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

At the Skilled Migration National Employer Conference

Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire Hotel
Calgary, Alberta
October 18, 2013

As delivered

Well, thank you so much for introduction, and thank you everyone for including me in your really inspiring agenda yesterday and today, in what is clearly a gathering of serious expertise on immigration issues, in the case of my portfolio, and at a level that is really important for us in Canada as we grapple with what our Speech from the Throne yesterday called “jobs without people and people without jobs.”

And I’m really delighted to be able to bookend this discussion that you’ve had with my colleague, Jason Kenney, and to demonstrate, as Jean-François has shown by being up here, that our departments are determined to work more closely than ever before, and to show obviously how well-positioned we are to do that with a new Minister of Employment and Social Development who needs no introduction, and whose credentials, worldwide, on immigration and migration issues are beyond dispute.

We are well on the way towards transforming our system, towards improving our system, towards linking our economic immigration programs – even as they are reformed in dramatic ways – to our economic needs, to our new situation in Canada’s labour market, and to the imperatives that you all see. They are especially visible here in Calgary and Alberta, more vividly than anywhere else in the country.

But we’re going to depend on you to work with us to deepen the partnerships that we have, to make sure that we get it right, to help us accelerate, because we’ve been talking about some of these reforms for some time. They’ve taken years of preparation and some time. Implementing them needs to come sooner rather than later. And that’s what I’m here to talk about. Really about the implementation of a program that is already clear to you. I hope I’ll be able to make it clearer with today’s remarks.

But I want to thank Stephen McLarnon for inviting me to take up this closing slot, and for putting together a really wonderful program. I was saying to John that I wish I’d been here for both days. But it’s a bit hard for too many of us to be away – especially those of us who are rookie ministers – on the day of our first Speech from the Throne, with these new duties.

The issues you’ve been examining and discussing are the same issues that we are committed to addressing and advancing at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The future of our immigration programs is the future of Canada. Let’s not ever allow ourselves to trivialize the importance of what we’re engaged in, trying to get these policies right. Every program we’ve had for immigration, every wave of immigration we have added to this country, has changed Canada – and fortunately, in our case, for the better at every stage.

But as the country gets bigger, as our economic potential becomes even more widely recognized in the world, the challenge of getting it right only becomes more urgent. So in that sense, immigration touches the future of every single Canadian. And it touches many of us personally. As you kindly mentioned introducing me, my wife is an immigrant. We met in Afghanistan, actually, but she’s a Danish citizen, and she gained her permanent resident status a couple of years ago, so we are ourselves counting down the days of the residency requirement.

We haven’t had our residency questionnaire yet, but when she applies, who knows? She may be selected for that additional level of scrutiny. But she, like so many people from around the world, decided to build a new life in Canada, start a family here – in her case, coming from a country with a higher per capita income than Canada, one of the rare few left in the world today, and a much smaller country.

And our children are growing up with an inherent understanding of the immigrant experience, which is, somewhere along the way, the story of all of our families in Canada, with all of its characteristic stresses and joys. Because immigration is not a bowl of cherries. It is not easy, ever, to transition from one culture, often from a different language, a far-away part of the world, to a new place, even a better place. It involves adaptation, it involves struggle, it involves sacrifice.

And so, my family is not unique. The immigrant experience is quintessentially Canadian and it is the dominant experience in our great cities, including this one, cities that are more and more recognized around the world as among the best places to live. Let’s remind ourselves, there are all kinds of rankings of these things. But the Economist recently said that of the five most livable cities in the world, three were in Canada, you know, and no offense to Melbourne and Sydney, they do quite well too. But one of them was Calgary, one of them was Toronto.

And it’s not an accident that these are cities with very high immigrant populations and with very high rates of diversity. That is what people are looking for. They are not looking for, in the best professional careers, colleagues who are all like them, from the same places. Companies succeed – and the private sector is the way we organize ourselves to be wealthy advanced economies – because we are able to bring people together from all kinds of backgrounds. And it is in our cities in Canada that we are succeeding in doing this as brilliantly as anyone in the world, and in some cases, more brilliantly.

So all of you have been touched by immigration, in your professional or personal lives – whether it is in your workplace, or through your own spouse, parent, grandparent, close friend, neighbour, co-worker, or employee. And I’m sure many of you are immigrants yourselves.

