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

At a presentation on Canada’s immigration policies: Outlook on Immigration and Future Policy

Pan Pacific Hotel
Vancouver, British Columbia
September 26, 2013

As delivered

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and bonsoir. And thank you for that introduction. Thank you for the invitation to be with you today. Thanks to the National Bank, the hosts of today’s event. And thanks to all of you for coming today, both those of you who are involved in immigration, who are involved in the economic life of this great province and of this country, and those of you who are from the media, who have a very important role to play in getting the message out to audiences across Canada and around the world about the programs we have, about which we are passionate, to which we are committed as Canadians, and about the plans we have to continue reform and to make these programs even better.

It’s fantastic to be back in Vancouver. I was here early in my time as Minister, after being called into this role in the middle of July. Quite rapidly, it’s nice to be back here a second time in this new capacity. And I’m particularly delighted to be associated with what you see behind me, with this landscape and with this view on such a splendid evening, when it feels still very much like summer, but we know we’re all heading into fall. Because if we have a drawing card in this country, it is the quality of our cities, the quality of our landscape, the vastness of the country, which I think is visible from Vancouver perhaps even more than anywhere else in the country. And so it’s a real privilege to be in this building, with its history, and with that landscape behind me.

I was saying to a couple of you before I walked in that the last time I was in this hotel, I think, was in 1993, fully two decades ago, when I was a young diplomat for Canada and there was a historic summit happening here hosted by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at the time, but between Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton on the other hand. So time flies.

And I don’t need to tell you as Vancouverites that immigration is one of Canada’s most vital public policy issues. It’s not just an issue of bringing people from there to here or of achieving those efficiencies and reforms in the program to do it quickly. It’s a question of our economic future. It is about nation-building, in that the future of our country depends on getting the economic mix right, economic policies right, the skills set of our workforce right. And immigration has a huge role to play in that.

So thanks for the opportunity to have a discussion about these issues with a very informed audience.

I’ve only been Minister for two and a half months, so I’m looking at this with fresh eyes, but also as someone who’s been passionate about our diversity, about the power of our immigration programs, from day one growing up, as someone who was born and grew up in Toronto, which is at least as diverse as Vancouver is. And it’s been an honour to serve in this position these last months at the request of our Prime Minister, and to do it in a period of far-reaching transformational change, because there were a few decades during which we didn’t change our immigration programs much or we were in reactive mode. We tiptoed around the edges, but we didn’t address frontally the problems that we knew were building up.

And if we continue these transformational changes, I think we are all confident within the Government of Canada, and we are all confident as Canadians, that they can bring enormous benefit to this country, and to all parts of the country.

As Jack Parr – I’m not sure how many of you will remember this great American humorist and talk show host, whose heyday was a few decades ago now in television’s early years – but he said something very revealing, very telling about this portfolio. He said, “Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.” If people want to come to your country, they are paying a compliment to all of us. And if there’s an element of truth in that very old joke, then Canadians should feel very flattered indeed.

In 2010, Ipsos asked Canadian citizens, and the citizens of 24 of the world’s leading economies, if they agreed with the following statement. And the question was: “If I had a choice to live in Canada or to stay in my current country, I would move to Canada” – do you agree with this statement or not? Citizens of 24 different countries were asked. The majority of respondents, well over 50 per cent of respondents, said they would rather move to Canada than remain in the countries where their homes were at the time of this poll.

If you extrapolate the poll’s findings, that represents at least two billion people in the industrialized world, in advanced economies, who would like to immigrate here to this country. And I would challenge any of us to find polling results that were as favourable, as flattering toward any other country.

So that number validates the pride that we feel as Canadians about living in a country that so many others hope to call their home. And it’s no surprise that our freedoms, our dedication to the rule of law, our success in fostering a diverse, peaceful society, as well as the economic opportunities available in British Columbia and across Canada, are what draw vast numbers of people from around the world.

And indeed, our most recent history has only helped that global reputation. I arrived back in Canada in 2009. I had spent up until that point 18 years as a member of Canada’s foreign service, as a Canadian diplomat representing our country abroad, and had just completed six years in Afghanistan as our Ambassador, and then in the UN mission. But back in 2009, Canada, like so many other industrialized countries, advanced economies in every region of the world, was reeling from the effects of a global economic downturn without precedent in the annals of the world.

