Douglas Todd: B.C. and Ontario need more say on immigration, says Quebec specialist [Anne Michèle Meggs]

Good article featuring commentary by the former Director of Strategic Planning, Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion du Quebec:
One of the country’s foremost immigration experts believes the provinces, especially B.C. and Ontario, need more control over where permanent and temporary newcomers arrive in the country.
Quebec is the sole province with significant powers over immigration, but in any given year it accepts only about one-eighth of all arrivals. Meanwhile, Ontario and B.C., which have meagre influence over migration, together absorb more than two thirds of newcomers.The federal Liberals have orchestrated “a massive shift” to temporary migration in the past six years “with no open consultation whatsoever,” Meggs said. Ottawa’s top-down changes — which now bring in more guest employees and working foreign students per year than permanent residents — have the strongest impact on services provided by provinces and municipalities.

“Is there a method in this madness? The short answer is: I can’t see one,” Meggs says of Ottawa’s migration policy.It’s creating chaos for the provinces. As well as for would-be permanent immigrants, who face long wait times, and temporary migrants, who often live precariously and are exploited by bosses. That includes, she says, tens of thousands of recent arrivals from Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Meggs’ views will have special resonance for British Columbians, since she is the sister of Geoff Meggs, former premier John Horgan’s chief of staff, Vision Vancouver city councillor and longtime NDP insider, who also publicly shares his views on immigration.

Geoff Meggs has endorsed giving permanent residents a vote in civic elections and making Vancouver an “access-without-fear” city where people can use services without disclosing immigration status. Geoff has also, like B.C. premier David Eby, lamented the lack of a federal plan to increase the supply of housing in the face of Ottawa’s increasingly higher immigration targets, which now aim for 465,000 new permanent residents in 2023.

While acknowledging that criticism of Ottawa’s immigration program can play into the hands of those opposed to any immigration, Anne Meggs joins many in settlement services in saying, “A national debate is essential. Immigration is a fact of life that the anti-immigrant spokespeople will have to get over.”

It is absurd, Meggs said in an interview, to suggest “we close the borders while poverty, conflict and climate change push people to move. The objective of such a Canadian debate would be to ensure that immigrants are welcomed and integrated properly at a rate that doesn’t put an extra strain on local communities.”

Although Meggs recognizes Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s announcement last week to offer work permits to spouses and children of temporary foreign workers was done in the name of keeping families together, she’s concerned it’s another one of Ottawa’s “ad hoc measures” to bring in low-skilled workers to fill low-paid jobs.“This policy is simply reinforcing an immigration system built on temporary foreign workers largely in low-paid permanent jobs. It unfortunately opens the door to exploitation and furthermore, according to many studies by leading labour economists, is not a good strategy for the Canadian economy, since it discourages higher productivity and innovation.”

In addition, extra guest workers (who now arrive mostly through the International Mobility Program) “need housing, daycare, public transit, schools, health and social services, and all of these matters are provincial or municipal responsibilities.”

Provinces “should have a say in how many new people will be arriving, where they’ll be settling, how many are of school age and what languages they speak.” Although provinces have modest nominee programs for migrants, Meggs said provinces for the most part don’t even know whether the skills of guest workers line up with their region’s labour shortages.Contrary to conventional wisdom, Meggs said both the federal and provincial governments can legally legislate on immigration. And she is aware most provinces, including Ontario and B.C., have recently been asking for more influence over issuing visas.

Writing for French-language newspapers and extensively in Inroads, a left-wing journal of social policy, Meggs has said Canada’s vaunted skills-based approach to immigration is basically a thing of the past.

“Even among those selected by the points system, more than half are family members of a principal applicant.” Of all admissions only one in 10 are explicitly selected through the points system.The points system does not apply to foreign students, of which there are more than 600,000 in the country at one time, and their spouses, who are cleared to work in Canada (unlike in most nations). Meggs worries international students are taken advantage of for their high tuition fees and as low-cost labour.

Given an already long backlog for permanent resident status, Meggs questions allowing in more guest workers and foreign students, since a large portion will apply to become citizens. But many won’t get accepted, which will further pressure the Liberal government that she says is buying the agenda of the Century Initiative, which advocates increasing Canada’s population to 100 million by 2100.

“It would be political suicide to refuse to process these applications. It would mean that the temporary permits of people who have been integrated into the country for years, studied here, worked, paid their taxes and started to raise their families would expire, and they would have to leave.” In the past, she said, many have refused. Indeed, this year backlogged migrants launched more than 700 legal challenges against Ottawa.

As a director of Quebec’s immigration ministry Meggs found staff believed they were doing good. But they had little contact with the people over whom they were making often opaque decisions. Meggs believes in more consistent, transparent migration policy, to benefit both those already here and new arrivals.

Raised in southern Ontario by “very progressive parents,” Meggs said she and her brothers learned to “believe in collective responsibility.” As a result, given today’s long waiting lists, one of her top concerns centres on not giving so many low-skilled guest workers false hope of becoming Canadians.

“Since a lot of them won’t succeed, I think we need to treat people better. These are people’s lives. These are families making huge life-changing decisions.”

Source: Douglas Todd: B.C. and Ontario need more say on immigration, says Quebec specialist

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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