Liberals pledge to give municipalities bigger say on immigration | Globalnews.ca
Tucked way inside the Liberal Party platform released Sunday is a pledge to make it easier for municipalities and small towns across Canada to attract new immigrants and skilled workers.
This issue is especially pressing for provinces like New Brunswick, which, according to a recent government report, will see as many as 120,000 people age out or retire from the workforce over the next decade. At the same time, the province expects just 70,000 to 80,000 people to graduate and start looking for work.
If re-elected, the Liberals say they will create a Municipal Nominee Program (MNP) that will allow cities, chambers of commerce and labour councils to “sponsor” new immigrants to fill gaps in local employment markets.
Though light on details, the Liberal plan calls for at least 5,000 spots a year for new immigrants to be made available across the country through the MNP, giving communities of all sizes a chance to “make the most” of the contributions newcomers bring to Canada.
The Liberals also say they will make the Atlantic Immigration Pilot project — launched in 2017 — permanent. This program allows businesses in the Maritime provinces to receive pre-approval from the government for job postings that target highly skilled immigrants.
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Once made permanent, the Liberals say at least 5,000 spots a year for permanent residents will be available through this program, too.
“This can certainly only be interpreted as good news for municipalities, in particular, smaller communities,” said Adam Lordon, mayor of Miramichi, N.B.
It’s not clear from the Liberal platform how the MNP will work — or whether communities that already qualify for the Atlantic program will be eligible — but the Liberals’ pledge is in line with other promises made by the party to increase immigration levels to 350,000 newcomers a year by 2021 and focus on attracting highly skilled economic immigrants in the future.
Pending labour shortages
While Lordon says he’s pleased with the Liberals’ promise — especially that the Atlantic pilot could be made permanent — he says more details are needed before he can say for sure how effective any municipal immigration program might be.
For example, Lordon says it’s unclear whether the 5,000 spots would be targeted to areas of the country that need immigrants and new workers most or whether any community could apply.
“Speaking from a rural or a Maritime perspective, we know that the single biggest challenge for us in the next decade is going to be getting people into the labour force,” he said.
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Lordon also knows that getting new immigrants to stay in smaller towns is a major challenge. He says it’s up to communities like his to create a welcoming environment so that new arrivals don’t simply pick up and move to larger cities after they arrive in Canada.
“We need policy that works with people and gets them into our community rather than working against them,” Lorden said.
The sky’s the limit
Among the uncertainties about how the Liberals’ new proposal might work is whether the MNP would be expanded to accept more applicants in future years as demand increases.
A Liberal spokesperson says this will be evaluated in the future, leaving the door open for the program to get bigger.
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But for now, Lordon thinks 5,000 spots a year makes sense to start because it would give smaller municipalities with limited resources time to figure out how the program works and to assess their needs.
Kareem El-Assal, policy director at Canadavisa.com and a former immigration researcher at the Conference Board of Canada, agrees that starting small is good. But once the program takes off, he says, “the sky’s the limit” in terms of how many municipalities and new immigrants might apply.
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El-Assal points to the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) — launched in Manitoba in 1999 and later expanded to other provinces — as an example of just how high the demand for new immigrants in Canada is.
He says research he completed for the Conference Board shows the PNP grew from just a few hundred applicants in its first year to roughly 35,000 new immigrants entering Canada by 2018. For P.E.I., Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, the PNP now accounts for more than 90 per cent of all new economic immigrants.
Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board, says giving municipalities more say over immigration could help solve another problem — that is, that about 80 per cent of new immigrants end up in just a handful of Canada’s largest cities, with most going to Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.
Many smaller communities — even those with populations of 100,000 or more — do not benefit from immigration in the same way as bigger cities, Antunes said.
Where do other parties stand?
The Conservative Party has said it will have more to say about immigration later in the campaign.
However, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in May that Canada’s immigration levels should align with the national interest, but he did not provide any specific numbers or targets.
Scheer also said he wants to make it easier for businesses to be able to attract the best and most talented workers from around the world but has not yet provided details on how this would be accomplished.
The NDP, meanwhile, said it supports the Liberals’ pledge to create a municipal immigration program and to make the Atlantic pilot project permanent.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also said he supports higher immigration levels, including removing a cap on parent and grandparent sponsorships, plus giving temporary workers permanent status upon arrival in Canada.
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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she supports the Liberals’ plan to create the MNP — at least in theory, that is.
Before giving it final approval, May said she would need to speak with municipalities and local labour groups to make sure they have the resources, infrastructure and skills needed to complete applications and to integrate new immigrants into their communities properly.
May also said she is in favour of making the Atlantic project permanent and further increasing immigration levels across the country, especially in communities experiencing labour shortages or declining populations.
This content was originally published here.