Let’s remind ourselves, this province is the home to more than half a million immigrants, a great example of the immeasurable benefits of immigration. Newcomers helped to build this great province and they’re helping to shape Alberta for continued success in the future, to keep it the engine of the Canadian economy, perhaps the strongest in this very long train.

And it’s been said that a simple way to take the measure of a country is to look at how many people want in and how many people want out. That is something that can be measured everywhere in the world. In Afghanistan, a lot of people wanted out, despite the hope that a post-Taliban settlement there represented, and still represents. Well in 2010, an Ipsos poll, maybe some of you have heard this, asked citizens in 24 of the world’s leading economies if they agreed with the following statement: “If I had a choice to live in Canada or stay in my current country, I would move to Canada. Yes or no?” Fifty percent said yes.

And those 24 economies, not all advanced, many of them emerging, represent four-billion people. So in principle, for all of you professionals out there, that is a potential EOI reservoir of two-billion people interested, in principle, in living in this country. It validates the pride many Canadians feel about living in a country that so many others would like to call 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 here in Alberta and across the country, are what draw numbers of people from around the world. You, I hope, had a chance to hear earlier yesterday in the Speech from the Throne, how our government is underlining the priorities that will ensure Canada continues to be a beacon for so many from around the world: Creating jobs and opportunities, keeping taxes low and keeping families and communities safe

But what struck me in the Speech from the Throne, apart from the many policy initiatives that you will have by now digested – and many of them do relate to immigration and citizenship, I counted about seven major initiatives, not new ones, but reaffirmed ones, and, and in some cases, reemphasized ones. But the theme of yesterday’s Speech from the Throne was leadership. It has taken leadership at the G8, at the G7, leadership at the G20, leadership in framing up an agenda of financial sustainability of getting back to balance in budgets, not just for Canada, but for all of the advanced economies and all of the economies that were in trouble only five short years ago as Lehman Brothers collapsed.

We have never before exercised that leadership so clearly and for such a sustained period on economic and financial matters. Stephen Harper has been at the centre of it, has been the leader of it at every stage, along with Jim Flaherty, my neighbour in the riding of Whitby in Ontario, and Mark Carney, who’s now gone onto an unprecedented promotion because of that Canadian leadership and example.

So maintaining leadership with expectations that high becomes even more challenging, and one of the areas where we have set a pretty good example is immigration, especially with the achievements of the five years of Jason Kenney as minister, but sustaining them, meeting higher expectations than ever before, is not easy.

Still, as a country, we have a rare opportunity before us to seize the moment, to continue to exercise leadership, to continue to take responsible fiscal decisions, even as the United States postpones its reckoning about debt ceilings and fiscal precipices. Our natural wealth, our sound finances, our stable democracy, our expanding network of trade relationships around the world, the strong demand for our resources combined with the ingenuity of Canadians: These assets are aligned. That’s what the Prime Minister said to us in caucus on Wednesday.

And I don’t think a Prime Minister could have said that credibly at any earlier stage in our development. Maybe Sir John A. Macdonald in the 1880s, but it would have been a totally different context. This is Canada’s moment, it’s our job as a government to seize it for the benefit of all Canadians, and it’s our job as Canadians, in our companies, communities, whatever network we belong to, to try to seize it, because leadership is happening on many, many different fronts.

When I arrived back in Canada in 2009, let’s just flash back briefly, I was completing 18 years in the Canadian Foreign Service – including six in Afghanistan -- when I returned home. Canada, like many other industrial countries, was reeling from the effects of this downturn. Our largest trading partners were in crisis, our own domestic labour market was suffering. Unemployment, even here, had gone up sharply. We were literally at a precipice, the likes of which the world had not seen since the Great Depression, with the potential for really incredible economic dysfunction on a global scale.

But what has happened in this country since then is most certainly getting noticed around the world. The strength of our recovery, the leadership we’ve exercised in the G7 and G20, the repeated calls we’ve made for timely, targeted and temporary time-bound stimulus, followed by a concerted effort to reduce debt-to-GDP and return to fiscal balance.

And you know, I mention these things because they matter for immigrants. You know, anyone who’s coming here knowing they will make sacrifices, knowing they may not have the standard of living they had at home for a good while, they’re thinking about their children and grandchildren. And they’re asking themselves about debt, financial sustainability, sometimes more than those of us who were born here.

