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Saskatchewan premier wants more immigration control, considers provincial income tax collection

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe discusses the desire for increased immigration control, plus the idea of the province collecting its own share of income tax on Dec. 4, 2019. .
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe discusses the desire for increased immigration control, plus the idea of the province collecting its own share of income tax on Dec. 4, 2019. . Adrian Raaber/Global News

Editor’s note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified previous Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen as the current one. Marco Mendocino was named to the file on Nov. 20

Saskatchewan is continuing to explore expanding its autonomy within Canada.

Premier Scott Moe said officials have requested more authority over immigration into the province, and Saskatchewan collecting its own income tax is also being considered.

This builds on Saskatchewan planning to launch international trade offices in Japan, Singapore and India — another area in which the province desires to expand sovereignty since the Oct. 21 election.

Moe said Saskatchewan wants to have more say in the types of immigration classes, focusing on economic and family applications, plus being able to prioritize certain skills of economic applicants.

READ MORE: Sask. government aims to make immigration easier for entrepreneurial international students

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“What we’re looking for is to have more of a hand in setting the parameters so that we are better meeting the needs, not only of industry, but better meeting the needs of those that are choosing to make Saskatchewan home,” Moe said.

Saskatchewan Immigration Minister Jeremy Harrison said he brought this request to his federal counterpart, Minister Marco Mendocino, on Nov. 28.

The recently-released Saskatchewan Growth Plan includes targets for a population of 1.4 million and 100,000 more people working in the province by 2030.

Moe said this is not possible without increased immigration.

Moe says separation will ‘never’ be in best interest of province
Moe says separation will ‘never’ be in best interest of province

Moe said the proposed immigration plan will have to be flexible. At times, the economic class and specific skills would be prioritized according to market conditions.

The premier said there would be other times that family applications would take priority.

Speed is also a factor in this pitch. Moe said the provincial immigration program takes four to six weeks to process an application, while the federal system can be a six- to 10-month process.

“There are a number of things where the province can operate much more reactively than the federal government,” Moe said.

“I think this would be a positive for industries in this province, a positive for industries in the nation and I think a positive for those choosing to make Saskatchewan home.”

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The premier repeatedly said this is similar to what is in place in Quebec.

READ MORE: Sask. eyes nuclear reactors, international offices, major tech investment in growth plan

Opposition leader Ryan Meili is puzzled about why Moe is floating what he calls “trial balloons” without any real commitment to act at this point.

“When it comes to Quebec, there are things that have been discussed when it comes to immigration that I’m not thrilled about, including the [Quebec] values test that’s been introduced,” Meili said.

“We have a premier that’s been silent on Bill 21 in Quebec — something that I see as a discriminatory law, something I wouldn’t want to see going on here.”

Bill 21 prevents public servants in Quebec from wearing religious symbols at work. The legislation has been criticized as a way to target religious minorities who wear head coverings like a turban or hijab.

Saskatchewan Revenue Agency?

Also inspired by Quebec, Moe said there are preliminary discussions underway on whether or not Saskatchewan will collect its own provincial income tax.

Currently, the Canada Revenue Agency collects both provincial and federal income taxes, as is the case with most provinces.

“We already have a fairly significant department of finance that is collecting some of our provincial sales taxes, some of our or other taxes, royalties and such that we have here in the province,” Moe said.

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“If the answer is this going to be a vast expansion of government, then that might be one of the determining factors that we’re not interested in doing this. But we are going to have the conversation with respect to what would it take for resources if we chose to do this, what would be the advantages/disadvantages.

“These are fair discussions. I’m just being transparent with the discussions we’re having.”

Premiers discuss importance of Canadian fuel in international markets
Premiers discuss importance of Canadian fuel in international markets

Moe said this conversation is part of the broader theme of Saskatchewan looking for ways to “take care of itself.”

Meili, meanwhile, said all of this talk about federal issues is a way for Moe to distract from issues the NDP has repeatedly raised surrounding health care and education.

“I think it’s odd for [Moe] to now be looking to Quebec, which has not been doing good things for Canada by threatening independence for decades,” Meili said.

“He’s been back and forth, as recently as yesterday, very unclear on his position on western separation. That is not the angle that I would approach looking at interprovincial relationships or our relationship with the federal government.”

READ MORE: Liberals not interested in one tax return form for Quebec

Meili is referencing an exchange in question period on Tuesday, asking Moe why it took him so long to denounce western separation. Moe has said separation isn’t the answer to Saskatchewan’s problems.

Due to Quebec collecting their own income tax, residents there have to file two separate returns. The federal government rejected a proposal from Quebec that would have seen a single form filed in February.

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— With files from The Canadian Press