It’s really wonderful to be back in British Columbia, first and foremost. And this has been a frequent stop for me since becoming Minister, and will continue to be, not only because it’s a great and warmer province – there was snow again this morning in Ottawa. And not only because it’s a growing province with so much happening – you’ve heard a great deal more about that story this morning. But because you in this room, and others who are not here, are absolutely crucial partners for us in what we are doing to try to renew, revamp and relaunch Canada’s immigration system for a new era, to make it more relevant and more effective than it ever has been.
And so I’m really grateful to you, Bob, Kelly, your whole team, for organizing this, for making this the theme: Mind the Gap. There is a gap. You know, we were discussing it in the House of Commons just yesterday. We don’t see this overall labour shortage in Canada, and this is actually a familiar theme around the world — I think Dimitrius would agree — but there are sharp and shocking shortages in individual regions, in individual sectors, where we don’t have enough people with the right skills to do the job. And that’s what our government is about – trying to, yes, create the jobs, make sure we set the conditions for doing that, ensure the growth that only jobs creation can bring, and sustain the opportunities that both of those assets can bring us. But to make sure that we do it while being very, very conscious of the fact that the workforce that we need to create for 2020, 2030, and beyond is going to be a very different one for a different economy, which already looks very different, and will continue to change in ways that we can’t perfectly anticipate.
And so it’s wonderful to be here with so many who are central partners for us in this discussion. Ian McKay, I don’t know if he’s here, led a roundtable with us recently with one of the important sectors here in Vancouver and British Columbia and across the country to talk about their needs. Obviously, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce – wonderful to have you here, John, and to hear about the scale of the challenge across the country. Employers like Seaspan. My previous job was as Parliamentary Secretary to Peter MacKay, when he was the Minister of National Defence, and what an exciting story on both coasts and everywhere in between ,because supply chains crisscross the country for our shipbuilding industry, not to mention technology industries, the trucking association, a wonderful list. As well as the B.C. Federation of Labour and the Natural Gas Workforce Committee. I mean you have organized yourselves in this province to envision what the economy will look like a decade or two out on a scale that I haven’t seen before.
I think all provinces are trying to do this. In Atlantic Canada, where immigration in many provinces is new or hasn’t been current for a hundred years, 150 years in some cases, there are immigration strategies coming into focus and demographic population projections being done in a very detailed way, but you’re doing this work on an extremely important high level.
And on settlement, you know, Queenie Choo from S.U.C.C.E.S.S., Eyob Naizghi from Mosaic, you are among our most innovative implementing partners anywhere in the country. And we absolutely appreciate that partnership, and I’m delighted to be able to come and share some of the conclusions that we have from our recent dialogue with you. And that is as recently as a week and a half ago when we had federal, provincial, territorial ministers meeting together in Ottawa, with Shirley Bond front and centre, reflecting all of the strategic work that has gone on here. But that work will continue, and I do look forward to your questions and comments as the afternoon goes on.
Let me just take one minute to acknowledge someone who is not with us today, because only a month ago I was in this very hotel speaking to the Canadian Club of Vancouver, I think in this very room, about the reforms we’re making to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship. And seated with us was Roshan Thomas, optometrist, friend, I’m sure, to many of you, who started the Sparks Academy in Kabul, I think before I had arrived as ambassador a decade ago, to help refugee children. And it now has 600 students, boys and girls.
On that occasion, she gave me a book — this is how organized and how wonderful a person, a great Canadian like Roshan Thomas was — with photographs of the visit I’d made as ambassador when her school was starting out, reading stories to three-year-olds long before I had my own.
Last week, as you all know, Roshan was brutally murdered by Taliban gunmen at the Serena Hotel. And I would like to say in front of all of you, and through all of you, to the whole community of her friends and family, how deeply we mourn her loss, and how sorry we all are that such senseless tragedies continue to happen even after all of the achievements that she and tens of thousands of Canadians, and hundreds of thousands from the international community, and millions of Afghans, have achieved over the past decade.
But it reminds us that even as we get excited and optimistic about immigration and the workforce of the future, there are challenges globally that we can’t predict. In my view, when it comes to the fate of Roshan Thomas and that hotel that has been attacked five times now in the same way over seven years, the groups attacking are not from Afghanistan. They’re from neighbouring Pakistan. Canada needs to be at the forefront of the discussion of why we haven’t come together to confront the source of the problem and its government and its army and its intelligence service who are aiding and abetting, training and funding, these people.
On Sri Lanka, a resolution was passed today or yesterday, I’m not sure about time changes, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This resolution, which now calls for an independent investigation of wrongs committed over many years, wouldn’t have happened without Canadian leadership last year in not attending the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo, Sri Lanka, because a government there has not faced up to its responsibility to bring about reconciliation with an important minority.
