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Politics Ontario goes it alone on immigration, says Ottawa's policy hurts province

Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney announces the government's new policies to help prevent marriage fraud at the Delta Meadowvale Hotel and Conference Centre in Mississauga on March 2, 2012.

Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail/della rollins The Globe and Mail

Having seen its dominant share of Canadian immigration shrink over the past decade, Ontario is fighting back.

Ontario's Citizenship and Immigration Minister Charles Sousa said Friday that federal immigration policies are hurting Canada's largest province.

In response, Mr. Sousa announced the creation of Ontario's first-ever immigration strategy, which he says will be crucial to the province's economic future. He also called on the federal government to negotiate a new agreement on immigration with the province.

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Speaking to the Metropolis conference on immigration research, Mr. Sousa said that although Ontario remains by far the largest recipient of new immigrants in Canada, it has suffered as a result of changes to immigration policy. The rapid growth of provincial nominee programs has drawn immigrants away from Ontario to the West and Atlantic Canada.

"In his speech to you yesterday, federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney confirmed what we've been saying for a long time: Federal immigration policies are hurting Ontario. Changes introduced by Ottawa over the last decade give a head start to others in this race at the expense of Ontario," Mr. Sousa said.

In 2009, Ontario's share of immigrant landings sank to its lowest level in nearly 30 years. Part of that may be related to its economic decline. But the province is laying part of the blame at the feet of the federal bureaucracy, which the Ontario government claims has tens of thousands of Ontario-bound applicants in its backlogs.

The biggest factor in Ontario's diminished ability to attract newcomers was its late arrival to the provincial nominee program. Ontario was the last province to join and receives only 1,000 permits a year, a tiny portion of the more than 30,000 permits handed to other provinces.

As Ontario began to receive a smaller share of the immigration pie, the federal government decided to cut its funding for settlement services by nearly $70-million.

"It's a priority for us to ensure that Ontario has fairness in the system. Right now things are happening at the expense of Ontario and I'm trying to change that," Mr. Sousa said.

An expert roundtable was announced Friday to help inform Ontario's immigration strategy. It will be chaired by former Toronto CivicAction Alliance CEO Julia Deans and includes TD Bank economist Craig Alexander, Ratna Omidvar of the Maytree Foundation and Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Coalition of Agencies Serving Immigrants. It will provide recommendations to government on how immigration can support economic development. Within six months, it is expected to produce a report that will shape the province's immigration strategy.

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Ottawa cracks down on marriage fraud

New immigration policy will make it much tougher to use a sham marriage to get into Canada.



Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Friday a government crackdown on marriage fraudsters: people who marry and enter Canada under spousal sponsorship, only to abandon their partners shortly thereafter.



Starting this summer, those who are sponsored by their spouses to come to Canada will only be given temporary resident status for two years before they can gain permanent residency. If, during that period, the government discovers the marriage was one of convenience, the individual will be denied permanent residency. The new policy will include a provision to protect spousal abuse victims, who may be reluctant to end their marriages out of fear of jeopardizing their chances at gaining permanent resident status.



Sponsored spouses will also be restricted from sponsoring others for five years – a change effective immediately. This is meant to put an end to the "revolving door" of serial marriage, sponsorship and divorce, Mr. Kenney said.



"When a foreigner commits marriage fraud, it is not only the sponsor who suffers, but our taxpayer benefits such as health care are also affected by these people who cheat their way into Canada," he said.

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