ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

At a News Conference to Announce One of the First Successful Applicants to the Federal Skilled Trades Program

Toronto, Ontario
August 16, 2013

As delivered

Well, thank you for those inspiring words. Bonjour tout le monde. Thank you so much for being here, for what is really an exciting announcement, the announcement of a promise made and a promise kept to ensure that our immigration system continues to work for those changing needs of the Canadian economy, that it continues to be fast and flexible and responsive to the needs of great employers like the ones who are hosting us here today. And thank you to Liberty Development Inc. and to Darcon for having us here today in this brilliant sunshine and on this green roof, which says everything about the pace of development, the pace of growth in this economy, in Canada and in the GTA and the needs for skilled trades that we see all around us.

I’m told that the World on Yonge literally is the World on Yonge in that, down below in many of the offices and storefronts that you’ve seen, 90 percent of the people who will be working, who will have shops, who will have businesses are newcomers to Canada and that, literally, is our story as a country and, above all, our story here in the GTA.

As you know, the Government of Canada is continuing to focus on job creation, economic growth and the long-term prosperity of Canadians and Canadian families. And I was honored earlier this summer by the prime minister to be appointed your new Citizenship and Immigration minister and it’s humbling. But it’s also very clear to me that this portfolio, as is the case with my colleagues across the board, is part of that equation, delivering economic success for Canada.

Immigration plays a key role in driving our national economy. Jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity for me are not just a slogan. It’s our overriding priority, it’s the reality of what we’re focused on every day and the recent transformational changes to our immigration system will support these goals. They will bring about a system that is faster and more flexible, more responsive to labor market realities that are changing. Our reforms will also accelerate, as you’re going to hear today, the arrival of highly skilled candidates from around the world to Canada, so that we can integrate them quickly into our workforce.

We don’t want it to take years for a newcomer to Canada to enter the workforce. We want it to take months and some of our government’s most notable immigration reforms include reducing backlogs that plagued our immigration system for too long. We’ve reduced them by roughly half across the board, changing many of the ways we assess applicants in order to ensure their successful integration, both in Canada’s labour market and their home communities and on other occasions. I look forward to inviting all of you to join us to look at the settlement services that are delivered across the Greater Toronto Area, to at look at how they’re changing in response to the changing needs of immigrants.

We’ve also strengthened the way we assess foreign education credentials so that people can hit the ground running. We’re also improving existing economic immigration programs and creating new ones that complement emerging economic trends. Our immigration program is – its priority is economic immigration. Over 60 percent of our flows in recent years reflect that priority, but we need to remain nimble and programs like the start-up visa for entrepreneurs and other initiatives within our economic streams are going to make sure we continue to attract the best and the brightest and get them working quickly.

So I’m here today to provide you with an update on one of our newest programs: the Federal Skilled Trades Program. The Federal Skilled Trades Program is yet another example of the successful reforms we’ve introduced to create a fast and flexible immigration system, responding to the needs of Canadians and their economy.

This program was created in response to requests from Canadian employers, like those who have invited us to be here today, to bring more quickly and efficiently than ever to Canada skilled trades persons who work in the construction, transportation, manufacturing and service industries. And let’s just keep in mind how big those industries are. This is millions of people across the country, huge projects involving tens of billions of dollars. Their needs are often very specific and, in some cases, in many cases, they’re not always finding all the skilled people they need in the Canadian market itself and we’ve always turned to immigration to augment that market. We’ve always depended on immigration in this country for our growth. With this program, we’re targeting a very specific need for skilled trades.

So this program creates an opportunity for skilled, in-demand tradespeople to contribute their skills to Canada’s economy on a permanent basis. The program assesses their eligibility for permanent residency based on criteria geared towards their reality, placing emphasis on practical training and work experience rather than formal academic education.

The program was introduced to address acute regional labor shortages in certain sectors in some regions of the country, including the construction sector here in Ontario. In doing so, it helps to grow Canada’s economy.

