employers and municipalities and the local immigration partnerships.

It is through these kinds of initiatives and the constant challenging of the status quo, making sure that we continue to view immigration as a great tool to grow our economy, that we are also sending an important message to the world that Canada is open. We are looking to attract investment and entrepreneurs. We are a welcoming society that will enable anyone to get on a plane and come to Canada and become Canadian.

That is something you can’t say about other countries. Before closing, let me add another important benefit to our higher immigration levels. They help our system with backlogs and reducing processing times because, when you have more spaces in your immigration levels, you can eat away at the backlogs that you have inherited when immigration levels were lower.

Every time you are able to reduce or eliminate backlogs, they invariably increase the speed of processing of applications. Increased levels give us the opportunity to grow our economic programs but also enable us to have more spaces for family reunification as well as refugee resettlement, because that’s who we are as a country.

While we can grow our country through economic immigration we must remember that we have to hold steady and be firm to our humanitarian commitments and maintain our international obligations. We are lucky to live in a country where we have broad support for immigration.

But government alone cannot maintain this support, so I encourage all of you to be a part of our Immigration Matters initiative and to help strengthen our shared vision of a country that embraces immigration and diversity.

I can promise that as a government we will listen, we will adapt, we will innovate to ensure that our immigration system addresses Canada’s needs and potential, while also reinforcing our global leadership and commitments when it comes to humanitarian obligations. I’m proud of what we have achieved. I’m excited to continue to introduce new programs to meet our common challenges.

One of the things we’ve heard very clearly across the country this year which, we’ve taken into consideration for future planning, is that rural and remote and northern communities need to benefit more from immigration. The Provincial Nominee Program does a good job at making sure we spread the benefits of immigration across the country.

For example, in 1997, only 11% of newcomers went to communities other than Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal. In 2017, that number jumped up to 36%. That is because we increased the numbers allocated to the Provincial Nominee Program. In this plan, you see 33% growth there, but that’s not enough. Communities in northern Ontario, Manitoba, and the Yukon, and many other places are saying ‘we need more people for our local economy.’

I have been getting that feedback and talking to my colleagues about the possibility of looking at a focused pilot program similar to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program for rural and remote communities, so that they can also benefit more from immigration. As I said, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. We’ll continue to listen to Canadians.

We got to where we are not because of ideas that we came up with, but because of listening to Canadians, listening to employers, to the local immigration partnerships, the settlement agencies who tell us every day how to plan better for settlement and integration. We continue to have conversations even internationally with our partners, to learn from them as much as they learn from us.

Thank you very much for joining me today. I will be more than happy to take each and every of your questions. Merci beaucoup.


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