So there is a level of admiration and emulation from our international peers that we haven’t seen before. People are looking to Canada through a new lens, a lens that highlights how we’ve gone beyond our traditional reputation as a polite peacemaker. We don’t want to give up that reputation, but we’ve made strides to become a decision maker and a shining example of a pluralist and prosperous nation, commanding the attention of the international community.

Now those of us who grew up in great cities like this one – in my own case, it was Toronto – have an innate appreciation of our country’s success in fostering pluralism. We know it to be a source of strength, we know it to be one of the reasons so many people, established professionals, skilled workers, students from around the world, want to come here.

I’ve personally seen it from both sides. Growing up in Toronto gave me a passion for this diversity, from kindergarten, from my neighbourhood. And working in the Foreign Service certainly gave me a deeper understanding of how rare that peaceful, deep diversity is in today’s world – people of different faiths, religions, creeds, political beliefs living together under common laws, pursuing the common good, their interests through a market economy. It’s an experiment.

And I think if people had predicted a Canada like this 50 years ago, there would have been a lot of naysayers, a lot of detractors saying it couldn’t be done with this level of diversity, with this level of intake of people from all over the world. It has succeeded almost certainly beyond almost anyone’s expectations. And the acclaim that this has earned us makes it even more critical that our immigration system be fast, fair and flexible, that it respond to our national interests and be a driver for future success.

And what do we mean by fast, fair and flexible? Well, fast means get them here on time. Make sure the match is the right one. You know, when Jean-François asked the question about the media guru, the programming or digital guru, I say “Captain Canada or Uncle Canada wants you”, because we do have jobs in those fields, and we have to have an expression of interest system that gets these people in cutting-edge professions here in ways that are driven by real employer needs.

It goes without saying that our government is committed to, and intently focused on, creating jobs, long-term economic growth and prosperity. Immigration is fundamental to this. It’s vital to our long-term economic health, and we are absolutely conscious that we are in a very competitive world when it comes to designing and delivering immigration programs.

There may be some gridlock in Washington, there may be a different dynamic in Europe, but Australia, New Zealand, Asian countries, many Europeans, the United States at state level, at university level, they’re innovating, they’re recasting their programs and they’re trying to do better, even than us at our best.

So in a time of global economic uncertainty, Canada still needs a robust economic system to keep our workforce strong and address labour market needs, especially with Baby Boomers starting to retire; and that demographic Christmas tree that we’ve all studied approaching a new shape which will put even more pressure on us to provide steady streams of skilled immigration for sustainable labour force growth.

Now, you know we’ve welcomed an annual average of 200,00-to-250,000 since 2006, the highest sustained level of immigration in our history. I’m pleased to say it will continue this year and next despite a series of rotating walkouts over the spring and summer, which you may have heard about, by hundreds of my former colleagues from the Foreign Service who process immigration applications.

Literally, if the immigration officers had voted on their own, I don’t think they would have voted for a strike, but that point is neither here nor there now. They were outnumbered by the non-immigration Foreign Service officers who were my colleagues. In spite of that walkout, which is now resolved, I can tell you that we are on track for permanent resident admissions this year. We had set a target of 240,000-to-260,000 such admissions. We will be in that range. Too soon to say exactly where.

We have also, despite the challenges this year, welcomed more temporary residents than last year: tourists, business people and a record number of international students. Not only are applications up in all of those areas, but approval rates are up and it was particularly difficult to make that the case in August, as you know, when the wave of student applications hit all of our missions around the world and we literally – both because it was summer and because of the work stoppages – didn’t have the complement of resources we would normally have had.

So I pay tribute to my colleagues for digging deep and getting the job done. And I think if you speak to university presidents and college presidents, they will say they were pleasantly surprised by the result.

In the coming days, because it has to be done before November 1st, I will be announcing a balanced immigration plan that reflects our government’s focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. An economic-focused immigration platform is key to our success, and it’s nice to see that the Speech from the Throne yesterday already reflects that emphasis, that focus.

To ensure that immigration will fuel our future prosperity, we need to select immigrants who are ready, willing and able to integrate into Canada’s labour market and fill roles in our economy where we have existing skills shortages. And let me emphasize, we need to select immigrants, not just wait for whoever may decide to apply, to join the queue, to join the inventory of applications. We need to be selective and recruit where possible the skills, the professional competencies that we know we need.

