Immigration Minister Marc Miller says he is not in favour of lowering Canada’s immigration targets, as Ottawa prepares to publish next week new goals for the number of permanent residents it plans to welcome each year until 2026.
Mr. Miller says the cabinet is still in 11th-hour discussions about whether annual targets for permanent residents should remain static, rise or go down. He said ministers are also looking at whether the categories of migrants who can stay in Canada should be refined.
A Nanos poll for The Globe and Mail last month found that more than half of Canadians want the federal government to accept fewer immigrants than it is planning for in 2023 – a rise from one in three in a March survey.
In an interview with The Globe, Mr. Miller said he did not “see a scenario in which we decrease things but whether we tweak categories, whether we look to stabilize, is something that is … a discussion that’s still in progress.”
The government will announce Wednesday its plan for immigration levels over the next three years.
In last year’s plan, Ottawa announced it would welcome 465,000 new permanent residents this year, with a target of 485,000 in 2024 and another 500,000 in 2025.
Experts are watching the 2026 figure as a signal of whether Canada plans to slow immigration to address concerns about shortages of affordable housing and the ability of communities to absorb large numbers of newcomers.
Economists specializing in immigration said the government should be focusing on the exponential increase in the number of temporary residents in Canada.
Benjamin Tal, the deputy chief economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce who in August briefed the cabinet on immigration and housing, said the “current level of immigration is appropriate.”
But he suggested the government introduce “changes to the point system for better alignment between new immigrants’ skill sets and what’s needed in the economy and the labour market.” He cited the example of construction workers.
“The focus should be on non-permanent residents to make sure that their numbers are linked to our ability to house them,” he added. “At this point that’s not the case.”
Mikal Skuterud, professor of economics at the University of Waterloo, said reducing the number of permanent residents would not help the large number of people living in Canada on temporary residency permits, or without valid visas, who are desperate to stay in Canada.
Mr. Miller said at a news conference in Brampton, Ont., on Friday that immigration was key to increasing Canada’s gross domestic product. ”So any conversation about reducing [the numbers] needs to entertain the reality that that would be a hit to our economy,” he said.
At a news conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also stressed that immigrants create economic growth and counter labour shortages.
“Our immigration thresholds have increased gradually over the years but what we have seen in particular is that temporary visitors, temporary workers, people such as students or workers, have increased enormously in recent years,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau added that he wanted to reassure Canadians that the government continues to be positive toward immigration.
Housing Minister Sean Fraser, a former immigration minister, hinted last month that Ottawa may consider lowering its immigration targets.
“When we look to the future of immigration levels planning, we want to maintain ambition and immigration, but we want to better align our immigration policies with the absorptive capacity of communities – that includes housing, that includes health care, that includes infrastructure,” Mr. Fraser told CTV’s Question Period in September.
Last month’s Nanos poll for The Globe found a rise of almost 20 percentage points in the past six months in the number of Canadians who think this country should accept fewer immigrants than Ottawa’s 2023 target of 465,000.
The poll of 1,044 Canadians aged 18 and over was conducted both by phone and online between Sept. 2 and 4. It had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Next week, the Bloc Québécois will hold an opposition day debate on immigration levels in the Commons. It has tabled a motion demanding that the government look again at its targets, and consult Quebec and other provinces on the issue. It said the government should consider the impact of immigration on housing, as well as health care, education and transportation.