On July 28, 2022, the Government of Saskatchewan released a statement indicating that it was seeking greater control over its immigration system.
The statement came the same day Saskatchewan Immigration Minister Jeremy Harrison attended a meeting in New Brunswick with Canada’s other immigration ministers, including his federal counterpart, Sean Fraser.
The main outcome of the meeting is that ministers agreed to develop a multi-year Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) allocation plan by March 31, 2023. This will provide PCP allocations to each province and territory over a three-year period, which will help them plan ahead to support their economic development goals.
Such efforts are still not enough to support local economic development, say various provinces.
Saskatchewan is asking for a new bilateral immigration agreement with the federal government similar to Quebec’s. Due to its unique French-speaking character in Canada, the province of Quebec has the most control over its immigration system among the ten provinces and three territories of Canada. Under the Canada-Quebec Accord, signed in 1991, the province has the ability to set its own immigration levels, select all its economic class immigrants, control admissions for temporary residence and have its say on the family and refugee categories. It also has full control over the settlement funding provided to it by the federal government to provide newcomers with a variety of supports such as language training, job training, among other supports.
The nine other provinces of Canada as well as the Yukon and the Northwest Territories have entered into bilateral agreements on immigration with the federal government. These agreements are best known for allowing provinces and territories to operate the PCP. They also contain details on how the two levels of government will work together on issues such as the delivery of immigrant settlement services and data sharing. However, these agreements do not give provinces and territories significant powers beyond what they can do with their respective PCP.
So Saskatchewan wants what Quebec has. Under its proposal called the Canada-Saskatchewan Immigration Agreement, Saskatchewan wants exclusive authority over economic class immigration to the province, control of family class immigration, control of federal funding for establishment and a guaranteed PCP allowance that corresponds to the demographic weight of Saskatchewan within Canada.
Saskatchewan’s PNP current allocation is 6,000 principal applicants for 2022, but it believes 13,000 spaces would be fair, as it would be Saskatchewan’s proportional share of all immigration to Canada.
The day before the June 28 meeting, Harrison, along with his provincial counterparts from Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario submitted a joint letter to Minister Fraser asking for more control over their respective immigration systems. Earlier in the week, Ontario Immigration Monte McNaughton said CIC News it calls on the federal government to grant Ontario greater autonomy in economy class selection.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has also said he will seek full control of immigration to the province if he wins another majority government in provincial elections scheduled for October.
The demands of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec put significant pressure on the federal government. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) continues to struggle with application backlogs, a problem that provinces say could be solved by giving them more selection power.
The provinces also have the constitutional right to ask for more control. Although the Constitution clearly states that the federal government has control over immigrant admissions, it still defines immigration as one of the few policy areas in Canada that is under shared federal-provincial control. Canada’s main immigration law, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) also mandates the federal government to work closely with the provinces and territories to support regional economic and social objectives. In addition, the fact that Quebec exercises significant control over immigration while the rest of the country does not places the federal government in an increasingly difficult position.
Unlike in 1991, when the Canada-Quebec Accord was signed, provinces and territories across Canada are now facing historic labor shortages amid the country’s rapidly aging population. As more baby boomers retire, provinces and territories increasingly depend on the PCP to sustain their population, workforce and economic growth.
In a sense, provincial calls for more control seem inevitable. Following the signing of the Canada-Quebec Accord, some provinces approached the federal government to request similar authority in immigration matters. Afraid of losing control of the immigration system by signing similar deals with the rest of the country, the federal government came up with the idea for PCP. Provinces and territories have signed on, resulting in significant growth of the PNP from just 400 immigrant admissions in 1999 to a goal of over 80,000 immigrants this year and 90,000 immigrants by 2024 .
Although Canada’s PNP targets have reached record highs, some provinces argue that the distribution of the 80,000 immigrants across the eleven provinces and territories that administer the PNP is insufficient given the significant labor shortages they face. faced, and which are expected to continue as Canada’s nine million baby boomers reach retirement age over the next decade.
The importance of these recent developments cannot be underestimated. Before Quebec took control of its system, the federal government selected all immigrants to Canada. Gradually, since the introduction of the PNP in 1998, the pendulum has swung and the two levels of government now share a roughly equal distribution of the selection of economic class immigrants. The federal government continues to control family and refugee class admissions. The provinces are basically saying that they want to have majority control over the selection.
Ultimately, it will be the federal government’s decision to relinquish even more control. It certainly has the ability to simply reduce the proportion of immigrants it brings in through federal channels such as Express Entry and increase the proportion of immigrants it brings in through PNP. However, it remains to be seen whether the federal government has the will to reduce its control.
Either way, the provinces’ emboldened stance represents a new era in Canada’s immigration system, where they are no longer content to simply have a say in selection through the PNP, but rather success. of these provinces seems to be defined by the federal government’s relegation to the junior partner in their immigration relationship.
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