Minister Mendicino Addresses The Canadian Club

Speech

The Hon. Marco E.L. Mendicino P.C., M.P.
February 28, 2020
The Canadian Club
The Fairmont Royal York Hotel, 100 Front Street West
Toronto, Ontario

Hello, everyone.

Thank you, Bruce.

As a journalist, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that suspiciously brief introduction. I’d also like to echo the acknowledgment that we are indeed on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Haudenosaunee, and for your words to acknowledge the significance that we do indeed share these lands, and for allowing us to start these proceedings in the right way.

It’s good to see all of you. I feel like I know a few of you out there.

Over the next 75 years, Canada shall be the star towards which all who love progress and freedom shall come. There are some living in this audience who, before they die, will see this country with at least 60 million people. Who would have thought Sir Wilfrid Laurier would be seen as such a visionary when he uttered these words in 1904 before Massey Hall not far from here? The answer is no one.

Back then the math made sense, but 116 years later we know that while Laurier was off somewhat in his predictions, he was ultimately right in his long term outlook. The only difference is that today the need for us to continue growing is no longer a luxury or even a choice. In 2020, the future of Canada hinges on immigration.

For this reason, we are going to need to start a dialogue that will fundamentally change the way we think about immigration. Far too often we ask, “How much is too much?” Is that the right question? Domestically our birth rates have slowed. Retirement rates are skyrocketing and people are living longer than ever before.

Even with progressive policies, such as the Canada Child Benefit Plan, which is helping to grow hundreds of thousands of families, we still will not move the dial significantly enough to lower the age or replenish our population for the foreseeable future.

The real question shouldn’t be, “How much is too much?” but rather, “How many people do we need to guarantee a prosperous future for Canada, one in which we can renew our workforce, attract global talent, secure our healthcare and retirement covenants and fill this vast beautiful and diverse country?”

In order to create this shift, we in government can’t do it alone. We need you, as well as your ideas.

You, the business leaders, union leaders, professionals, partners in this room, have an incredibly important role to play in that dialogue.

That's why I’m excited to be here, not just to give this speech – and trust me, my wife Diana is here to keep me on the clock, thank you for that – but to engage and to learn from you, because when we welcome we grow. We face some challenges on the horizon as a population, but we can navigate them with effective immigration policies, so long as we understand an important few demographic trends.

We hit a big milestone in 2016. It was the first time in our history that there were more Canadians over the age of 65 than under 15. Today, there are 6.5 million people over 65. That’s roughly 17% of our population. The percentage of those over the age of 75 will more than double between 2011 and 2046, increasing from 7% to 14.5% in that time frame. The average life expectancy for Canada is now 82.5 years old. In 1960, it was just 71. By 2036, the number of seniors could reach between 9.9 and 10.9 million people.

When you combine these figures with the fact that our fertility rate is 1.54%, you arrive at two simple and inevitable conclusions. We’re living longer and we’re not replacing ourselves. In addition, Canadians are also retiring faster. According to StatsCan, the average age of retirement was 64 years in 2019. Let’s take a few snapshots that illustrate the worker-to-retiree trend.

In 1971, for every 100 working-age people, there were 15 seniors. Today, there are 25 seniors per 100 working-age people, so roughly 4 workers for every retiree. In 2036, there are projected to be 39.5 seniors per 100 workers. When you go on to 2056, the stats predict we will have just two working members for every retiree. Why the rapid decline?

In short, Baby Boomers. The 9.6 million Canadians born between 1946 and 1965 are leaving the workforce and will continue to, in waves. Our parents…

My dad is here as well. Hi Dad, how are you?

I didn’t mean to do that. It was an impromptu moment.

To those of you who’ve got grandparents, we say thank you and bless you because you’ve earned it, but it does mean more pressure will be put on the public purse. That’s because there will be a smaller fraction of the population making source contributions to pay for pensions, healthcare, education, employment insurance, and other critical infrastructure needs.