Our largest trading partners were in crisis. We all remember the free fall that was happening in American capital markets only five years ago. Our own domestic labour market was hard hit because our export markets were weaker. Global uncertainty was greater. We were literally at a precipice, the likes of which the world had not seen since the Great Depression. And the wrong policy decisions at that time could have pitched us over that precipice.

But what has happened since in this country — and I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is in large part directly because of our Prime Minister’s leadership – is most certainly getting noticed around the world. The way that Canada has emerged from this economic downturn, the leadership role we have played in the G7, in the G20, in NATO, on Libya and elsewhere, the repeated calls we’ve made for timely, targeted and temporary stimulus, the right funding for the right projects – infrastructure in our case – at the right time followed by a concerted effort to reduce debt-to-GDP levels and return to fiscal balance, all of this has earned admiration and inspired emulation.

I think we saw this as recently as two weeks ago in St. Petersburg where Canada, again, was at the forefront of defining the objectives all of those economies and governments will be striving to achieve in the coming years, where we can continue to say with pride that in the G7 we have the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio by far, and the most ambitious plans to bring it even further down by 2021.

All of this has earned admiration. It’s made us an economic leader and a model that others are following. People are looking to Canada in new ways, with new eyes. And these are ways that go beyond our traditional reputation as a polite peacekeeper. We don’t want to give up that reputation, but we want to go beyond it – to be a pluralist, prosperous example to the world.

Because of Canada’s acclaim, it’s critical that our immigration system be fast, fair and flexible. It must respond to our national economic interest to be a driver of our future success. And it almost goes without saying that our government is committed to, and intensely focused on, creating jobs, long-term growth and prosperity that will endure for generations to come.

Immigration fits naturally into this focus.

Our immigration system is vital to Canada’s long-term economic health as well as to our competitiveness on the international stage. And let’s not forget how competitive that stage is. Our companies know it. Our banks know it. We, in our national programs, have to be fully conscious of the competition out there for the best people, people with the most relevant skills who, in most of those vocations – professions that count for the most in today’s economy – are not available in infinite numbers.

Those of you in this room who are immigrants yourselves, or who are children of immigrants, or who employ immigrants or who are employed by immigrants or who, like me, are married to an immigrant, you will know from personal experience that this is true.

Even in a time of global economic uncertainty, Canada still needs a robust immigration system to keep our workforce strong and to address changing, and in most cases growing, labour market needs, as with other countries with aging populations. And we’re proud of the fact that our population is aging. This is a sign of success. This is a sign of progress in our lifestyle, in our standard of living, and in our health care system.

But with an aging population and a relatively low birth rate, in the not-too-distant future, the reality is that Canada will not have enough people to keep our workforce meeting labour market demands.

With Baby Boomers beginning to retire — and we wish them well in their retirement, we hope they have good pensions with the National Bank and other financial institutions— our economy now increasingly relies on steady streams of immigration to keep our workforce strong and sustainable.

Canada has welcomed, as you all know, an annual average of more than 250,000 immigrants since 2006, since our government came into office. This is the highest sustained level of immigration in Canadian history. But to ensure that immigration will fuel and drive our future prosperity, we need to select immigrants who are ready, willing and able to integrate into Canada’s labour market and to fill roles where we have existing skills shortages. We have to make sure that the skilled immigrants we choose are the ones Canada needs and are the most likely to succeed when they arrive.

I just met with British Columbia’s Minister of Jobs, Shirley Bond, who has a huge responsibility for immigration and employment, and issues beyond those two very large challenges. And she spoke about the natural gas revolution waiting to take place in many parts of this province. She spoke about the construction boom that continues here on the Lower Mainland and will take off soon in many parts of the British Columbia interior where camps, projects, energy production, gas production and associated infrastructure are set to begin on a very large scale.

These skills shortages are literally on our doorstep in British Columbia, in Alberta, in Saskatchewan and across the country.

I was in Southern Manitoba a couple of weeks ago. No oil, no gas, very good farmland. In these small cities of 10 or 12 thousand people, there is manufacturing. There is food processing. There is research and development happening, advanced manufacturing happening. And there is an unemployment rate of 2.8 per cent. I invite us all to tell our children, our relatives, their friends, anyone who complains that they’re having difficulty finding work and who is young or is in a position in life to have the flexibility to try life in another part of Canada, point them towards these regions. They’re not all in Fort McMurray. There are many parts of the country that are booming that face these skills shortages and that therefore are turning to our immigration program for support, for an injection of talent to drive that future growth.

