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Politics

Canada election: Where the four main parties stand on immigration

Federal party leaders from left to right: Liberal party Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green party Leader Elizabeth May.
Federal party leaders from left to right: Liberal party Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green party Leader Elizabeth May. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Compilation

Whether it has to do with the welcoming of Syrian refugees, Justin Trudeau’s now-infamous #WelcomeToCanada tweet, irregular border crossings or backlogs in the immigration system, Canada’s immigration and refugee policies have been front and centre over the last four years.

And in the lead-up to the federal election on Oct. 21, the four main political party leaders vying to be prime minister have started to share their vision for the country’s immigration system.

According to an Ipsos poll conducted for Global News about the election issues at the top of voters’ minds, 14 per cent of Canadians cite immigration as an important issue that will influence their voting decision.

WATCH (Aug. 26, 2019): Anti-immigration billboards taken down following public backlash
Anti-immigration billboards taken down following public backlash
Anti-immigration billboards taken down following public backlash

While immigration has become a rather sensitive topic as people debate Canada’s intake of refugees and the situation at the border, that’s not the only aspect of immigration the parties are seized with.

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WATCH: Canada’s immigration success story

Canada’s immigration success story
Canada’s immigration success story

“Since Confederation, Canada has always had a pro-immigration policy because we’re a very large country and, relatively speaking, we have a small population,” said Christina Clark-Kazak, an associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s faculty of social sciences.

“We’ve always been trying to attract people to move to Canada — and it has mostly been through an economic lens so we’ve been looking for people to fill particular kinds of jobs at different times in our history.”

At this moment in time, more Canadians are leaving the workforce than entering it, according to Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada.

“Retirement rates are going to continue to rise and … the new entrants coming into the workforce, it’s just not enough to fill that gap.”

Here’s what the different parties have proposed so far on immigration and what these two experts had to say about some of the commitments.

The Liberal party

As of publication, the Liberals have not released their election platform. When asked for their proposed immigration policies, a party spokesperson sent a statement that referenced the Liberal government’s record on economic immigration and its new immigration levels plan — and said the party would say more in the weeks to come.

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Economic immigration

  • In late 2018, the Liberal government announced it would boost its immigration intake over the next three years and accept 350,000 immigrants a year by 2021. While that number includes all classes of newcomers, the vast majority will come under economic programs designed to address skills shortages and gaps in the labour market.

In general, research has shown that immigration has a positive impact on the Canadian economy, but the extent of that impact also depends on where newcomers settle, Clark-Kazak said.

“Whether or not that population gets concentrated in large urban centres like Toronto is another question because, obviously, the economic impact will be more marginal,” she said. “In fact, many people feel like there is room for there to be increased immigration levels.”

READ MORE: Canada is boosting immigration — here’s what the government is hoping to accomplish

It’s “difficult to say” what that overall number should be, Antunes said. But as the numbers rise to respond to high demands for labour, he argued that some “flexibility” should be built into Canada’s immigration system — including its economic migrant stream — in case the situation changes.

“Right now, labour markets are very tight, the economy is growing, but perhaps governments should think about how to make the system a little more flexible so that if we do end up with a slowdown, how can we quickly adjust … to make sure that we’re not bringing in too many workers at a time when, essentially, the economy is slowing down,” he said.

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Immigration, family reunification and settlement services

  • In 2018, the Liberal government faced backlash over an unpopular, randomized lottery system for family sponsorship applications. The system was changed to a first come, first served process for 2019.
  • In Budget 2019, the Liberals also pledged $51.9 million over five years to “improve oversight of immigration consultants and strengthen compliance and enforcement measures.”

Refugees and asylum seekers

  • Budget 2019 pledged $1.2 billion over five years to help expedite asylum claims processing and deal with the deportations of people whose claims have been denied.
  • Liberals also proposed to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to “better manage, discourage and prevent irregular migration.”
  • The Liberals have so far resisted calls to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States.

The Conservative party

When asked for the Conservative party’s immigration policies, a spokesperson directed Global News to a keynote speech delivered by Leader Andrew Scheer in May, saying the party “will have more to say about our plan throughout the election campaign.”

Scheer’s May 28 speech wasn’t heavy on specifics, but here are the commitments the party underscored:

Economic immigration

  • “Safeguard and emphasize economic immigration”
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Immigration, family reunification and settlement services

  • “Set immigration levels consistent with what is in Canada’s best interests”
  • “Stand up for families and ensure that spouses and children can be reunited”
  • “Improve credential recognition and make it easier for new Canadians who have existing skills that meet our standards to ply their trades here”
  • “Improve language training”
  • “Work to reunite survivors of genocide who have already resettled in Canada more expeditiously”
  • “Promote the private sponsorships of refugees”

Clark-Kazak said the emphasis on private sponsorship of refugees struck her, noting this approach, too, has an economic impact.