We have to make sure the skilled immigrants we choose are the ones Canada needs and are the most likely to succeed when they arrive. Again, here in Alberta, I don’t need to tell anyone about the great demand for skilled workers nor do I need to tell you that demand exists in many sectors of the economy, not just natural resources. To meet this demand, our government is committed to building a fast, fair and flexible economic immigration system focused on meeting the new and emerging needs of the Canadian economy.

Now, I mentioned fast means get them here quickly. Fair means get them here according to rules that are, and policies that are, transparently published. Flexible needs means change the flows as our economy changes and our labour market changes. So we need service, we need integrity, but we need an economic core to the logic of our immigration. It’s always been there, we’ve never lost it, but it needs to be, in this competitive global environment, more focused and more visible than ever.

Complementing, obviously, our family and humanitarian streams, which aren’t going away, which themselves are being reformed. Look at the changes to the asylum system, the refugee determination system, look at their success – unheralded I would say, on the scale it should be, the number of bogus claims down so dramatically, allowing us to focus our precious resources on the refugees from Syria, from still every part of the world who truly deserve Canada’s generosity.

Now, I’m committing to build on recent transformational changes to achieve an immigration system that best serves our economy and society. The biggest challenge we faced in 2006, Jason Kenney probably mentioned it yesterday, was backlogs. And let’s recall how many years were required, less than 10 years ago, to work through, to come through, some of these backlogs.

The system was passive, waiting for people to apply and then going through each application one by one in a mechanical way. That’s no way to guarantee Canada’s position as a destination of choice for immigrants. For most of this period, the number of applications greatly exceeded the number of planned admissions and the department’s processing capacity. So not only did we have backlogs, we had a plan to get more backlogs and ensure that the Federal Skilled Workers Program went from four- to six- to eight-, eventually to ten-years waiting.

As a result, these onerous backlogs grew and grew, applicants suffered increasingly intolerable lack of service, up to ten-years in the most extreme cases, and these delays prevented Canada from attracting the best and brightest in the world. You know far better than I that someone sitting in Hong Kong, or Rio de Janeiro, or Milan, seeing an opportunity in Canada with a cutting-edge company in marketing, in manufacturing, in IT, if they are told that it’s even a year, let alone three or four years, let alone ten, they will lose interest very quickly because they have options.

So we still have work to do. But by taking clear and decisive action, legislation, administrative measures, resources in some cases, we’re helping to turn the page. Backlogs are down almost by half and we’ve done particularly well with the Federal Skilled Worker Program that many of you know. The backlog in it had grown to 625,000 people at its height, with a wait time of multiple years.

Thanks to a number of measures, the backlog is now 62,000 and it continues to fall and we’re going to keep it there. That’s a 90 per cent reduction in about five years, positioning Canada as a global leader in this category, as well as into the future. With the backlog now manageable, we have brought the Federal Skilled Worker Program more into line with current economic needs.

We’ve identified criteria that best predict candidates’ capacity to thrive in Canada’s modern labour market, and we’ve made a number of changes to the program, which came into effect earlier this year, and let me remind you what those are. Since proficiency in English or French is one of the most important determinants of immigrants’ future economic success, we established new minimum official-language thresholds for applicants to the program.

I was just down at Bow Valley College to announce more support for their excellent English-language training and assessment efforts. The research is crystal clear on this. The better you speak English or French when you immigrate to Canada, the best chance you will succeed in our economy. It’s one of those tools without which it almost certainly won’t happen.

We’ve increased our emphasis on candidates who are younger when they arrive in Canada. These applicants have the potential to make a contribution to the Canadian economy over a longer term. We also require applicants to have their foreign education credentials assessed by a designated third party to determine whether they compare to Canadian standards.

The first step to requalifying, if necessary, is reaching out to the credentialing organization in Canada, finding out what their pathway is. And we’ve been, as you know, very demanding of those organizations that there be a pathway and that it be clear, transparent, public, and if possible, shorter than it was in the past. So newcomers are better set for success in Canada when they arrive with confidence that their training and expertise will likely be recognized here.

All of these changes simply make it much more likely that people coming through the Federal Skilled Worker Program will hit the ground running when they arrive in Canada.

Now, while reforming existing programs, we’ve also launched some new ones. They basically respond to emerging economic trends, and the two newest economic immigration programs that many of you will already know, but which deserve mention as part of this overview, came into being just earlier this year. The Start-up Visa in the spring and the Federal Skilled Trades Program at the beginning of the year.