In order to meet this demand, the Government of Canada has committed to making the system faster and more flexible than it has been heretofore, in recent decades, to meet the emerging needs of the Canadian economy and labour market while maintaining our traditions of family reunification and responding to humanitarian needs, including the needs of refugees.

We see the tide of humanity that has sought to escape conflict in Syria and other parts of the world, some of whom – the most vulnerable among whom – will of course be welcome in Canada.

I’m committed to building on these transformational changes to achieve an immigration system best tailored to the needs of the Canadian economy and the Canadian people. What’s important is to understand not only how we’re making these changes, but exactly why they’re essential.

We’re all aware that immigration is essential to our national identity, to our history, our national security and to our economic future. That said, in recent years, there have been emerging challenges, some domestic, some international that have driven the need to change and modernize Canada’s immigration system on an even more urgent basis.

These drivers of change include an uncertain global economy with shifting forces, where the weight of whole regions and certainly major countries inside the economic system, is changing. This requires us to think differently about our immigration system in safeguarding Canada’s future prosperity.

Think of those trade liberalization initiatives we are taking across the Pacific, with Latin America, with the European Union. Our immigration system has to take account of the opportunities they will represent, the doors that they will open.

The shifting economic needs in Canada’s different regions are also a factor to be taken into account. I mentioned Southern Manitoba. There are many parts of the country that now have labour shortages that haven’t had immigration for a hundred years. They are not just the Vancouvers, the Calgarys, the Fort McMurrays, the Torontos of this country. They are the smaller places, sometimes remote places where high paying jobs can be found, where very specific skills are required.

And then there’s Canada’s aging population and our relatively low birthrate which I mentioned earlier.

There’s also new research into the employment prospects of immigrants, the economic outcomes that they experience after years or decades in this country which point us towards even better ways to ensure newcomers thrive and succeed once they’ve settled in Canada.

And of course in recent years, there are internal policy and operational challenges within the immigration system itself, quite a decentralized system with people around the world, and certainly across Canada, working their way through inventories, backlogs, very high demand in many categories for immigration to this country, but where we know we can do better and where reform is still ahead.

One of the biggest challenges in recent years came in the form, literally, of these backlogs. And we inherited too many of them in 2006. They had gone steadily up from the early 1990s, because in those days, before these reforms began, we were required to process every application we received. We were in a passive mode, waiting for people to put forward their applications, and then mechanically going through them one after the other.

For most of this period, the number of applications greatly exceeded the number of planned admissions. And therefore, the number of applications greatly exceeded the capacity of my department to process them. And as all of you will have deduced from those two simple facts, or have seen from your own professional experience, that system was doomed to failure. It was doomed to create ever larger backlogs, ever longer processing times, ever greater delays between the expression of interest by a potential immigrant and their arrival in Canada, which made it almost inevitable that we would not meet our economic needs, that we would not have a just-in-time system for matching the skills of immigrants to the jobs available.

Essentially, demand exceeded our finite resources, and so logic dictated that this system was doomed to failure.

And as a result, onerous backlogs grew. Applicants had to suffer increasingly intolerable wait times, the uncertainty in their life choices that goes with those kind of delays — up to ten years in the most extreme cases. And these delays prevented Canada from attracting the best and the brightest from around the world.

Who in their right mind, at the top of their profession, would get in line for a system they knew would take seven, eight, ten years to process them?

So we still have work to do. Some of these backlogs are still too long. But by taking clear and decisive action to reduce them, we are moving closer to our goal of a fast and flexible immigration system that contributes to our overall economic growth. And the backlogs are down over 40 per cent from where they were in 2006, in spite of higher levels of immigration, in spite of greater demand than ever to come to Canada.

But to give you a sense of how we’ve managed this issue so far, let me focus for a moment on an immigration program that I’m sure many of you know. It’s our flagship, the Federal Skilled Worker Program. The backlog in this program had grown over many years to 625,000 people at its height with a wait time of several years. In fact, a wait time for the better part of a decade.