And of course there’s Ukraine where, unfortunately, in 2014, we have to acknowledge a European country, former member of the G-8, invaded a neighbouring country, committed a shameless act of aggression and has moved to annex a part of the neighbouring country. We don’t recognize it, but they’ve done it. This is destabilizing in the extreme. This is not behaviour that will lead to the kind of stability that the global system needs to continue its progress. And again, Canadian leadership is essential for all kinds of reasons that you know as well as I do.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong and Shanghai for the first time in my life, cities with many strong connections to British Columbia, and indeed with Canada as a whole. Our ties with China are ancient. We’re only starting to understand how there were probably Chinese fleets here off of the Straits of Juan de Fuca several centuries before James Cook and other Europeans made it this far. And we have a shared legacy: freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, 300,000 Canadian citizens who call that proud city home, a market economy in China that is thriving and has moved a long way since 1979. I visited the Sai Wan cemetery, where Canadian graves stand.
But I was there because for one simple reason: China, with its talent, with its size, with its outward looking population, is far and away our biggest marketplace for all of our programs. And so it’s essential that we be there in China, India, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, around the world, to promote opportunities in Canada — in this case for Chinese businesspeople, students, immigrants and travellers.
Let me give you a sense of the scale. The International Migration Policy Institute will know the reality globally much better than I do, but we are at the point where 1.5-million Canadians trace their roots back to China. For the past 15 years, China has been one of the top sources of immigration permanent residents to Canada. And last year, it was the top source for students — 29,000 in one year. For permanent residents, 34,000. Lots of parents and grandparents, but close to the top source country for all of our economic immigration programs as well. Two hundred and seventy thousand visas, many of them – an unprecedented number, pushing 50 percent now –10-year multiple entry visas, which means 270,000 doesn’t speak to the number of visitors coming to Canada. That number is much higher.
Our message is that Canada’s doors are open to economic immigration, to unprecedented family reunification. We have created, and are sustaining, multiple pathways for investors, even as we move to launch a new Immigrant Investor Venture Capital pilot later this year. And we’re doing that because we know that Chinese businesspeople, students, investors are attracted to this country for very compelling reasons: Because they see a research and innovation agenda here that they want to be part of; Because they see a startup ecosystem here — and I’m not saying that just because of Mr. Startup who’s in the audience — extending well beyond the startup family that is across the country and vibrant; Because they see we really are pursuing responsible resource development across Canada on a scale that isn’t matched either on the responsible side or the resource development side in other parts of the world; And because in a country like China that prizes stability, that is trying to have a peaceful rise and harmonious relations with its neighbours, we have achieved a level of stability in our markets and in our financial sector that few can match, and that is, therefore, intrinsically attractive. Not to mention excellence in health and education.
So in the course of a few days promoting Canadian immigration in China, one sees the depth and intensity of the linkages just between British Columbia and Hong Kong and mainland China that are driving this traffic in both directions — immigration, visits, business, tourism.
I was at, I think, the first B.C. wines presentation in Hong Kong in the Four Seasons Hotel, with Vancouver chef Trevor Bird and a huge audience of interested Hong Kong buyers.
I was at a ceremony for Douglas College concluding an MOU with the Redleaf Women’s Hospital in Shanghai that will see our nurses go there for practicums that they can’t always get here at the level and in the quantities they want, and Chinese nurses come here to pursue their studies.
So this literally is an Asia-Pacific gateway on a scale that we haven’t had before, and we in Citizenship and Immigration, and we in the Government of Canada, and we across the board, need to serve that new constituency in different and faster ways.
My trip to China has made me even more confident of our country’s potential for attracting top global talent to drive our future economic and cultural prosperity. Newcomers, as you know, are central to our story. In many ways, they are the story of Canada, recruited at every stage of our history to meet the needs of the day. Before Confederation, French and British crowns recruited immigrants to clear the land and harvest the forests. I was reading a new book on Canadian history, and hadn’t realized that French migration to Canada really stopped in about 1680, and the 10,000 people that made it from various parts of France to New France, as it then was, are now 10 million people, in Quebec, elsewhere in Canada, and across North America.
In the 1880s, of course, our first era of large-scale government-organized immigration – the national policy of Sir John A. – new waves of settlers had to break the sod and survive the winter on the unforgiving prairies, which are still quite frozen as I speak. My colleague who sits next to me in the House of Commons, Leon Benoit, was telling me his accounts from parents and grandparents about how British settlers would arrive on the prairies with a canvas tent and not get very far past October living in those circumstances, whereas Ukrainian settlers knew to build a sod house and weathered the blows of that weather very successfully. So, a new kind of immigration.
Then in the first half of the 20th century, our mining sector, a huge magnet, the second half, the postwar period, skilled trades. Recent decades, the services sectors have attracted people here across the board on an unprecedented scale, again, in numbers that we have never before seen.
