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Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberals to hold immigration level steady in 2017 Add to ...

The federal government will not boost the number of immigrants Canada welcomes in 2017, despite a recommendation from an expert panel to do so.

Canada plans to accept a total of 300,000 new permanent residents in 2017 – the same target as 2016, which was historically high because of the Liberal commitment to resettle tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. Immigration Minister John McCallum tabled the Liberal government’s 2017 immigration levels in the House of Commons Monday.

The target comes on the heels of recommendations from a federal panel calling for a major increase in immigration as a response to demographic challenges. The Advisory Council on Economic Growth released recommendations on Oct. 20 saying annual immigration should be increased over a five-year period by 50 per cent, to 450,000 from 300,000.

Tony Keller: Increasing immigration won’t fix Canada’s growth challenge

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Boosting immigration was one of three major recommendations made by the council in its first report. It also called for a heightened focus on attracting private investors via a federal infrastructure bank and a new agency dedicated to increasing foreign direct investment in Canada.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau will release his fall fiscal update on Tuesday and he said on Friday that it would show how the government will “best consider” the recommendations from the growth council.

Both Mr. McCallum and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains had indicated publicly that they were lobbying their cabinet colleagues to set a higher immigration target.

Mr. McCallum said in August that the direction he would like to go would be to “substantially increase” the number of immigrants.

Mr. Bains recently told a public-policy conference in Ottawa that he also supports higher immigration but has faced resistance out of concern that the policy will not be well received when parts of the country are experiencing high unemployment.

Opinion polls – including in-depth polling by Mr. McCallum’s own department – consistently found little support for boosting immigration and broad support for the status quo.

After releasing his 2017 targets on Monday, Mr. McCallum told reporters that setting 300,000 as the base for the future represents an increase over the average amounts Canada has welcomed in recent years. Canada admitted an average of 259,542 new permanent residents from 2011 to 2015, according to his report.

Mr. McCallum suggested that the 450,000 target outlined by the growth council could still be adopted at some point. “We have made permanent the number 300,000, which had been temporary, and so that lays the foundation for future growth in immigrants, so I do believe that it is true that more immigrants for Canada would be a good policy for demographic reasons.”

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec expressed general support for the announcement. “I’m glad to see the numbers are pretty much similar to what a Conservative government had been doing in the past. So that’s a nice sign. In principle, we agree with it,” he said.

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice described the 300,000 figure as “reasonable,” but he questioned whether Ottawa is setting aside enough resources to help process immigrants settling in Canada. “Our concern isn’t so much the number, but what are the resources devoted to welcoming immigrants?” he said. “So 300,000 or 250,000 or 350,000, it depends on what you put on the table to properly integrate immigrants, and for the moment we don’t have answers to those questions.”

Federal policy-makers have long been concerned with the looming shift in the dependency ratio that will come as the baby-boom generation leaves the work force. The ratio is defined as the ratio of seniors to working-age Canadians.

However, research by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth shows that even a 50-per-cent increase in annual immigration will reduce the ratio by only 1.6 percentage points in 2030, from 37.3 per cent to 35.7 per cent. Still, the council said that change would ease fiscal strain on the federal government, which would reduce the need for future tax increases or cuts to benefits.

Monday’s report also unveiled an increase to the number of economic immigrants Canada plans to admit, to 172,500 in 2017 from 160,600 in 2016. The boost to the economic category comes after a decrease in 2016 to accommodate the Liberals’ election campaign promise to resettle tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. Canada has welcomed more than 33,000 Syrians since December, 2015.

There will be a significant drop in the number of refugees Canada plans to resettle next year, since the bulk of Syrian refugees arrived this year: 40,000 in 2017, down from 55,800 in 2016.

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