Thanks to a number of measures we’ve taken since coming into office, that backlog has fallen now to 62,000 — one-tenth of the peak amount. And it continues to fall sharply as we retain our determination to manage intakes, process inventories and keep the time required to process applications as short as possible. So that’s a 90 per cent reduction in five years. It positions Canada in this flagship program to be a global leader in economic growth and stability today as well as into the future.

And there are people all over the world with skills our economy needs now, eager to come to Canada as soon as possible. With backlogs slowing down the system, we were not able to capitalize on their goodwill, their aspiration to come to Canada. Without backlogs, we will be able to welcome them to Canada much faster.

And as we continue to shrink the remaining backlog in the Federal Skilled Worker Program, we’ve also succeeded in bringing the program more into line with current economic needs.

I mentioned a few moments ago that one of the drivers of change in our system has been research — wide ranging, independent, sometimes academic, sometimes private-sector-led analysis of the economic well-being of newcomers after they arrive in Canada. And it goes without saying that such research benefits both newcomers and the Canadian economy when we’re able to zero in on the criteria that best predict candidates’ capacity to thrive in this modern labour market.

Based on extensive research that we’ve done, a number of changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program came into effect earlier this year. Since proficiency in English or French is one of the most important determinants of an immigrant’s future economic success in Canada, we established new minimum official language thresholds for applicants to the program. The research was clear. Those who come to Canada speaking that decent level of English or French tend to do much better.

We also increased our emphasis on candidates who are younger when they arrive in Canada. They have the potential to make a contribution to the Canadian economy over a longer term.

We also now require applicants first to have their foreign educational credentials assessed by a designated third party to determine whether they compare with Canadian standards. And that comparison, that objective third-party assessment, allows the future immigrant to be on a path towards having their credentials recognized. And of course we want that path to begin as far in advance as possible, long before — in the ideal situation — the immigrant arrives here.

Newcomers are better set for success in Canada when they arrive with confidence that their training and expertise will be recognized, will be relevant, here. And these changes ensure that aspiring applicants to the Federal Skilled Worker Program are better positioned to hit the ground running when they arrive in Canada.

So as we worked to improve this flagship immigration program and to make it fresh for the 21st century, we’ve also been creating new economic immigration programs to respond to emerging economic trends. These trends include the need for specialized skills in specific economic sectors and some needs that are specific to particular regions of the country.

Our two newest economic immigration programs addressing these trends are the Start-Up Visa and the Federal Skilled Trades Program.

Our new Start-Up Visa pilot program is unique to Canada. It’s a step that our government has taken to ensure that we’re attracting the best and the brightest from around the world – in particular with a focus on entrepreneurship, starting a new company, planting that seed of business growth that we know is the principal engine of our economy.

This program offers permanent residency to dynamic immigrant entrepreneurs in partnership with angel investors and venture capital firms, some of the most creative of whom are in this city and in this province.

These are economic immigrants who have the potential to build innovative new companies, creating jobs for Canadians, conquering new markets, competing on an international scale.

Our new Federal Skilled Trades Program was created in response to a request from Canadian employers to bring to Canada more quickly and more efficiently skilled trades people for the construction, transportation, manufacturing and service industries. This program creates an opportunity for skilled, in-demand trades people to contribute skills to Canada’s economy on a permanent basis. It assesses their eligibility for permanent residency based on criteria geared toward their reality, placing emphasis on practical training and work experience rather than formal academic education.

And let’s remember that that emphasis on skilled trades among immigrants goes alongside an emphasis that we all have now within Canada on attracting Canadians to these trades, which are often high-paying, which are certainly in demand and which, in this country’s educational system, went neglected for a couple of decades.

One of the first events I had the privilege of attending as Minister was in Toronto this summer when I met Eric Byrne, a skilled young plumber from Ireland who was one of the first successful applicants granted permanent residency through this program. And why Eric Byrne? Why Ireland? Well, we all know the story of Ireland: Celtic tiger, booming economy, construction going through the roof, literally, for a long period, very talented trades people. And then all of a sudden, a softening, even a crash in some sectors, as part of that broader story of European economic hardship. And so the Eric Byrnes of the world sought new opportunities, and we hope that many others, not just from Ireland, but from around the world, from all parts of the world, will join him as electricians, as plumbers, as carpenters, as welders, in bringing that new phase of development, construction growth to all of those regions of British Columbia and Canada that now seem to be embarked upon truly exciting prospects.