But now we’re in a new era, and B.C. is at the forefront of this new economy, of this new story of immigration. It is the only provincial economy that is fully turned towards Asia, that has more trade with Asia than the United States. All of the other provinces still have the United States as their principal trading partner. You are a leading indicator of the diversification now taking place in Canada’s economy, also a sign of how we have caught the world’s attention.
There is a Canadian advantage that is also part of the immigration story, and part of this hunt for talent that we are in. We are a low-tax jurisdiction. This matters. Not just personal income tax, corporate taxes, families saving $3,400 compared to what they were paying only eight years ago.
With Hong Kong, we are now the best place in the world to do business, I think according to Forbes Magazine. Reliable institutions, well-regulated markets. We have this financial stability. It’s not nothing, and we shouldn’t take it for granted to have banks that are rated the best in the world by the World Economic Forum, not just this year, but for five or six years in a row. We will be the first G-7 country to return to balance. We are the only country of our size, certainly the only G-7 country, with a Triple-A credit rating and a positive outlook from all bond rating agencies. And we are controlling expenditures.
This doesn’t happen on autopilot. It’s not happening in lots of other jurisdictions. It doesn’t happen by itself. It requires judgment and decisions and engagement with the whole country to explain why it’s important and to make it work.
We’re also addressing our unfunded liabilities – pensions, Old Age Security, transfers to the provinces, infrastructure – to make sure that we have the funding streams in place that we need to make sure our infrastructure doesn’t wear out, but that we can afford the obligations and liabilities we have down the road, which other countries, in so many cases, starting with the United States, have yet to fully calculate.
And then there’s trade. You know, Ed Fast’s lead, James Moore playing a very active role promoting our companies in Europe. This week the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement is an exciting story for all of Canada, as is the Pacific Alliance, our suite of free trade agreements there, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which we will continue to pursue, as well as the bilateral initiatives we have underway or pending with China, Japan and other bilateral partners.
And then there’s Canada-Korea, the first free trade agreement that we have ever had across the Pacific, in East Asia. These policies were not inevitable. They did not just happen. Poor choices, choices not to do these things, have costs and discerning judgment has a particular value in a volatile world and a fragile recovery, where leadership in many jurisdictions is lacking.
So we have opened the door to a new era of opportunity for Canada. In B.C., it’s many things – finance, logistics, LNG obviously, software design, you know it better than I do. In Saskatchewan, potash, uranium and gas. In Alberta, the oil sands and much that falls out of that agenda. In Manitoba, manufacturing for the Bakken. Agriculture processing in Ontario, automotive still going strong, parts manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, finance, mining. n Newfoundland, you would be astonished at what is happening to a province of only just over half a million people, but where the St. John’s Chamber of Commerce came to see me the other day and said every one of our 800 members has a skills, a labour problem, a challenge. They cannot find the numbers of people or the skills that they need, even in St. John’s.
So these are the reasons why your Global Talent Summit is so timely. And there is fierce international competition for a finite number of skilled immigrants. We must, all of us – the federal government, provincial government, employers, educators, service providers, other stakeholders – work together to ensure British Columbia and Canada remain competitive in the marketplace for skilled immigrants.
And that is why we are particularly proud of the partnership we have with the B.C. government, with Shirley Bond and the whole team working on these issues. She was one of the first people I spoke to in taking over this portfolio, and she has only driven in one direction towards getting results on these fronts that we know are so crucial. We met federal, provincial, territorial ministers just before my trip to China. We’re meeting again with the B.C. team next week. This is an unprecedented and necessary level of coordination and engagement.
Let’s be clear. Canada is continuing to welcome an annual average of more than 250,000 immigrants since 2006. That is the highest sustained level of immigration in absolute numbers since in our history. And I say in absolute numbers because there were those few years before the First World War when we brought in, in one case, 400,000 immigrants, between four and five percent of our population, in one year. We’re not in that ballpark at the moment, and those circumstances were exceptional. But this year, it’ll be 261,000, and this immigration is focused more and more – thanks to our reforms, thanks to our partnerships – on our economic needs.
And we’re doing that because we have an Expression of Interest system coming on stream, which I will talk about in a few moments, because we have excellent settlement agencies, and because we know together what the workforce of the future is going to look like.
We have made ourselves less vulnerable to abuse. We have reduced backlogs, and that has, in turn, reinforced our ability to go after those economic priorities that we know are so welcomed by the immigrants themselves who want to go to work, who want to have a career, who want to provide for their families, and by the employers from whom we’re hearing every day.
But unlike other countries who are worried about the skills gap, who are worried about their workforce down the road, we have a plan to deliver. We are opening new markets. We do have a team – federal, provincial, municipal governments, private sector – to deliver these large-scale projects and entirely new sectors.