Indeed, the program was created in response to requests from Canadian employers to bring to Canada skilled trade persons to work in natural resources, construction, transportation. It was long overdue for skilled tradespeople. Their skills are needed, we want them to transition to permanent residents but, before this program was created, it was very difficult for them to enter the Federal Skilled Workers Program or other streams of immigration and have that positive decision that brought them here to work on job sites like this one.

But make no mistake about the need that is driving this program. Many sectors of our economy have large, growing demands for skilled workers and there are 43 eligible occupations of the Federal Skilled Trades Program. This program is designed to fill those demands quickly and efficiently. For now, we’ve set an overall cap of 3,000 applications each year to keep processing times short and to avoid a backlog of applications. As such, it’s expected that the Federal Skilled Trades Program applications will be processed within 12 months. But I’m pleased to report that as of May 2013, all applications were finalized well within that processing target. Today, less than eight months after we opened the program to applications – that was only in January of this year – I’m delighted to present to you Eric Byrne, one of the first successful applicants granted permanent residency through the Federal Skilled Trades Program. Eric, put your hand up and let’s give him a round of applause, everyone.

Now Eric is a notable example of someone who came to Canada to contribute experience and skills and who also meets the requirements to stay here permanently. We welcome people like Eric who have come to Canada to contribute their skills and who meet permanent residency requirements.  Now Eric is going to hold up his helmet and I want you to take three guesses where he comes from? Eric, originally from Ireland, arrived in Canada early last year. He hails from Dublin, he works as a plumber for University Plumbing and Heating here in Toronto and his foreman is standing right beside him, so he’s on his best behavior.

Canadian employers and Canadian homeowners alike know only too well that plumbers are in very high demand in this country and Eric originally arrived in Canada through International Experience Canada, a program that enables international youth between the ages of 18 and 35 to travel and work in Canada, generally for up to one year.

I would also like to mention that, right now in Calgary, my colleague and predecessor in this portfolio, Jason Kenney, now the minister of Employment and Social Development is welcoming Paul Lyttle, an electrician from Northern Ireland who, like Eric, initially came to Canada through the International Experience Canada program. He is also one of our first successful applicants to the Federal Skilled Trades Program. And I’m told that, on this job site, while the whole world is in this building, there is a strong Irish presence.

That is not surprising, given their skills, given their acumen in business, in construction and in the trade, but obviously this program is open to the whole world and other successful applicants hail from a variety of countries, from India and Lithuania to Latvia and Germany. And we look forward to seeing that list broaden in the months and years to come, but clearly Eric’s case is a success story for Canada. Eric, a skilled plumber from Ireland, was motivated to travel here and contribute his in-demand skills. After gaining valuable work experience for a period of time, he decided to remain and build a life and career in Canada. At the same time, University Plumbing and Heating, like so many Canadian employers, was seeking skilled trade professionals to work in the sector where the supply is not able to keep up with the high demand. Stability is an important element of running a successful business and employers seek employees who can offer long-term commitments.

Thanks to the Federal Skilled Trades Program, tradespeople like Eric can now offer a long-term commitment to employers such as University Plumbing and Heating and can also make long-term plans for their own future here in Canada. In other words, this program is about allowing employers to plan for a prosperous future, for a future where the needs of our economy are met by an evolving labor market inside Canada and by immigration programs tailor-made to support the potential that we know this country has.

Let’s be honest, it was not possible for people like Eric, for some of the skilled tradespeople who have been through apprenticeship, people who have very, very impressive skills, but who were not being picked up in the previous system of economic immigration we had. This is a necessary adjustment. It’s a welcome adjustment by employers, by governments across the country and it’s a win-win-win situation for Eric, for University Plumbing and Heating and for Canada’s economy.

This is the reason for our transformational changes. We want our immigration system to meet the needs of this labour market. We want the world’s best and brightest to choose Canada over our peer countries, because we can have them working within months, not years. And we want newcomers to arrive in Canada hitting the ground running, integrating quickly into our labor force and into our communities, as people like Eric are clearly able to do.

I’m pleased that the new Federal Skilled Trades Program is helping us attract and retain professionals like Eric Byrne, people who have so much to offer employers, communities and Canada.

So to you, Eric, a simple message: congratulations and welcome home!  

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