As we are creating new specialized economic immigration programs, we’re also giving prominence to existing programs.

Two great examples: the Provincial Nominee Program has provided great benefits to many regional economies across Canada by giving the provinces and territories a bigger role than ever before in selecting new immigrants.

And the Canada Experience Class has allowed temporary foreign workers and international students with work experience or education in Canada to apply for permanent residence. This program was created in 2008 to capitalize on evidence that prior experience in Canada leads to better outcomes for immigrants. As you all know, those who’ve studied here, worked here successfully to everyone’s benefit, have proven their ability to adapt to our country’s circumstances and are therefore a couple of steps ahead and much more likely to succeed as permanent immigrants.

So both the Provincial Nominee Program and the Canada Experience Class have expanded greatly in the last few years. They have been our fastest growing immigration programs, in partnership with the Government of British Columbia and other provincial and territorial governments across the country.

The former is now the second largest economic immigration program we have, just after the flagship Federal Skilled Worker Program. And the latter, Canada Experience Class, is literally the fastest growing immigration program we have. The numbers for British Columbia in 2012 were 50 per cent higher than 2011.

As I’m sure you’ve heard about in the past few months, the Temporary Foreign Program has been the subject of intended reforms, and they will continue in the months and years to come. It was designed to fill genuine acute labour shortages, enabling employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill short-term needs. And in many cases, before they make use of the program, employers have to demonstrate that they’ve made all reasonable efforts to recruit from the domestic labour force from coast to coast to coast.

This is important, because a number of Canadian regions experiencing large scale shortages also have higher than average unemployment rates. And try explaining that to any population across Canada. How does this happen? Companies in the same province are complaining of a skills shortage, even while we know that overall, in some of these provinces, unemployment is higher and particularly, even higher still among young Canadians.

In April, our government announced its intent to introduce reforms that will ensure Canadians are given first crack at available jobs. And to make sure they get first crack at available jobs, we also need to make sure the right forms of jobs training, skills training are available all across this country.

Now recently, extensive consultations have taken place on changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. All of our work on this front is done jointly with the Department of Employment and Social Development, now headed by my predecessor in this portfolio, Jason Kenney. But thanks in part to this feedback, the government will be taking into account the needs of Canadian employers as it implements reforms to ensure that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program complements, and does not undercut, the recruitment of Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

Our vision for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program ties in with our vision for the future of permanent economic immigration to Canada. Those two sets of reforms, those two streams of skills development, need to move forward hand-in-hand, in lockstep.

This is because the better we get at economic immigration, the less we will need to rely on temporary workers. And subsequently, the faster we are at welcoming skilled workers, the more we will have the permanent residents in Canada that we know will succeed and contribute to that long-term vision of prosperity that we all share.

Now, I know that employers across the country, and particularly in Western Canada, are hungry for skilled workers to fill their labour-market needs. That’s why we have a Temporary Foreign Worker Program. But the reforms we’ve made in recent years, some of which I just shared with you, have allowed us to think much more broadly about the issue of a faster, fairer and more flexible immigration system for the whole country.

We are in continuous discussion with the provinces, along with territories and employers across both the provinces and the territories to create what we are calling – for now – an Expression of Interest, or EOI, system for economic immigration to Canada.

Now don’t count on the “EOI” title remaining. This program probably needs rebranding. Acronyms are not exactly catchy. And the person who has the right label for this program may actually be sitting in this room. If so, please make your suggestion afterwards.

But the intent is already clear. The goal of this new system will be vitally important. It’s the culmination of the transformational changes I’ve been describing. It represents a new way of managing immigration applications that will create a new pool, a vast pool, of skilled workers ready to become permanent residents and to begin their employment, to hit the ground running, as labour market needs arise.

Our goal is to have this system in place by New Year’s Day 2015, 15-and-a-half months away.

Countries with similar immigration systems to our own – such as New Zealand and Australia – already have an EOI equivalent, and we’re learning from their experiences to develop one that is suited to our country’s needs. New Zealand went down this path about ten years ago, Australia much more recently. The potential benefits in our case, given our scale, are even greater.