These accelerated retirements are also coming at a time when there is currently low unemployment and increasing labour shortages. A 2018 BDC report found that about 40% of Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses are having trouble hiring new employees, a direct link between a shortage of workers and slower growth in sales, and that the sectors facing the strongest headwinds included manufacturing, retail trade and construction.

Ironically, the study also found entrepreneurs were least likely to consider hiring newcomers to Canada.

That’s why we need to increase opportunities for dialogue and help everyone understand that immigration is the only solution.

Understanding the challenges around aging, retirement and labour shortages is an eye-opening experience for many, but it’s only half the story. The other half requires exploring solutions. I’m not here to persuade you that immigration will solve every single challenge with our population or our economy, but it is a lever – and a big one at that. The facts are that, as of today, nearly 80% of our domestic population growth, 80%, is based on immigration.

A Conference Board of Canada report predicts that number will increase to 100% by 2033. What is the role of federal government in framing the policy architecture around immigration? Those of you who are policy wonks out there, and I know there are a few, know what a mandate letter is. For everybody else who’s got better use of their private time, my number one job from the Prime Minister is to grow the country by over one million immigrants over the next three years.

It’s right there in the letter. I’m looking forward to unveiling my plan in the coming weeks.

And that’s why I’m here, to talk about my priorities. How we will do it strategically, to support the economy and distribute the benefits of immigration across the country. To succeed, we really need partnerships and active support from people like you.

In the meantime, I want to give you a high level overview of last year’s performance and then concentrate on a few significant initiatives, which I hope will inform our discussion afterwards. 2019 was a banner year for immigration in Canada. We welcomed approximately 341,000 new immigrants, exceeding our targeted goal of 330,800.

From this number a strong majority, roughly 60%, were admitted under the economic class. We also maintained positive trajectories for family and refugee class sponsorships. I want to underline that our government will always be a leader when it comes to reuniting families and resettling refugees. To those of you work in that space I say thank you on behalf of our government.

I had the occasion recently to travel to Geneva, to the UNHCR’s first ever global refugee forum, just before the New Year. In fact, it was my first trip abroad in my capacity as Minister. I can tell you unequivocally that Canada is seen as setting the gold standard when it comes to community sponsorship and our work in the humanitarian sphere.

I will never forget taking my daughter Michaela to Pearson International when she was just eight years old to welcome those first few Syrian families. It was one of the most profound moments that I’ve had not only as a Parliamentarian but as a father, and to be able to pass that on to our daughter, and to see her still recall it today, is a source of immense pride.

I remember it was Diana’s suggestion, and I’m always wiser when I’m following her suggestions. It’s taken me some time to discover that, thank you. The reputation we enjoy is not because of government. We owe it to our stakeholders and to the thousands of decent Canadians who roll up their sleeves and do the hard work.

We owe our successes to the refugees themselves, who are not, let me repeat not, just victims. We should not let them be stigmatized as such. They’re doctors, engineers, contractors, lawyers, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. When I welcomed Mustafa Aiello as a member of our delegation, it was the first time a refugee had ever been invited to the floor of the UN in that official capacity.

We extended this invitation not merely as a gesture, but literally to show the world that refugees need a seat at the table if we are to develop effective new partnerships for their integration into our communities and yes, into our labour force. On that note, let me shine a light on a few big success stories when it comes to our economic pathways.

First the Express Entry program – this is the fast lane for immigrants who possess the skills and experience necessary to hit the ground running. The numbers say it all. 95% of the participants have jobs, 83% in their primary occupation and 20% earn more than non-Express Entry principal applicants.

Express Entry is the flagship of our economic admissions, but it’s not the only area where we’re excelling in economic immigration. There is also the Global Skills Strategy. Launched in 2017, this initiative makes it easier for Canadian businesses to attract the talent they need to succeed in the global marketplace.

Companies using the global talent stream have committed to create over 48,000 jobs for Canadians and permanent residents, and over 12,500 paid co-op positions, and are investing more than $113 million in skills and training. Over the first two years of the Global Skills Strategy, 40,000 participants benefited from a 14-day application processing time. That is incredibly fast.