The Start-up Visa is a pilot program unique to Canada, and believe me, when it gets that level of publicity in the Wall Street Journal and the CNN, across the United States and around the world, it’s very clear that it’s unique to Canada. It’s a step our government has taken to ensure we’re attracting the best and brightest in a sector that is pivotal for every advanced economy, because of the premium on innovation and entrepreneurship to succeed in any branch of the technology industry right now.

We need the best and brightest, we need the youngest and most dynamic, we need those who will create, not just contribute to great companies in Vancouver, Calgary, Waterloo of today, but create the companies of the future. So this program offers permanent residency to dynamic immigrant entrepreneurs who partner with angel investors and venture capital firms in Canada.

And as you know, ours is a government that’s taking action to deepen our venture capital pool to promote and to help angel investors organize and reach out and connect with those who are already, in large numbers, interested in this program. These are economic immigrants who have the potential to build innovative new companies which will create jobs for Canadians and compete on an international scale.

The Federal Skilled Trades Program was created in response to requests from Canadian employers to more efficiently bring skilled trades people for the construction, transportation, manufacturing and service industries. You probably know the legacy here more than I do. We had strong training in all trades in Canada up until some point in the 20th century. And then, at different moments, in different parts of the country, we started to rely on immigrants who came with their skills, and then those immigrants got older and retired.

Then our economy became more dynamic, especially in some branches of the resource sector, and construction certainly, and we found ourselves with a huge gap, in many ways a debilitating gap, that we are struggling to fill with domestic supply and also international supply.

So this program offers permanent residency to dynamic trades people who already have the skills, assessing their eligibility based on practical training and work experience rather than on formal academic education. And after only eight months, the first ones were already here. Amazingly, perhaps not surprisingly, Jason Kenney introduced one of them to Canadians here in Calgary. I met another one in Toronto. As luck would have it, both Irishmen, one from the North and one from the Republic.

But for me, it was Eric Byrne, with his hard hat on, adorned with shamrocks, on the roof of a big building in North York – a skilled young plumber from Dublin, whose only complaint about Canada is that the Guinness wasn’t very good. Otherwise, he is the perfect example of the kind of people we want to attract – and not just from one country or a few countries or one continent, from all over the world.

But in Ireland, to take that example where the economy, and particularly construction, slowed dramatically, there were many, and are many, trades people seeking new opportunities. When people such as Eric choose Canada, it’s win-win-win: A win for Eric, a win for his employer, a win for the Canadian economy as a whole.

So we are giving greater prominence to economic immigration, with two more programs that have been around a bit longer, but are growing faster than any other programs. One is the Provincial Nominee Program, with which Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have excelled, Manitoba too, but where we have started to take the benefits of immigration, in partnership with our provincial counterparts, to places outside of Calgary, Edmonton, even Fort McMurray, where we know immigration is needed.

And through this program, and the innovation it represents, parts of rural Canada in Alberta, in Atlantic Canada, in parts of Ontario are getting their first immigrants in several generations. In some cases, in parts of Prince Edward Island, in a century or more.

The Canada Experience Class has allowed temporary foreign workers and international students with work experience or education in Canada to apply for permanent residence. It’s a pathway for those with a demonstrated ability to work, to adapt, to function in Canada, to become permanent residents. It was only created in 2008 to capitalize on evidence that prior experience in Canada leads to better outcomes for immigrants. And what a success it has been – the fastest-growing program, into five figures this year, expected to grow again next year.

And the Provincial Nominee Program, let’s not forget, is now the second largest economic immigration program after the Federal Skilled Worker Program. So while almost every province will have views about what the numbers should be, and probably when we’re talking about Western Canada, demand for many more, this is the program that has scaled up fastest since 2006, and we’re very proud of that.

As I’m sure you’ve heard about in the past few months, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will be reformed in the coming months and years. The first thing I did as Minister was, with Jason Kenney, implement the first phase of reform, the new fee, the language requirement. But let’s recall what this program was intended to do.

It is to help fill genuine and acute labour shortages, enabling employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill short-term needs. It wasn’t working that way necessarily everywhere. It wasn’t well understood everywhere. So we pressed pause and committed to reviewing the program from start to finish, to making it better.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve held extensive consultations on potential changes to the TFW Program. This feedback will help us make sure it complements, and doesn’t undercut, the recruitment of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, as I’m sure you heard in detail from Minister Kenney, while taking into account the needs of Canadian employers.

