Federal Immigration Minister John McCallum has gone from one end of the country to the other this summer bearing two messages: that the Trudeau government believes it should increase immigration; and that it wants more of those immigrants to end up in less populated parts of Canada.
Mr. McCallum is clearly setting the table for this fall, when Ottawa will release immigration quotas for the next three years. The Trudeau government set a record-high target of as many as 305,000 new permanent residents for 2016, and it wants to keep that number growing.
So far, Mr. McCallum says he's hearing what he wants to hear: that Canadians, especially business owners in search of workers, are open to higher immigration. But he must have some concerns about whether Canadians are open to his government's ambitious goals, because he is also promising to find ways to get immigrants to settle more "evenly" across the country. That is a very bad idea.
Three-quarters of the people who settle here every year move to urban areas in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. It's understandable: Immigrants go where the opportunities are – that's why they chose Canada in the first place. Canadians moving from country to city or leaving one province for another are no different. The government can't compel an immigrant to move to and remain in one place any more than it can do that to a natural-born Canadian.
Ottawa can entice immigrants to move to regions with labour shortages, or that are trying to increase their population – Atlantic Canada, for example – in exchange for quicker processing. It can fund local settlement services, or help provinces and municipalities do so. It can encourage business to offer benefits, such as free language classes, to its new employees.
Beyond that, it's all wishful thinking. Some regions with stagnant populations may feel as if they're not getting their fair share of immigrants, but compelling someone to settle in a certain town is not a logical or legally acceptable way to treat new Canadians.
The fact that Mr. McCallum is talking about this at all may belie an anxiety about bringing more immigrants than ever into an economy experiencing slow growth. Perhaps immigration levels and goals ought to be tailored to the reality of Canadian society, rather than the other way around.