One of the questions I want to put back into your court is, “How can we significantly upscale this program?” Because it really is a game changer for employers. The Start-Up Visa Program is yet another way in which we are supporting entrepreneurs with the skills and potential to build businesses in Canada that are innovative and job creators for Canadians who are ready to compete on a global scale.

Originally created as a pilot, it was made a permanent program in 2018. As of May 2019, more than 650 entrepreneurs and their family members have been approved for permanent residence and they represent about 200 start-ups that have been launched in Canada. Finally, Canada has created a number of highly innovative and community-driven pilot projects to address the diverse labour market needs across the country.

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot is the most advanced, literally the most popular one among my colleagues from that part of the country. Championed by provincial governments, municipalities and local business leaders this three-year project was launched in 2017 and was aimed at ensuring the long-term retention and integration of newcomers in the Maritimes and Atlantic Canada.

Since its inception, nearly 3,000 permanent residents have been admitted to date. The progress has been spectacular and it’s why we’re committed to making the AIP permanent. One of the things we know about settlement patterns in Canada is that immigrants gravitate towards urban centres.

But there’s an incredible opportunity beyond the big city life, notwithstanding my biases. That’s why we introduced the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot. This five-year pilot aims to distribute the benefits of economic immigration to smaller communities by testing a new pathway to permanent residence for skilled immigrants.

I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues Ministers Monsef and Chagger to see through the next stages of this program in conjunction with the eleven selected towns across Canada.

The last pilot I’ll mention is the Municipal Nominee Program. This is a new concept where our plan is to tap into local knowledge and perspectives to further align the skills of aspiring newcomers with the needs of municipalities in an unprecedented and targeted way.

We are still in the pre-consultation phase, and I plan to work in close partnership with my provincial counterparts and stakeholders as we prepare to engage prior to the rollout of the MNP. When you take all these measures and put them together, it represents a comprehensive immigration plan that is working for Canada.

We’re placing an appropriate emphasis on economic immigration while remaining faithful to brand Canada pathways that seek to reunite families and protect vulnerable persons. I believe we’re on the right track, but we can’t afford to be complacent. The world is an increasingly complex and competitive place.

We have an opportunity to capitalize and ensure Canada remains a beacon to attract the best and brightest from around the world. Governments, businesses, labour and stakeholders have to work together to meet the challenges ahead. There are many areas for us to collaborate, in particular, temporary foreign work, international students, mobility, and foreign accreditation.

I’m looking forward to having that dialogue with you, but as we do, let’s agree in this room to remain strongly united in the idea that immigration is a net positive for Canada. We say it all the time, because Canada is ranked number one. I love reposting those on my Facebook and my Twitter.

Our immigration system has been lauded by the OECD as “the benchmark for other countries when it comes to integration.” I will be travelling to Germany tomorrow to talk about Canada’s success in integration and sharing it with a likeminded and close friend country.

The population supports immigration because they know it’s based on principles and is beneficial to the country.

At the same time, we must remain vigilant against some of the underlying ugliness. I’m reminded of the story not long ago about Soufi’s Syrian restaurant on Queen Street.

Last fall the El Soufi family closed shop in the face of racist threats and intimidation. But almost overnight, that hate was completely overwhelmed by a tidal wave of love and support from residents and customers, and they re-opened their business, and they’re thriving.

That’s the Canada I’m proud of and I hope you are too.

In closing, Canada is built on the strength of our immigration. We face a number of challenges on our horizon. However, continued growth and immigration will help to fill our labour shortages, drive growth, create new jobs, contribute to diversity, and secure our future.

Governments cannot do this work alone. My commitment is to continue engaging with you to help shape Canada’s economic immigration policies for the future. Through this collaboration we will ensure Canadian businesses and workers have access to the resources they need to compete and win in the global marketplace and guarantee we remain the best country in the world.

Thank you.

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