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Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum holds a press conference during the Concordia Summit in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum holds a press conference during the Concordia Summit in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

Does Canada need more immigrants? Add to ...

On the immigration file, what does the Trudeau government have up its sleeve? Over the past few weeks, Immigration Minister John McCallum has repeatedly said that, from what he’s hearing, Canadians are clamouring for higher immigration levels. And this week, the Liberal-dominated parliamentary committee looking into temporary foreign workers issued a report that effectively calls for the program, which the previous Conservative government scaled back under public pressure, to be expanded.

Both of these proposals are surprising. Not necessarily wrong, but unexpected. Mr. McCallum says participants in a series of consultations organized by his department told him that Canada wants more immigrants. At the same time, however, a recent Forum Research poll shows only 13 per cent of Canadians believe this country currently accepts too few immigrants. (Forty-one per cent said today’s numbers are about right, while 38 per cent said Canada takes in too many immigrants.)

Attitudes can change, and numbers too, but those results may explain why the Liberal Party’s election platform, which was commendably detailed on most subjects, including accepting more Syrian refugees, made no mention of upping overall Canadian immigration levels. In an interview with the CBC last weekend, Mr. McCallum acknowledged that talk of substantially increasing immigration has provoked debate within the Liberal caucus.

As for the Temporary Foreign Worker program, it several years ago metastasized into something that made no economic sense, with many temporary foreigners filling entry-level jobs in retail and fast-food, even in areas of high unemployment. This was insane: Canada isn’t Qatar, and doesn’t want to be. The Tories wisely scaled it back.

The Liberals on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, however, are proposing to loosen those Conservative restrictions on the TFW program. But their committee report also calls for making it easier for temporary workers to become permanent immigrants, as a way of addressing the program’s main source of abuse. Which brings us back to Mr. McCallum’s starting point: higher immigration.

Does Canada need more immigrants? The Liberals may not have run on it, but they appear poised to add this to their lengthy to-do list. There are good arguments in favour. There are good arguments against. Before making any decisions, those pros and cons need to be fully aired, and honestly debated.

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