Last Updated on April 13, 2018
Immigration Minister John McCallum said recently he wants to see new immigrants to Canada spread out across the country instead of concentrated in major population areas.
With federal government plans to increase immigration levels gradually becoming clearer, the issue is how to stop all these newcomers moving to Canada’s major cities, namely Vancouver and Toronto.
The problem is that while Vancouver and Toronto are teeming with newcomers, other cities and provinces, particularly in Atlantic Canada, are facing issues with aging populations making them desperate for greater immigration.
McCallum did not mention how he intended to achieve his goal of an even spread of new immigrants.
He has said before there is little he can do to stop immigrants arriving in one province and moving to another, as once they have permanent residency they are protected by the Canadian constitution.
The vast majority of these investors do not settle in Quebec, despite having to state their intention to do so as part of the application process.
This is not a new problem for Canada, so if the current government is going to solve it, they need to think innovatively.
There needs to be considerable joined-up thinking across all levels of government to make it happen.
It is not clear whether the federal government has a legal avenue to explore in terms of making immigrants reside in a specific province or area.
In order for a court to allow such a limitation, McCallum would have to show that chronic labour shortages in certain areas of Canada are a threat to the future of those areas.
Then a court might be convinced of the seriousness of the issue.
If the restriction was temporary and not too onerous on newcomers, there is a chance a court could find a way towards allowing it.
Building a new immigration program stream specifically for this purpose could also offset some of the concerns.
Immigrants could be restricted to living in certain areas, and in return they would be in with a better chance of gaining permanent residency, and more quickly.
But all of this seems unlikely given the major hurdle is the constitutional right to free movement for permanent residents.
Provincial policy makers need to create the right conditions and consider a variety of measures for immigrants to remain there.
Some possible policies include:
- Short term provincial tax credits for new residents.
- Offer residential land purchases in outlying areas at below market prices.
- Conditional property tax exemptions.
Given the need to rely on immigration as a tool to meet growing demographic challenges, policy makers in Atlantic Canada and elsewhere must consider the carrot approach.
The immigration tools are in place. They just need to be complemented with input from a much wider range of stakeholders to create the right conditions for immigrants to remain by choice.
This strategy will go a long way to helping ensure the success of Canada’s overall immigration policy objectives.
As McCallum looks for the public to support his immigration plan, the ability to somehow control where they settle has become the topic of lively debate.
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