Ontario tried to assert its place in Confederation at a meeting of immigration ministers Friday, flexing its muscles as provinces jockeyed for more immigrants under Canada's new selection system.
Ontario Immigration Minister Michael Chan said he wants to "put the federal government on notice" that Canada's largest province by population will demand a fair allocation under the new Expression of Interest system to be established over the next two years.
Mr. Chan wants more economic immigrants for his province, which has seen its once-dominant share of immigration decline over the last decade. Ontario is also seeking a doubling of its quota under the Provincial Nominee stream, a program that has been used primarily to direct immigrants to the Prairies and Atlantic Canada.
At the conclusion of Friday's federal-provincial meetings, federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told reporters that he plans to hold immigration levels steady at about 260,000 a year for now, although the meeting did consider new research that suggested raising levels to about 317,000 annually in five or six years, he said.
Several other provinces are seeking more immigrants and more control over their selection. Mr. Kenney responded by saying that the Conservative government has already overseen a significant increase in the provincial immigration stream.
"Speaking for the federal government, we don't want to completely cede our role in selecting immigrants. We believe immigration is not just about addressing regional labour-market needs, it's also about nation building," Mr. Kenney said.
Mr. Kenney was under public pressure not only from Ontario but from Saskatchewan, which is asking for an increase of 50 per cent in its provincial nominee program to keep up with the labour needs of its booming economy.
Alberta, which has a similarly booming economy, sounded a more conciliatory note by playing down its demands, at least in public. Alberta's Enterprise Minister Stephen Khan spoke about the need for national co-operation and took on a role that was once more closely associated with Ontario.
"We're like everybody, we want more. But I think Minister Kenney has been very clear on where they sit on this issue, so we're going to be good federal partners, good partners in Confederation, and we'll find a way to meet our labour-market needs in the current framework," Mr. Khan said.
The provincial ministers lent their support to the new Expression of Interest system that will reshape Canadian immigration once it is implemented in late 2014. The new process is modelled on that of New Zealand, which places immigration applications from skilled workers in a pool that can be searched by employers. If a person has the desired skills or attributes, he or she can be offered the chance to immigrate. The idea is to create a system that responds to the labour market rather than one that processes potential newcomers on a first-come, first-served basis.