Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is asking some pretty tough questions about the future of Canada’s immigration program.

On July 12, he launched a national consultation in Calgary on the levels and mix of immigrants that Canada should be accepting in the coming years. He will travel to meet stakeholders in Vancouver on July 18, in Toronto on July 20, and in Montreal on July 22.

The bbackgrounder issued online by Citizenship and Immigration Canada reveals a department anxious to address big questions but seemingly constrained by the need to obtain public approval.

The department wants input on three major questions:

  • How many people should we let in each year as permanent residents?

  • What should the mix be?

  • How do we ensure a fair and efficient system?

The department acknowledges that Canada has an “aging population,” that we are experiencing “fertility rates below replacement values,” and that Canada’s labour force is experiencing “slowing” growth. Aging baby boomers are creating a bulge in Canada’s retirement rates, which raises the question of who will be there to pay the taxes to cover the costs of their care.

CIC describes the dilemma this way: “Although increasing levels would be one way to mitigate some of these pressures, it would require broad buy-in from the public and additional funding. Is that likely?”

It is clear from this statement that the department assumes increased levels of immigration will mean the need for extra tax dollars. In 2011-12, more than $250 million will be spent on settling immigrants destined to Quebec and another $600 million plus will be spent on those destined elsewhere in the country. It is clear that if we are to increase levels under a Tory majority government, we must either pick “better” immigrants -- those who need less financial support to get on their feet -- or we must simply decide to be more tight-fisted with our tax dollars.

The department admits that its flagship Federal Skilled Worker program faltered in the 1990s and early 2000s when the professionals it selected found “very low incomes” upon arrival in Canada. Even with a significant overhaul of the program, a recent study shows that after a full three years after arrival, 11 per cent of such immigrants remained unemployed.

The current mix of immigrants includes 60 per cent in the Economic Class, 26 per cent in the Family Class, and 14 per cent in the Refugee and Humanitarian Classes. The department is asking if this is the right mix. At present, it is keeping federal entrepreneurs at bay with a temporary moratorium imposed on June 24. It has also imposed a cap of 700 applications in the Federal Investor Program and, to boot, has doubled its investment and net worth requirements. As well, it is discouraging parents and grandparents from applying by making them wait in lines that are five to eight years long

Finally, what to do about the huge backlog of applications waiting to be processed? It continues to climb with a whopping 1,003,012 now in the queue.

I am glad the minister and his officials are asking these questions. It’s good to ask big questions, but you have to give people sufficient time and opportunity to answer them and be brave enough to take the advice, whatever it might be, if it’s in the national interest to do so.

Guidy Mamann, J.D. practices law in Toronto at Mamann Sandaluk LLP and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. For more information, visit www.migrationlaw.com or email metro@migrationlaw.com

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