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Transcript: Prime Minister Stephen Harper on international trade, politics and immigration Add to ...

The Canada Experience Class – the new category your government created – has grown substantially and you are expected to accept the greatest number of people in that category so far [in 2013].

The key is obviously people who have demonstrated they can fit into Canada and have the skills necessary. It seems to me that class embodies a lot of what you party, what your government has tried to do, in making the immigration system more useful, more helpful for Canada. Do you see this as a model for the future of immigration in Canada?

We are making I think profound, and to this point, not fully appreciated changes to our immigration system.

The first thing to say about it is this government is very pro-immigration. This government believes Canada needs immigration, benefits from immigration and that those needs and benefits will become even greater in the future if this is done correctly.

We also believe that an immigration policy will ultimately have degrees of balance. There are economic reasons for immigration, there are family reunification reasons and there are strictly compassionate, humanitarian refugee-type considerations. So there will always be a range of streams. But within that context we are making significant change.

And the change, Steve, is really that we are shifting the country away from yes, a large-scale, pro-immigration policy but a large-scale … passive pro-immigration policy. An immigration policy that essentially operated on receiving applications and processing them in order. And when we took office that had left us with, in every single stream, backlogs of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of applications that we had been obliged by previous policy to literally process in order without any regard to what the country’s actual immigration priorities were.

So what we are trying to do in key categories, especially economic categories, is shift to an activist policy where we define what the immigration needs are that we want, where we actually go out and try and recruit immigrants and to the extent that we receive applications we try and prioritize them to the country’s objectives. Why is it important to do this? Well, first of all, there are some obvious advantages.

But also the world is going to shift. We have been relatively rare for decades in being one of a very small number of countries that is essentially an immigration-accepting country. There aren’t many. There is Canada, the United States, Australia, Israel and historically there are only about a half dozen.

But we’re seeing as the demographic changes I’ve talked about, the aging population, start to bite, in many developed countries, we’re seeing their immigration needs and their actual immigration intakes beginning to increase.

And in many cases they are in fact using more proactive and activist policies than we are.

And we will not be able to compete with our traditional system – because in the past we weren’t competing with anyone.

You know, there were only so many countries people could immigrate to and Canada was one of them. That isn’t going to be the case in the future.

Immigrants are going to be going to a whole lot of countries, mostly in the developed world and Canada is going to have to get out there, compete, and make sure we get the immigrants both in terms of volumes and particular attributes: skills, expertise and investment capacity.

So we’re in a competition for high-value immigrants?

We will be increasingly.

I only ask this because of the fact it’s stayed the same for seven years: is there any need to increase the level of immigration and is there any thought being given to that?

Well, look, that’s under constant review. I think the problem with answering the question is the generalization. There are probably some areas of immigration we need to increase and others we don’t. That’s the challenge. But the priority has been reorienting the system because we really have been bogged down by a system that is based on processing a backlog of applications – and it’s taking some time to convert from that.

So this is going to have profound changes for Canada, you hope?

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