Daphne Bramham: With Canada failing to meet its immigration promises, B.C. needs more control

The British Columbia perspective, similar to that of Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

One idea that has been suggested by some is the Provincial Nominee Program should be used for regulated professions (e.g., healthcare, some trades) given that regulatory bodies are provincial, not federal.

Definitely worth consideration as the federal government’s progress on foreign credential recognition appears to have been more about process and consultations than concrete action. Making the provinces directly responsible for selection of applicants in regulated professions might simplify accountabilities:

Across B.C., “Help Wanted” signs are ubiquitous. Labour shortages have forced businesses to drastically cut their hours, hospitals and emergency rooms to close, as well as planned and unscheduled cancellations of B.C. Ferries sailings.

Despite grumbled anecdotes about people not wanting to work, B.C. has one of Canada’s highest workforce participation rates.

Bear in mind that last year, B.C. also had the highest number of new arrivals recorded in 60 years — 100,797 people. International migration was the second-highest recorded, while cross-country migration was the highest in nearly 30 years.

Even with that, and despite a seemingly intractable, affordable-housing crisis, the fact is B.C. needs more people to fill essential jobs.

And that is exactly why the provincial government wants Ottawa to give it more control over who comes here, and is asking for more money to help settle all the newcomers.

Last year, only 6,750 people came under the provincial nominee program that allows provinces to select applicants whose skills and training match labour needs. Next year, it wants 8,000 nominees, and 10,000 three years from now.

It made the request ahead of Thursday’s meeting of federal and provincial immigration ministers.

Nathan Cullen is B.C.’s municipal affairs minister and has responsibility for immigration. He describes the program as “more precise” than other immigration programs, noting that B.C.’s priority last year was health-care and long-term care workers.

“(The nominee program) is not a blunt instrument, which is what a federal immigration program is by its nature,” he told Postmedia before leaving for the federal-provincial meeting in New Brunswick.

“We’ve just heard from Ontario and they’ve been making similar requests of the feds to gain a little bit more control over what happens.”

As a former MP, Cullen isn’t certain how much of its “cherished authority” Ottawa is willing to give up. But he hopes to convince Federal Minister Sean Fraser that expanding the nominee program, which has a much faster turnaround time than myriad other immigration streams, will help clear the backlog of applications that is nearing two million files.

The benefit isn’t just a bureaucratic one. With skills matched to jobs, it should also mean that highly skilled newcomers don’t end up driving taxis instead of doing the jobs they are trained for.

Of course, there is a huge caveat that Cullen readily acknowledges. Canada is glacially slow in recognizing internationally obtained credentials — especially for physicians and surgeons. Here, he said it can take up to three times as long as in other G20 countries — “And if you’re slow in this kind of world, it means you just don’t get the person at all.”

The minister plans to raise that at Thursday’s meeting, along with concerns about what might best be described as Canada’s “do-it-yourself” immigration offer to Ukrainians.

Within days of the Russian invasion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered safe haven and a pathway to citizenship to all Ukrainians who could find their own way here.

“We’re not ready for them, and we need the feds to be,” Cullen said. “(Federal politicians) have had time. There’s no more excuses like, ‘It’s all happening so fast.’ That’s done. They’ve had the time and the program has not been set up properly yet.”

With the usual processes waived, Ukrainians are arriving and often there is no one to meet them. Nobody knows when they are coming, where they are landing, or even how many of the six million who have fled might end up here as Russia intensifies its attacks.

Earlier this year, B.C. shored up settlement societies with nearly $15 million because the number of immigrants and refugees arriving is beyond the capacity that Ottawa has funded them for. And last month, the province set up a hardship fund for Ukrainians offering up to $1,770 a month for a family of four.

Ukrainian-Canadians have also stepped in to fill the gaps since the only federal help Ukrainians get is a two-week housing allowance.

Still, with no contact point with any agency or government, vulnerable women, children and unaccompanied minors are open to exploitation. It’s something that keeps Cullen awake at night.

Already, his officials had to rescue one family who had found rental accommodation on social media. When they arrived, the landlord confiscated their passports and tried to restrict their movements. Fortunately, they had a contact in the Ukrainian community who got in touch with the ministry.

Meanwhile, immigrants are enduring months-long waits in overcrowded hotel rooms in dangerous neighbourhoods because there is nowhere else to go until settlement societies or concerned citizens manage to scrounge something better. Sometimes, it’s from developers waiting for demolition permits.

Cullen insists that recent increases in housing starts and measures his government has taken to get unused housing into the rental pool is starting to make a difference. But he said it is still going to take more time to even out.

Immigrants also need health care and schools for their children. Those, too, are provincial costs.

So far, the federal government has failed to match its immigration promises and targets with the money necessary to properly fulfill them.

Small wonder that the provinces want more control and more money.

“We have to match the story we want to tell about ourselves as being a generous, open country … with the resources and the determination that’s required,” Cullen said.

And right now? That’s not happening.

Source: Daphne Bramham: With Canada failing to meet its immigration promises, B.C. needs more control

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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