“It’s a win-win for the government because it’s individuals who are bearing the cost of bringing people here but also helping them to settle into Canada,” she said. “Private sponsorship [was] always supposed to be additional to and complementary to government-assisted refugees so there is a concern that, basically, there’s a privatization, if you will, of refugee sponsorship and that would definitely have an impact on the economy in the sense that there’s individuals who have to raise money to bring people here and then charitable causes might suffer because of that.”

READ MORE: If immigration was slashed, Canada’s economy would feel the pinch: report

Refugees and asylum seekers

  • “Put an end to illegal border crossings at unofficial points of entry like Roxham Road”
  • “Close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that allows some people to skip the line and avoid the queue”
  • “Ensure that our system prioritizes people facing true persecution”
WATCH (May 28, 2019): Andrew Scheer says he’ll end ‘illegal’ border crossings as prime minister
Andrew Scheer says he’ll end ‘illegal’ border crossings as prime minister
Andrew Scheer says he’ll end ‘illegal’ border crossings as prime minister

The NDP

Under Leader Jagmeet Singh, the New Democrats, for their part, are pledging to “make sure that our immigration policies and levels meet Canada’s labour force needs and recognize people’s experiences, contributions and ties to Canada.”

Immigration, family reunification and settlement services

  • “Work with the provinces to address gaps in settlement services and improve foreign credentials recognition”
  • “End the unfair cap on applications to sponsor parents and grandparents and take on the backlogs that delay reunification for years”
  • “Protect newcomers by taking on unscrupulous immigration consultants, ensuring that the industry is regulated by the government”
  • “Treat caregivers brought to Canada with respect and dignity, providing them with status and allowing them to reunite with their families without delay”
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Both the NDP and the Conservatives are committing to improving the recognition of foreign credentials among immigrants. Not having immigrants fully employed in their professions amounts to an approximately $13-billion loss for the Canadian economy, Antunes said.

However, Clark-Kazak noted that foreign credential recognition is a piece of the immigration puzzle that’s not actually within the federal government’s jurisdiction.

“The problem of the credential recognition is really with professional associations. It’s the medical associations who decide who can practise medicine in Canada. … It’s lawyers associations who decide who are qualified to practise law,” she said. “[The government] can encourage, they can try to put in place incentives, et cetera … but I think you can’t really make it as an election promise because it’s really outside of their purview.”

Economic immigration

  • “Make sure that our immigration policies and levels meet Canada’s labour force needs and recognize people’s experiences, contributions and ties to Canada”

Refugees and asylum seekers

  • “Fix the system to get rid of the backlog and work with Canadians to resettle refugees in our communities and ensure that they are given the support they need to build successful lives and new homes here in Canada”
  • Suspend the Safe Third Country agreement with the United States and allow people to make asylum claims at official border crossings

WATCH: Singh says immigration system has to balance bringing people in with security (Sept. 20)

Federal Election 2019: Singh says immigration system has to balance bringing people in with security
Federal Election 2019: Singh says immigration system has to balance bringing people in with security

The Greens

Elizabeth May’s Green party is the only party so far to release a (non-costed) platform. Here’s what it pledges:

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Immigration, family reunification and settlement services

  • Allocate more funding for training in official languages for new immigrants through “earmarked transfers” to the provinces
  • Speed up family reunification
  • Increase funding of multicultural associations that provide immigrant support programs

Economic immigration

  • “Eliminate the Temporary Foreign Workers [sic] Program and address labour shortages by increasing immigration, working with employers to establish paths to permanent residency”
  • “Improve the pathway for international students and foreign workers to Canadian permanent residency and citizenship”

Refugees and asylum seekers

  • Terminate Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States

Clark-Kazak called the Greens’ platform on immigration “fairly comprehensive” but said she was struck in particular by the party’s “bold proposal” to eliminate the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

“That is likely to have an impact on the Canadian economy,” she said. “There are many advocates, including myself, who agree … there [are] a lot of vulnerabilities built into that program, that the people who come to work under that program don’t always have their rights respected, both in terms of labour rights and other rights. But it is filling a particular niche in the Canadian economy so if we were to eliminate that there would need to be a plan in place to basically fill those with labour market shortages.”

— With files from the Canadian Press and Rachel Browne

Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.” This poll was conducted between Sept. 11 and 13, with a sample of 2,562 Canadians, either interviewed online (via Ipsos I-Say panel and non-panel sources) or over the phone. The precision of Ipsos polls which include non-probability sampling is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians been polled.

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