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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes an announcement in Surrey, B.C. on March 28.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Someone, somewhere, appears to have taken a blowtorch to Canada’s immigration system. It’s a mess. We have too many people, and not enough homes, not enough transit, not enough health care infrastructure. International students are lining up at food banks and homeless shelters. Canadians’ attitudes on immigration are becoming more negative.

Who set fire to our once-enviable immigration system? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on a mission to find out. Just as soon as he gets all of this soot out of his hair.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau laid out the facts. “Over the past few years we’ve seen a massive spike in temporary immigration … that has grown at a rate far beyond what Canada has been able to absorb,” he said. He gave an example: in 2017, two per cent of Canada’s population was made up of temporary immigrants; today, it’s 7.5 per cent. “That’s something we need to get back under control,” he said, adding that temporary immigration has “caused so much pressure in our communities.”

A few years ago, someone named Justin Trudeau would have accused Mr. Trudeau of fear-mongering for making these sorts of remarks about immigration. In fact, he said exactly that when, for example, Conservative MP Steven Blaney asked about the massive backlog in immigration applications amid a wave of asylum seekers in 2018. “It is completely irresponsible of the Conservatives to arouse fears and concerns about our immigration system and refugees,” Mr. Trudeau said at the time.

“The reason for the delays is that the Harper Conservatives spent 10 years cutting our immigration services and getting rid of the employees who process applications,” he continued. “They did not manage our immigration system responsibly.”

Since then, we are to infer, the immigration system has been managed responsibly, and the proof is in the Liberal government now frantically trying to reverse course from even a few months ago. In November, 2022, the government unveiled a plan to bring in nearly 1.5 million new permanent residents by 2025, even though an internal report at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada warned that population growth was outpacing housing supply and would continue to put pressure on Canada’s health care services and its stock of affordable housing. Someone ignored that warning. As recently as five months ago, Immigration Minister Marc Miller was defending that plan, saying “(It) doesn’t make sense to drop the numbers knowing what I know.”

Mr. Miller apparently knows something different now. Perhaps he read that internal report. Or perhaps the news that more than 800,000 non-permanent residents came to Canada in 2023 – roughly the equivalent of the entire city of Winnipeg – has given the government pause about the wisdom of busting Canada’s doors wide open when existing residents are already fighting over the resources inside.

The massive influx is the consequence of compounding policy changes, made in continuing service to bolstering Canada’s workforce, that have created the ideal conditions for the resettlement of nonpermanent residents. In 2022, Canada lifted the 20-hour cap that international students are allowed to work while pursuing their education; that same year, it also removed the restrictions on low-wage positions that employers in some seasonal industries could fill through the temporary foreign worker program, and extended the maximum time the positions could be held from 180 to 270 days. Then, Ottawa allowed former international students with expiring post-graduation work permits to obtain new 18-month open work permits. And in 2023, Canada made open work permits available to spouses of international students studying at any level – all while continuing to expand the list of countries from which travellers can come to Canada without a visa.

Recently, the Liberal government has embarked on the hard work of undoing or fixing the policies it unveiled with enthusiasm just a few years ago. It has restored some visa requirements for Mexican nationals to curb asylum claims from Mexicans who arrive in Canada. In January, it announced that spouses of international students will only be eligible for open work permits if their partners are enrolled in master’s or doctoral programs. It has also set an intake cap on international study permits, with the intention of controlling admissions to what Mr. Miller has conceded are essentially “the diploma equivalent of puppy mills.”

These recent measures would be seen as terribly regressive – un-Canadian, even, since we are a welcoming and tolerant nation – if they were being proposed by the opposition, instead of being implemented by the government. But Mr. Trudeau is on a mission to fix what someone, somewhere else, broke, and thus, his mission is righteous and good.

We should wish him well in this most important endeavour. And if he has time, maybe he can look into who keeps tacking on the federal debt, too.

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