It’s a simple and accelerated process that will allow Canada, and Canadians employers – companies across this country – to select qualified candidates for skilled immigration who are best suited to our economic needs, not just those that happen to be the first in a very long line, where the match with Canada’s needs, with the jobs available now might not be very good. Rather, it will be a system where the skills of the person in the pool will be chosen by the actor – government or private sector – that has the economic need to make sure that the match is very strong and that the processing to bring the person here happens very quickly.

Under the new Expression of Interest system, prospective immigrants will fill out an online form indicating their interest in coming to Canada as a permanent resident in designated economic categories of the immigration program. The form will include information about their occupation, work experience, assessed language skills and educational credentials, among other criteria.

If they meet the minimum entry criteria, these Expressions of Interest will then be entered into a pool, assigned a points score and ranked. Top candidates in the pool, who are of interest to provinces, territories and employers or to the federal government, would then receive invitations to apply for permanent residence. In other words, the application, the full application would only begin on the basis of an invitation.

To submit a formal immigration application, prospective immigrants will first have to file their Expression of Interest and then receive an invitation to apply from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, obviously, acting on behalf of provinces, territories and employers as well. Not all candidates who file an Expression of Interest will be invited to apply.

So this EOI system will tie skilled immigration selection to our real current labour market needs. It will also be an effective means to match applications to our immigration levels targets while staying within our capacity to process applications in a timely manner. In other words, we will meet our economic needs more swiftly, more precisely, but we will also avoid the scenario in which huge backlogs grow up and the time lag between application and arrival becomes as inordinate as it had become.

Among the many benefits of an EOI system:

It’s faster. Skilled newcomers that our economy really needs will arrive here in months rather than years.

Second, it’s more effective at finding those skilled newcomers. There will be a much larger pool of candidates to draw from. As I said, we can select the most highly qualified candidates from the pool, rather than simply those who apply first.

Third, by requiring candidates to receive an application to apply before submitting an immigration application, it will prevent backlogs from accumulating.

Fourth, it will be more responsive to changes in the labour market, as expressed by employers, as expressed by whole sectors as they go up – sometimes down – in their fortunes. There will be more skilled applicants with valid job offers and a clearer shared understanding of applicants’ foreign educational credentials. With the Expression of Interest will go an understanding of what it will take to qualify in Canada. And with the invitation will go a very clear sense of the time, pathway, effort required to bring that applicant not only to Canada, but to a point where they are qualified to work in their field as an engineer or as a technologist, a technician, a radiologist or whatever.

There will also be a higher percentage of candidates with the characteristics I mentioned earlier, those that best predict economic success in Canada – language, age, adaptability. And there will be an enhanced role for employers in the permanent immigration system, providing more effective matches with real skills gaps in Canada.

Let’s be clear about what drives our economic growth. Sure, government policy is very important, but it is hundreds of thousands of companies across Canada – small, medium, large – that are the principal determinants of our economic success. And we need their agenda, their human-resources strategy, to feed into our immigration system if we’re going to have success.

So, employers will be able to use the EOI system as a rich source of prospective recruits to fill workforce needs when they can’t find qualified workers in Canada. This will be the button that they push when it’s clear that our universities and colleges, or the interests of young people in Canada, simply doesn’t suffice to meet the demands of their business, of their industry, at that time.

Employers want financial stability, they want fiscal stability, they want legal stability, but they also want workforce stability – the elasticity of labour – to be able to, once they succeeded with the first five or ten people in a given profession, go and get 50 more, if there is demand.

For employers seeking stability, this new system will open the door to that longer term perspective on skills, longer term perspective on labour force commitment, and the benefits of such a system are absolutely clear.

In other words, we’re asking as many as possible of these two billion people – and maybe there are more – who would in principle be interested in coming to Canada to express interest, to fill in a little form online anywhere in the world. And then secondly, we are going to ensure that all of those inside Canada with a role to play in determining our economic needs – the federal government, provincial, territorial governments, employers – combine their forces to invite the people we need to apply. We’ll be going from a passive system to an active system, from a reactive system to a proactive system. And in so doing, we should be bringing dramatically better results, and a dramatically sharper economic focus to our immigration.

We’re also looking at ways to reform the Immigrant Investor Program so we can make sure it’s working as intended, supporting the Canadian economy while attracting the best and brightest entrepreneurs.