We also have a plan to build the workforce that we need by doing four things: Reinforcing the value of citizenship; Totally revamping the way we do immigration; Reforming the Temporary Foreign Workers Program; and doing more to attract the business visitors, students, tourists and transit traffic in even larger quantities that we know are also a part of the picture.
So what does a fast, fair and flexible economic immigration system mean? It means we’re focused on the new and emerging needs of the Canadian economy and labour market, while maintaining our strong record on family reunification and responding to humanitarian needs. And let’s not forget how great those needs are today, especially in Syria. Canada continues to be the destination for one out of 10 resettled refugees in the world every year, and the demands, as expressed by UNHCR appeals are only going up, in large measure because of a conflict that is out of control in Syria.
And the reforms we made to our asylum system allow us to focus those refugee resources even more on the people who are most vulnerable, on the people who can’t make it to our shores under their own steam and on the needs of a dire set of crises around the world that are very far from our borders.
So fast means no backlogs. Fair means no abuse. Flexible means it has to lead to a job. It has to lead to success, the outcome that the immigrant is looking for or was recruited for.
And so we’ve changed our criteria to try to ensure that flexibility is there. Proficiency in one of our official languages is now given more weight in the system generally. Age upon arrival in Canada — younger is generally better. And the assessment of foreign credentials needs need to happen long before applicants arrive in Canada.
Moreover, this job offer can come from a variety of sources. It’s a wide open world thanks to our Internet, thanks to wired Canada, and especially thanks to the Canada Job Bank, which through the latest budget we’re investing to update under the auspices of Jason Kenney’s Employment and Social Development Canada. And of course, if no Canadian is available, that job vacancy on the Job Bank can be read by someone anywhere in the world, who can then apply for a Canadian immigration program.
Now how do people get here and what do our programs look like? No time to go through them all, but we are focussing really on four different categories of immigration. First, we’re recruiting many more immigrants here. The Canadian Experience Class, which has only existed for five years, one of our most successful programs ever. The Provincial Nominee Program, which ten years ago only brought 6,000 people to Canada, this year will be close to our largest program. Those are the two main routes for people who are already here. And we know that students and temporary foreign workers who have succeeded in Canada are going to tend to succeed as immigrants, and we want them to.
And then there are the people who are there beyond our borders. The Federal Skilled Worker Program has had these criteria changed that I just mentioned. The Federal Skilled Trades Program came on stream last year, but will play a big role in recruiting some of the most in-demand occupations that we’re all talking about in British Columbia and across the country. And then there’s a suite of programs for people around the world where we’re going after those who will create the jobs of the future – the Startup Visa for Entrepreneurs, the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital pilot, which we will announce later this year, a business skills pilot where we’re going after the innovators, the entrepreneurs, the people with that bright idea that will create a whole new sector down the road.
How do we get them here? Briefly, Expression of Interest being launched on January 1st. You’ve heard about it. It will enable skilled newcomers to arrive in Canada within months, rather than years. We’re going to process applications in six months or less. It will allow for the selection of the most highly qualified candidates from a pool of applications, rather than simply processing those who apply first. And it will require candidates first to receive an invitation to apply before submitting an immigration application, so backlogs will not accumulate.
So who gets into the pool? Anyone interested worldwide. There are a couple of billion people probably interested in coming to Canada, so that’s a large potential pool. Also anyone you as employers encourage to express interest. Who is invited? Those who meet the objective criteria of our programs. We’re not changing the programs. We will continue to update them, but Expression of Interest is not a program. It is a framework, a system, for delivering the programs that we have. And that will ensure we get the best human capital as sorted and ranked on the basis of our points systems.
Those with a job offer, when a Canadian is not found of course, with an LMO, will have an almost automatic claim in our immigration system.
So how do we align with employers’ needs for skilled workers? Canada Job Bank, you’ll have direct access and there’ll also be a flag against people who are in the Expression of Interest system that they will be able to take to Monster.com, to Workopolis, to LinkedIn, to all the other recruitment platforms that are out there.
So of course, welcoming skilled newcomers to Canada does not represent the full story of immigration. We have to settle and integrate them well. We’ve tripled funding in that area. What is good settlement? It’s upstream orientation, orientation outside of Canada, recognition of qualifications, validating and matching them offshore before people come, and then of course the all-important language and jobs.
In other words, it’s the B.C. approach. Follow the immigrant. Meet him or her early. Provide information. Meet needs. Accompany at the airport, accompany to the Greater Vancouver Area, accompany to Fort St. John.
We must all commit to facilitating the arrival of the world’s most ambitious and talented immigrants to our country, and to this province, today and in the years to come. There are exciting prospects in this province. We all have a stake in ensuring the success.
Thank you very much.