Now, our vision for the TFW Program ties in with our vision for the future of permanent economic immigration to Canada. When our economic immigration programs, the new ones, the reformed ones, the larger ones, the smaller ones, work well and hit the target for economic immigration for employers’ needs, we need fewer temporary foreign workers. It’s as simple as that. And reforms to these two immigration streams need to complement one another.

Now I know that employers across the country, particularly here in Western Canada, are hungry for skilled workers. That is the main driver of the TFW Program, and that’s why we’re consulting provinces, territories, employers on the flagship reform that is just over the horizon for us now, which is called an Expression of Interest, or EOI, system for economic immigration to Canada.

Now, we haven’t got the marketing, the branding of this program perfected quite yet. EOI may not be its ultimate name, because it’s not exactly catchy. I don’t know what the view is, or the exact titles are, in Australia and New Zealand, where its antecedents lie, but the intent of the system is already clear, and its goal is vitally important. It’s the culmination of the transformational changes that our government brought, that Jason Kenney brought in this portfolio, and that I’ve been describing to you.

It’s a new way of managing immigration applications that will create a pool of skilled workers that can be drawn on by employers and fast-tracked through the system as labour market needs arise. It literally is an effort to move from passive to active, from defence to offense, from the mechanical processing of applications to the active, proactive recruitment of the people we need from a very large pool of people we know are interested.

It’s a way of managing things in partnership as well, not with a fragmented system, where provinces each give a different emphasis to their programs – which will continue even under EOI – or we have three or four different principal streams of economic immigration. This should be one flagship that will eventually subsume several of our major economic immigration programs as we know them today.

Now, our goal is to have the system in place by New Year’s Day 2015. That’s 14½ months from now. Under this new system, prospective immigrants will fill out an online form, indicating their interest to come to Canada as permanent residents, in designated economic categories of the immigration program. So they will use the existing programs initially, but they’ll be part of a new framework.

The form will include information about their occupation, work experience and assess language skills, as well as their educational credentials, among other criteria. It won’t be an overly elaborate form, but it will have those key building blocks of our understanding of who is who. If they meet minimum entry criteria, these expressions of interest will then be entered into a pool, assigned a point score, and ranked.

The most important part of this is that only the qualified candidates in the pool who are of interest to provinces, territories, employers or the federal government would then receive invitations to apply for permanent residence, to do the much more thorough and painstaking job of filling in a full application.

What are the benefits of this approach? It’s faster. Skilled newcomers that our economy needs will arrive here in months rather than years. It’s more effective at finding those skilled newcomers. As I said, we can select the most highly qualified candidates from the pool rather than those who simply apply first.

Third, by requiring candidates to receive an invitation to apply first, before submitting an immigration application, it will prevent backlogs from accumulating, which slow down the immigration system. Only a number of invitations will be issued that correspond to the capacity of the system, we hope improve capacity, improve productivity to process. It will be more responsive to the changing labour market needs of employers. Over time, there are likely to be more skilled applicants with valid job offers and a clear, shared understanding of applicants’ foreign educational credentials.

Because this is a partnership, we need to keep going back to employers and asking them continuously have you checked everywhere in Canada? Have you done everything you can to exhaust the potential source of new skills in Canada? Are you aware that these colleges have just graduated a new cohort in this area, as you need? In that case, EOI may no longer serve your needs as prominently as it had to, up to that point when there really was a deficit in Canada.

Or on the other hand, what new needs are emerging in our technology sector, in our energy sector, in our mining sector, that truly cannot be filled by Canadians, and how quickly can we get people here from outside as part of our economic immigrant streams? It’s going to be a framework for partnership, for dialogue that will be much more substantive, much more sustained, and better organized than it ever has been today.

This is the real benefit of an EOI system. Government policy is important, but it is the hundreds and thousands of employers across Canada – small, medium and large – who principally determine our economic success, and who principally determine who will be hired and what skills are needed, and how many of each. While ensuring that the domestic workforce gets first consideration, we also want our immigration system to support and be aligned with employers’ needs for skilled workers.

This is the most exciting aspect of this program. We’ve never had this active a role, this direct a role, for employers in our economic immigration streams. There’s always been mediation, there’s always been delay, there’s always been a disconnect. We’re hoping to move all of those obstacles to one side and have a direct partnership and a direct influence from the needs of employers on the priorities of our Economic Immigration Program.