There are some issues with the way the program has been working. We need it to work both as a program focussed on investors and as a program that generates immigrants. And I’ll only say here that some provinces, B.C. among them, have not benefited as fully from this program as they would like, and as we would like. Out of fairness, the program needs to be looked at, and I hope to have more to say on that score in short order.

Suffice it to say, our reforms continue across the board. Our efforts to improve settlement outcomes for newcomers continue, and our government’s commitment to creating a fast, fair and flexible immigration system in the national interest – primarily the interests of our economy – remains absolutely firm.

When newcomers come to Canada, we offer them many different services. We try to help them find the services they need to settle comfortably into new lives, new careers – everything from language improvement, to employment and housing, to social services or simply learning how to get around their communities, finding the shops, the clinics, the services that they need. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this kind of service. It’s absolutely crucial to that welcoming spirit, and to that pathway towards success that we want immigrants to experience.

The benefits for newcomers are obvious. If they are oriented, if they find their way, if they are supported, they tend to succeed faster. They tend to feel more comfortable, more at home more quickly.

But the benefits for the communities that welcome newcomers, and for the Canadian economy as a whole, are incalculable. We all have a stake in ensuring that skilled immigrants participate fully in our job market. We’re lucky to have one of the most dynamic job markets in the world, certainly among the advanced economies. We all have a stake in ensuring that barriers to employment are removed and that the arrival of these talented people from around the world drives our economic growth.

That’s why we have to prepare newcomers for success – linking them with jobs earlier, helping them to integrate more quickly into new communities, communities in many cases – as I said earlier –- that haven’t received immigrants in a hundred years, 120 years, but where an exciting new phase of immigration to this country and growth in this country is now unfolding.

We want newcomers to have the best possible access to useful information and services, addressing their needs and circumstances before they come to Canada.

And in the few moments remaining to me, I’d like to leave you with a challenge. Many of you here today are employers yourselves. You know better than anyone how important it is, in a rapidly changing economy, that our immigration system remains responsive to labour-market needs. You have a role to play in ensuring that it does. And we welcome your involvement.

This is part of a conversation that Jason Kenney began, which I am continuing, which our whole government is committed to deepening with the private sector and with governments across Canada.

So please do get involved in helping to shape the future of our immigration system. Get involved through your professional associations. And get your professional associations involved and thinking about how to best operate in this new system.

Talk to your provincial government. Talk to my department, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. We’re easy to talk to. We’re in almost every major city across the country. Maybe not on individual applications, but when it comes to policy, you will find us open to this discussion at every possible turn. And when there are individual cases, whenever you see me, I want to hear about them.

Probably many of you have not done this lately, but look at the website of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. I agree that we are not online with as many services, with as much information, as we should be about individual cases. And we want to move towards processing that is more and more electronic, more-and-more done from a computer, from a laptop, and as a result, faster and more efficient.

Do you know how many hits that website got in 2012? Sixty-two million. So it is a tool that people are using as a doorway, as a gateway to this country. And you put that figure up against e-Government, the electronic footprint of any other department in the Government of Canada or in other governments around the world, and it’s towards the top.

There are exciting possibilities before us when it comes to future economic immigration to Canada. There is more work to do to complete these transformational changes. And I’m eager to consult with all of you who have first-hand knowledge of the economic impacts of immigration policies. We need to get the policy right for everyone.

In most cases, when I respond to individual cases – as in the case of my own wife who is an immigrant to this country – the real answer is that in that area, in that program, we are still dealing with a backlog. We are still dealing with an inventory that is larger than we would like it to be. We’re going to reduce those inventories further beyond what we’ve already achieved, and we’re going to keep them low so that we can truly be faster, more flexible and more competitive over the long term.

We want to help employers become informed and engaged – and frankly, to take advantage of this new flexibility that we’re building into the federal immigration system. We want them to have a sense of ownership that they are helping to shape the economic needs of the country, requirements to which we want our immigration program to respond. This is a partnership, ladies and gentlemen. Together with those who employ skilled immigrants, the Government recognizes the importance of immigration to our economic health and values the contribution of skilled immigrants who add to our international competitiveness.

We all must commit to facilitating the arrival of the best and brightest to this country – now and in the future. And we all have a success in ensuring their success.

Thank you very much for the opportunity.


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