(Note: The following news item must be read in the context that annual immigration numbers are tabled before Parliament on November 1st of each year. The annual numbers for 2006 were tabled by the previous government in November 2005.)
OTTAWA — Canada’s new immigration minister says the Conservative government does not plan to restrict family reunification nor change the overall annual target number for newcomers.
But Monte Solberg said the mix of immigrants – and the means they use to enter the country – may need to change to reflect a greater emphasis on labour shortages. “I don’t think it’s the overall number that’s the issue,” Solberg said in an interview Tuesday.
“I think partly maybe it’s the mix. But it’s also using some of the other tools that we have to address some of the problems we have – like the work visas.”
Solberg is floating the idea of working with provinces and industries, especially the resource sector, to get more targeted, skilled labour into Canada on temporary work visas.
“Maybe ultimately if they’re here for a time and they’re doing a good job, well, permanently land them,” he said.
Solberg, 47, has been handed one of the federal government’s hot-button portfolios.
The former Alberta broadcaster and longtime finance and international affairs critic for the Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties is in a new role dealing with immigration matters.
He said his initial priorities are those laid out in the Conservative campaign platform: cutting the $975 landing fee; introducing new legislation to ease foreign adoptions; and creating a new federal agency to assist newcomers in getting their education and professional credentials recognized.
“I don’t think any of those are necessarily contentious. Those are things we’re going to focus on.”
But Solberg knows he’s going to face some controversial issues.
In 2004, almost 236,000 newcomers gained permanent resident status in Canada. The country was on track for about 245,000 last year.
Some 57 per cent of the 2004 admissions were in the economic classes, including family members, while the other 43 per cent were those who arrived on compassionate and humanitarian grounds, including 33,000 refugees.
Some former Liberal ministers spoke of increasing overall immigration targets to 300,000 annually, if not higher, in coming years.
Last April, the Liberals promised to triple the number of family reunification applications processed annually to 36,000. Some critics – but not the Conservatives – accused the Liberals of pandering to immigrant communities on the eve of what was considered a crucial confidence vote in a minority government.
“We have no plans to change the number of people coming in under family reunification,” Solberg said Tuesday.
“But it also doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to ensure that we’re dealing with the skills shortage in this country . . . . Right now, clearly we’re not. We’re not dealing with those issues.”
Solberg said there are “big challenges respecting family reunification versus matching immigration to labour shortages.” He also said dealing with refugees remains a contentious matter.
“There’s some real debates within these different portfolios.”
The Liberals made another round of immigration promises, including a $700-million, five-year program to clear up applicant backlogs, in November just before the government fell.