We’re also looking at ways we can reform the Immigrant Investor Program so we can make sure that it is working as intended, supporting the Canadian economy and attracting the best and brightest investors and entrepreneurs. And let me clear there, this is what the Speech from the Throne said yesterday as well, we want both the investment and the investors, their skills, their effort, their spirit of innovation because we know that is often more valuable than the dollars that they put on the table initially.

We’re looking at possible models to create a new pilot program for immigrant investors, one that will lead to active, direct and significant investments in private sector innovation and in Canadian economic growth. And I’ve had roundtable meetings across the country to hear what different stakeholders had to suggest. If any of you have views, please, now is the time to write us a letter or have a quick conversation. These roundtable meetings have been hugely beneficial, and have inspired many ideas on how to move forward with a revamped Immigrant Investor Program.

And you will have seen it was one of the major points on the to-do list for us from yesterday’s Speech from the Throne. I look forward to a revitalized program in this area, and to be able to unveil some of its provisions in the near future. Suffice it to say, improvements to our immigration programs continue for the betterment of Canada and Canadians.

These reforms are the foundation of the success of our immigration programs, but we all have a stake in ensuring that the positive momentum that we’ve had now for years in these programs, because of successful reforms, continues, and if anything, grows. We must endeavour to guarantee that skilled immigrants participate fully in Canada’s job market.

We have to focus on barriers, preventing even economic immigrants from working quickly. Every year that they are unable to get credentials recognized is a cost for them, a discouragement for them, and a very real cost for Canada. And their arrival in this country should help foster economic growth. That’s the objective.

You all have a role to play in ensuring that newcomers reach these goals. We welcome your involvement. Many of you are employers, you know better than anyone how important it is for our rapidly changing economy to have an immigration system that itself evolves quickly to meet those changing needs. So please get involved. Let us know, my team, the people you know at CIC here in Calgary, in other parts of the country, in Ottawa, what you think of our thinking and how we can make it better.

Get involved through your professional associations, and whatever your field, see how you can help us design better policies and programs and also, support better outcomes for newcomers. It’s a team effort across Canada through settlement organizations, with countless thousands of volunteers as well, acting as mentors, as guides, to newcomers, as they take those first tentative steps into the Canadian job market.

Talk to your provincial government, talk to my department, talk to Jason Kenney’s department, which is vast. You will find us very open to discussion. Have a look at our website. Last year, it had 62-million hits, almost as many as Environment Canada’s weather site, or the CRA. No, it really is, for any government, up there and of a higher quality than ever. It will probably go through 100-million hits this year.

It’s the tool that we want newcomers to use as a gateway to this country. We want more and more applications to be online. We have to catch up with our Australian colleagues on that front, but we will. And we want employers to use it as well, in many of their interactions with the immigration system, so that we are agile and up-to-date.

There really are exciting prospects for our immigration programs in Canada because of the country’s performance, because of recent reforms, and because of our determination to focus the next phase of transformation on our economic needs. But there’s more work to be done to make sure we get implementation right. And I’m eager to consult with all of you who have firsthand knowledge of the economic impacts of our immigration policies, to hear cases of what’s working and what’s not, and to see employers actively engaged in integrating skilled workers into Canadian society.

I think employers now understand, when it comes to just-in-time arrival of economic immigrants, it’s not just a question of giving someone an office or giving them a hard hat and sending them to work. There is a whole story that needs to be managed, often a family that needs to be facilitated, as it starts a new life. And the payoffs from being involved in many key aspects of that adaptation for immigrants are huge.

We want to help employers become informed and engaged – frankly, to take advantage of, and influence the flexibility we’re building into, this economic immigration system. This truly is a partnership, a dialogue. 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.

What a pleasure it is to have someone from outside this country come to a place like Toronto. It could be the same thing in Calgary, it could have been the scene at Bow Valley College, and I was sitting in a café the other day with someone from Europe transfixed by what was happening in the street. And I thought my goodness, does she like the architecture? Does she like the coffee? Are the cars outside particularly new or eye-catching? Is it the fashion of the people walking by? No.

What caught her imagination, and told this European that Canada is the place to be as a professional, as an immigrant, is that everyone walking down that street was different. And they were married, some of them, and coworkers, some of them, and new immigrants, some of them, and unemployed, some of them. But there is no greater experiment underway in the world today of bringing people together to work for high economic and high purposes of citizenship than the experiment, the very successful undertaking, we have underway in Canada today through our immigration system because of our economic success.

Please join us in making it even better. Thank you very much.


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